When the shooting stopped, 59 distant lives ended together at a Vegas country music concert


They came from Alaska and Tennessee, Riverside and Simi Valley, commercial fishermen, police officers, teachers, retirees — drawn together only by a love of country music.

When the shooting stopped, 59 of those distant lives would end on the warm desert asphalt in the latest massacre to take the grim title of “the worst mass shooting in modern American history.”

As the afternoon light faded on Sunday at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, Denise Burditus leaned in for a selfie with her husband, Tony. The lens caught a sliver of the gold-glass Mandalay Bay Resort, to that point still famous only for its luxury lounges, lagoon pools and walk-through shark aquarium.


The couple had traveled from Martinsburg, W.Va., and were posting photos of themselves poolside and at dinner.

This would be their last photo together.

“It saddens me to say that I lost my wife of 32 years, a mother of two, soon to be grandmother of five this evening in the Las Vegas shooting,” Tony later wrote in a Facebook post. “Denise passed in my arms. I LOVE YOU BABE.”

Denise, 50, was a Seattle Seahawks fan and described herself on Facebook as semi-retired. In photos, she’s often surrounded by family, acting goofy, planting kisses on Tony.

“Oh Tony,” wrote Tammy Petersen Hacker on his Facebook page. “I just keep looking at the cool, beautiful pictures both you and Denise have been sharing of all the fun you were having … your loss is unfathomable.”

And so the litany of loss went, the sickeningly random toll of a soft-target attack on 22,000 people, with grieving now gripping the nation and beyond.

In Bakersfield, co-workers at Infinity Communications & Consulting Inc. lost Bailey Schweitzer, 20, their “ray of sunshine ... on a cloudy day,” her boss, Fred Brakeman, said in a statement.

“No one could possibly have a bad day when Bailey was around,” he said.

Thomas Day Jr.’s adult children lost a father they were so close to that all four were with him at the concert when he died.

Day, 54, was a home builder from Riverside.

“He was the best dad,” said Day’s father, Thomas Sr. “His kids are with me right now. They’re crushed.”

At Vista Fundamental Elementary School in Simi Valley, students lost their longtime office manager, Susan Smith, 53, the first to greet them as they walked in with her warm laugh and big sense of humor.

The victims fell as others around them spun around trying to pinpoint the rapid tapping in the distance. With thousands of people in the wide open and little sense of where the shooting was coming from, life and death was a matter of luck.

Adrian Murfitt, 35, a commercial fisherman, flew down from Alaska with his childhood friend Brian MacKinnon. He died in his buddy’s arms.

MacKinnon, 33, described his friend as an animal lover and goofball. “He made me laugh. He was like an Alaskan cowboy, but when he saw a dog he’d turn into a 10-year-old kid,” he said.

Others eulogized him as a man who went out of his way to help his friends.

“Can’t describe in words how thankful and grateful I am to have you show me what a real true gentleman you are,” Christine Young said of Murfitt on Facebook. “I’ll keep the advice you gave me and I promise to take it as I go through life moving forward … you’ll be kept in a special place in my heart.”

John Phippen, the owner of JP Specialties, a home remodeling company in Santa Clarita, was dancing next to his son, Travis, at the country music festival when he was struck by a bullet in the lower back.

Travis, an emergency medical technician, carried his father to a car that transported both of them to Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center, where John later died from his injuries. He was 56.

“He was my best friend,” Travis said. “He never did anything wrong to anybody. He was always kind and gentle. He was the biggest teddy bear I knew.”

In the chaotic scene, Travis had been shot in the arm but didn’t realize it until he arrived at the hospital. In his grief, the wound was an afterthought.

“We are all kind of in disbelief that it would happen to someone so gentle,” Travis said.

For some, final word on their loved one’s fate was hard to pin down.

In Orange County, Mavis Barnette was almost asleep when she received a phone call about 11:30 p.m. Sunday from a friend of her daughter, Carrie.

Carrie had been shot, the friend said.

“I said, ‘What are you talking about? … Where? When? What?’ And she told me she was shot in the chest.”

Carrie, 34, a food service worker at Disneyland, had died before reaching the hospital, the friend told Mavis.

As of late Monday, Mavis still had not been able to get confirmation from Las Vegas officials that her daughter had been killed Sunday night, despite multiple calls, she said.

“Nobody has any idea where she’s at,” she said.

Her friends were already mourning.

“She was the kind of friend that everybody would want in their life,” Carrie’s friend Nicole Johnson wrote in an email. “She was vivacious, caring, funny, sweet, energetic, creative, loyal, thoughtful, giving and full of life.” | @joemozingo | @Sonali_Kohli | @melissaetehad

Times staff reporters Esmeralda Bermudez, Seema Mehta, Laura J. Nelson, Benjamin Oreskes and Ben Poston contributed to this story.


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