On Monday, one year will have passed since the mass shooting in Las Vegas: one year since Stephen Paddock, an alienated former postal worker and tax auditor who liked to play video poker on the Strip, opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds.
On the surface, it seems like an odd custom to mark the anniversary of a horror. Why not just let time quietly slip on?
But tragedies, particularly mass tragedies, are a reminder of the contingency and arbitrariness of life. To set aside a day to remember a disaster we never could have predicted is to attempt some mastery over the chaos it brought. Chaos that, for those with injuries physical and mental, for those still feeling their way along the long, dark corridor of grief, continues, even a year later.
Marking an anniversary of awfulness — and there are so many now — feels strange but necessary.
Las Vegas will commemorate Oct. 1 with a series of events, among them a 5K run, a blood drive, a silent auction, a candlelight vigil and a sunrise service that will include 58 seconds of silence, one for each of the dead. On the Strip — Paddock shot into the Route 91 concert from a corner suite at Mandalay Bay — the illuminated resort marquees, including the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, will go dark, as they did one week after the shooting.
I will never forget the eerie, impotent feel of the Strip at that moment. It was as though all the hope in the universe had been snuffed out.
At the Clark County Museum, items from a memorial that sprang up around the Las Vegas sign — flags, artificial flowers, rosaries, stuffed animals, signs, letters and candles — will be on display in a temporary exhibit.
At the Las Vegas Healing Garden, where, last spring, I watched couples clasp each other tightly around the waist and weep as concertgoers searched for photos of people they’d seen shot, the names of the 58 victims will be read, starting at 10:05 p.m., the time Paddock began his rampage.
Most of the country is currently riveted by the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and consumed with speculation about what color the wave will be in the midterm election. In New York, where I write this, I haven’t heard Oct. 1 mentioned once.
But in Las Vegas, the last year has felt at once excruciatingly long and scarily short, with anniversary preparations underway, or at least under discussion, almost since the tragedy happened.
Volunteers at the Clark County Museum have spent much of the last year cataloging and archiving the artifacts. A group of artists painted all 58 victims and, in July, put their portraits on view in a show, “The Beautiful Lives Portrait Project.” This week, those paintings — of “victims who were invisible to the perpetrator,” the project’s website notes — will be given to their families.
Many of the families come from elsewhere, as did many of the Route 91 survivors. They are spread out around the country, where the day will probably pass more or less as usual. But Las Vegas will stop to mourn — the victims, yes, but also the glittering innocence of the city itself.
The days and weeks after the shooting were a blur. I interviewed scores of survivors, some of whom were grievously injured, and their family members. I find myself thinking of them now.
I’ll never forget the 26-year-old woman who’d been shot three times, the bullets injuring her liver and aorta, and how she struggled to prop herself up in the hospital bed to talk. She’d been told it was a miracle she’d lived, but now she had to relearn the simplest of tasks, like walking and opening the refrigerator.
I’ll never forget the distraught father who sat with me on a bench outside Sunrise Hospital, his voice wavering and breaking, as he waited for the airlift to take his daughter, who had been shot in the head, to a rehab clinic on the East Coast.
Nor will I forget the 28-year-old hockey coach who’d been shot in the chest and lived because his brother, an EMT, knew how to create an occlusive dressing; the 19-year-old woman whose mother threw herself on top of her as the bullets rained down; or the police officer who told me that he couldn’t stop crying, or sleep without his gun.
The anniversary of any death is not easy, as anyone who has lost someone knows. But what about the anniversary of many deaths, all of which happened around you?
I stay in touch with a number of the survivors. We text and email, talk by phone, sometimes meet up. Maybe we feel bound by the intensity of what happened, or maybe it’s just that I was there to listen when so much of the world skated on.
One young man whose friend was shot in the shoulder has gone on to law school in Tennessee.
Another man, from California, is marrying his girlfriend of many years; they fled the concert together, weathered the early days of PTSD together, and are still healing together, though it’s arduous and slow going. One of the only times he left his apartment in the weeks after the shooting, he tells me, he bought an engagement ring.
A woman I wrote about, a yoga instructor, plans to become a firefighter and is working toward her EMT certification. She calls Oct. 1 her “Alive Day.”
So life continues. But not for everyone, and not in the way it once did. A year might seem like a vast expanse of time, and anniversaries just another beat in the news cycle. Yet for the survivors haunted by trauma and loss, it might be years before they experience relief, if they ever do.
Amanda Fortini has been a visiting lecturer at the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she will return in the spring. She wrote about the Oct. 1 shooting for the New Yorker and California Sunday.