Tourists coming to Las Vegas add stops at memorials to victims of deadly shooting to their itineraries
By Jay Jones
Oct 09, 2017 | 6:30 AM
Every weekend brings exuberant crowds to Las Vegas, including thousands from Southern California. But for a city still recovering from the deadly shootings on Oct. 1, this past weekend felt subdued.
Full sightseeing buses and the usual throng of cars moved slowly along Las Vegas Boulevard, past marquees and moving billboards bearing sobering messages in a community known for excess.
The most common sentiment was “Vegas Strong.” It’s part of the effort at healing that has brought three new gathering places in the city, all tributes to the dozens who died in the massacre.
A makeshift memorial has sprung up along the Strip, in the median just steps from Las Vegas Village. The village was the entertainment venue at which 22,000 country music fans were gathered at the Route 91 Harvest festival when gunfire erupted.
The memorial is huge and still growing. It’s within easy sight of the shooting ground (which is still sealed by crime scene tape) and the Mandalay Bay resort, from which the lethal volleys were fired.
A steady stream of people come to pay their respects and to take photos.
Less than a couple of miles to the south, the site of the city’s famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign had a new feature: a row of 58 crosses, one for each victim. The outpouring of sympathy and support appeared midweek.
Continuing police roadblocks made it challenging to reach the iconic sign. Still, the place was teeming with people during the weekend.
In downtown Las Vegas, a steady stream of people paid their respects at the city’s newest park, the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden. Joined by throngs of volunteers, Daniel Perez and Jay Pleggenkuhle of Stonerose Landscapes in suburban Henderson created and built the park in three days. It opened Friday evening.
“There’s a lot of symbolism to it,” Pleggenkuhle said. “We’ve planted 58 trees, one for each life lost. There’s a pathway that meanders through this grove of trees, and they’re all lit.
“And there’s one central tree in the middle … that’s our ‘tree of life’ to all those who are left.”
A Remembrance Wall shares photos of each victim, plus mementos, such as cowboy boots and flags. Weekend visitors stood beside the wall, mostly in silence. Some took pictures, even selfies.
“It’s becoming a place where people go and let go of their loss and their hurt and sit together,” Pleggenkuhle said of the park. It is along Casino Center Boulevard between Coolidge Avenue and Charleston Boulevard.
Back along the Strip on Saturday afternoon, Brian Cordero, 32, and Emily Dagna, 25, a couple from Chino, were among those gathered amid the candles, balloons, teddy bears and other tributes near the site of shooting.
The two were in town for an already planned trip to attend a concert. They decided to spend part of the day praying for those who died and distributing black rubber wristbands reading “God’s Got This.”
Not regular visitors to southern Nevada, Dagna and Cordero weren’t aware of their proximity to the concert grounds until a reporter pointed it out.
“It [the massacre] is so awful, it should be remembered somehow,” Dagna said.
“We have tons of memorials,” Cordero said. “Do something positive with that land — maybe build a school. … I know there are a lot of homeless over here, maybe something to help them.”
With the memorials drawing crowds, the city has put its usual marketing on hold. The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, which markets the popular destination, has suspended its advertising campaigns.
“There’s going to be a time when we go back to promoting Las Vegas as the greatest destination in the world, but that’s not now,” Rossi Ralenkotter, the agency’s president and chief executive and a lifelong Vegas resident, told reporters Thursday. “We need to take care of the community itself, and that’s what we will be doing.”
Plans for the site of the shootings are unclear. Sites of other tragedies have been turned into memorials. The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, site of the April 1995 bombing that killed 168 people and injured more than 500, has become a national memorial.
Plans for the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where a gunman shot and killed 49 patrons and injured 68 in June 2016, continue to develop.
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