The memorial is just a block or so away from my home. Even in scalding heat, the walk is not too far. A right here, a left there, then straight for a couple of blocks. Follow the bus lines on Casino Center Drive, ignore the empty lots, cheap apartment buildings, bail bond offices, stray couches and it appears. The Downtown Healing Garden.
58 names are stapled to a rickety wooden framework of mourning. Pictures and cards and flowers benefit from the lack of rain and linger in the desert air. Or, at least they have since last October.
It is the open reminder of Las Vegas’s pain tucked into an area few need to visit. The memorial is miles from the reason it exists. City leaders planned to make it a park. Instead, it is the sore that, so far, has not completely healed.
In truth, the memorials in our minds and our hearts last longer than the ones on the street. They sit readily accessible for better and for worse.
For those subjected to the horror at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on October 1, 2017, I cannot comprehend the memorials that are tucked into their lives. I can only recollect the one down the street.
And the one created by my own experience.
The conversation was proper journalism. In the newsroom at KLAS, producer Alan Squires and I were crafting the 11 p.m. newscast.
An hour before the show, we debated what was the story of the day: the release of O.J. Simpson from a Nevada prison. Specifically, we discussed whether to use video of him at a nowhere rest stop being hassled by a cameraman. Personally, it wreaked of tabloid news.
In the end, we agreed not to use the video and prepared to move forward finalizing the newscast. At about 10:20, it all became insignificant.
I’ll never forget what I saw and heard. Alan abruptly stood up from his desk, police scanners in both hands.
“Umm, I’m hearing more than a dozen people shot on the Strip,” he hastily, but coherently stated.
You don’t believe it. You assume it’s a mistake or a drill. You quickly realize it’s not.
Other police scanners lit up with breathless panic and urgent calls for help. Phones in the newsroom chirped relentlessly. They heard the shots. They saw the panic. They heard a rumor of this or made assumptions of that.
One of our station’s producers was right in the middle of the festival grounds. Her heartbreaking call confirmed the worst.
It was only as I hung up the phone the fifth or sixth time I realized Alan and I were the only ones in the newsroom as the deadliest night in Las Vegas history unfolded. A man had turned a suite at the Mandalay Bay hotel into a perch for carnage.
Our only reporter and photographer were called and sent to the scene. I sprinted into the sports department. The anchor and reporter were doing very little. I asked politely if they could answer the phones. We needed to get on the air.
It was frantic. It was determined. Bosses were told to call in the cavalry.
By 10:40, I walked briskly into the studio and barely said a word to anyone. I’ve never been so focused. In my subconscious, I knew an evil event had taken place and I felt a responsibility to get it right.
Within moments, we were on television. Just me, our reporter who was in her first week or so on the job and a battery of cameras from the state. It wasn’t much, but it’s all we could do.
Information trickled in. So did reinforcements. I anchored alone for about two hours, then was joined by lead anchor Dave Courvoisier. In total, I was on the air for five hours of unscripted, haunting, moving and simply tragic television.
Then the numbers came in. Two, then 20, then more than 50 dead. The first-hand accounts. The social media posts of the shooting itself. There really was little to add aside from guiding viewers through it all. In a way, I was probably guiding myself too.
At 4 a.m., we were relieved by the morning crew. In the time I was in the studio, I was oblivious to what was happening outside those four walls. All I knew was the information I was fed and the task I had to fulfill.
By then, the newsroom was full. Boxes of donuts were stacked high giving sustenance to a crew that knew we were in for long days. My news director and general manager hugged me and asked if I was okay, then told me to go home. I’d been at work for 14 hours.
Like any journalist with a reasonably long career, I had covered tragic events. But this went deeper. This was my adopted hometown, where I went to high school, where my family has lived for more than 20 years. This one hurt.
Comparing the relative safety of a television studio to the unrivaled trauma at the Route 91 Harvest Festival would be unbelievably foolish. My connection to One-October is not meant to be a comparison, merely a recollection.
Reluctantly, I left the newsroom knowing I would be back at work a few hours later. I left my car in silence and let the empty air act as a mental pause button. I drove towards downtown, past the shady motels and fenced off reminders of failed business. The ten minute journey drifted next to an empty lot I’d seen before and I’ve seen dozens of times since.
On October 2, the memorial hadn’t been built yet. Just the one in my mind.