Vegas tragedy hits close to home

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

The Highlander

On Oct. 1, I was shocked, along with the rest of the Highland Lakes, to hear about the mass shooting at a country music festival along the Las Vegas Strip which claimed the lives of 58 people (excluding the shooter) and injured 489 others, many of them critically.

The horrific tragedy especially hit home for me for several reasons. First of all, Las Vegas is where my wife and I were married in 2014. It is where my best friend, Bobby McCooey, and his family live. Bobby and his wife Michele stood up for us as best man and matron of honor at our wedding and were our official witnesses.

Second, Bobby's nephew Chase and brother-in-law Brian Vaughn were at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Paradise, Nevada, that Sunday night, but fortunately left before Jason Aldean and his band took the stage that night.

It was during Aldean's performance at 10:05 p.m. PDT on the final night of the three-day festival that 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire with hundreds of rifle rounds from a suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, launching the deadliest mass shooting by a single individual in United States history.

I know the area where the shooting took place, though I have never stayed at the Mandalay Bay, nor have I been to any concerts at Las Vegas Village, a 15-acre lot used for outdoor performances just 450 meters from Mandalay Bay across the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Mandalay Bay Road.

During our last visit to Las Vegas, we walked the Strip and we stayed at the Monte Carlo and visited New York-New York and MGM, all of which are up the street about three blocks from Las Vegas Village. The Luxor is across the street from Las Vegas Village and Tropicana is just north of it.

Further east is McCarran International Airport and bullets traveled far enough to strike an aviation fuel tank there, but fortunately there were no explosions caused. Bobby used to live in Henderson, Nevada, just a short distance south of McCarran and only a few minutes away from the Strip.

I never had the opportunity to go to Las Vegas until I was nearly 44 years old and now it is a special place for Betty and me. It is where we publicly committed the rest of our lives — and then some — to each other.

We are also live music fans and enjoy going to concerts, especially when we can have a VIP experience and meet members of the bands we grew up loving. There is something endearing about seeing your favorite groups perform live and sharing the experience with 20,000 or more people. We have been to many outdoor concerts in Dallas, Austin and Houston, and all of them ended the same way. We had a great time and we made it home safely.

An estimated 22,000 people attended the Route 91 Harvest festival that night, but 58 music fans did not have a good night or make it home safely. They were senselessly cut down by a mass murderer whose motive remains unknown as he took his own life before a SWAT team could breach his hotel room.

It certainly makes me pause when I think about the next time I go to an outdoor concert venue, because I know it could happen in Dallas or Austin or Houston or any of the thousands of outdoor venues that exist in this country. However, we cannot let the actions of depraved and deranged individuals dictate how we live our lives. That is what they want — for us to feel their fear and their anger and their irrationality, because that is the only way they can “win” their sick games. If I stop going to outdoor concerts, it will be because it is the right choice for me and not because someone frightened me into changing my behavior.

My thoughts and prayers are with those who died, those who were injured and those who were traumatized. I hope those left behind to mourn find comfort in their bereavement and I wish a speedy recovery to those who have survived. You are in my heart and together we will stay Vegas strong.

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