The fifth anniversary of the filming of the Route 91 Harvest festival began Saturday morning with a tearful sunrise remembrance ceremony at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater.
“We rose from the ashes of our tragedy,” Clark County Commission Chairman Jim Gibson said. “We confronted hate with love, darkness with light. That light shines as bright today as it did when we emerged from Vegas Strong.
Gibson sat among commissioners Justin Jones, Tick Segerblom, Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Michael Naft at the annual ceremony, which remembers the 60 people killed and hundreds injured in the deadliest mass shooting in state history. -United. The massacre took place in Las Vegas on the last night of the Route 91 Harvest festival, across from Mandalay Bay.
“We will never forget their light”
Representative Susie Lee, Senator Jackie Rosen, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Lieutenant Governor Lisa Cano Burkhead were also among the guests who sat quietly on stage.
“Five years ago today, a heinous act of violence befell our city, our state and our country,” Governor Steve Sisolak said. “Fifty-eight plus two people were killed that night, but five years later we will never forget their light.”
Sisolak, Gibson and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo remembered strangers who cared about their neighbors and global support in Las Vegas amid the tragedy. Gibson recalled the letters he received from around the world and how the people of Las Vegas emerged afterward: resilient, selfless and strong.
“Those who took care of the person next to them when they didn’t even know their names, those who band together to escape the hail of bullets, they too were heroes in the face of evil.” Lombardo said. “Together, as a community, we can remain resilient. Together, as a community, we will remain Vegas Strong.
Angela McIldoon told the story of her son, Jordan McIldoon, who was among the four Canadians killed. He had attended the festival with his girlfriend of two years, and was days away from turning 24 when he died. The heavyweight mechanic was honored by the Vegas Golden Knights, Las Vegas Raiders and at a 2018 NASCAR race in Las Vegas.
On Saturday morning, Angela McIldoon remembered those who helped her family in the days following her son’s death. Hundreds of people silently sniffled back tears as she told the story of flying her son back to Canada via the old McCarran International Airport without a death certificate.
“Now I’m carrying Jordan’s clear bag with his stuff in it,” she tearfully said. “I’m horrified to open it. Not only did the TSA agents open a private lane for us, they didn’t make us open anything. They cried and also hugged us.
“I’m still looking for it”
The late entrepreneur Tony Hsieh helped pay for Jordan McIldoon’s funeral service, and the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center paid for Angela McIldoon’s therapy, she said. His family set up a scholarship to Jordan McIldoon High School and Trade School, and the Jordan McIldoor Legacy Bike Park recently opened near their home.
“I’m always looking for it, and sometimes I see it in a young man’s scruffy red beard online, or a well-worn pair of boots and jeans on someone,” she said. “I’m looking for his bright blue eyes and the shape of his chin and his big smile. It’s never him, but I’ll never stop looking for him and longing for him to come home.
The amphitheater hosted the Remember Music festival later on Saturday, with performances until 10 p.m.
The festival featured a lineup of artists including Midland, Dylan Schneider and Meghan Patrick.
The event was organized by the Country Strong Project, a charity formed after the filming of the Route 91 Harvest festival to support survivors. The association has worked with Clark County, Stoney’s Rockin’ Country, Ghost Energy and 95.5 radio station. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Oct. 1 Memorial Committee, according to Connie Long, co-founder of the Country Strong Project.
“Music only heals”
Shawna Bartlett, co-founder of Country Strong, said signing the artists was significant in several ways.
“For us, I think that says two things,” Bartlett said. “First, it tells us that not only are the artists supporting this, that we continue to support them, but that they still want to do this for us. They’re not afraid to come to Vegas, they’re not afraid to do this show, they’re not afraid to do all that stuff. They want to be around us. They want to be able to do all of this. And that right there just brings joy into my life.
The patrons themselves, many of whom are survivors of the shooting, brought a mixture of tears, hugs, smiles and laughter. Some of the survivors said events like the festival helped them heal.
“Dealing with grief and everything and meeting other survivors,” said Adrian Pitts, 45, who was working on stage at the Route 91 Harvest festival when filming took place. “I learned through therapy for five years that talking about it with other people helps to deal with things, to deal with things. You know, when you’re going through a tough time, you can call a survivor, chat things up, and be there with people. It’s really therapeutic.
Pitts spoke of a police officer he worked with to help save people in 2017 who he was separated from on the night of the shooting. They reunited a year later at another event they both worked at and have been friends ever since.
An Army veteran, Pitts received therapy through Veterans Affairs. He said it’s the first year since the shooting that he’s had the birthday sober.
Tracy Samanszy, 55, was at the Route 91 Festival during the shooting and helped facilitate support for victims and their families in her job as director of the Sunrise Hospital Support Service. She now also heads a volunteer program to provide music and therapy dogs to those in need.
“Music is healing, whatever it is,” Samanszy said. “Yeah, just the music in general, and the country music scene, the people, the ages, the genres.”
The Remember Music festival also had booths for vendors, food and support resources for survivors.
One such stall was for Countryfied, a merchandise vendor run by Julie Craig, 61, who sells at country music concerts and rodeos. Craig said she was the last vendor to be at the Route 91 Harvest festival who still attends all memorial events. She said her husband was not with her when the shooting happened, but now he accompanies her to every event Countryfied attends.
“It’s just the family and the support, it’s amazing,” Craig said in tears. “Maybe it’s just, it’s so hard to explain. I mean, when you see survivors, it’s almost like you, you feel it. It’s crazy.”
One of the support resources for survivors at the festival was the Heart Peer Support Programa part of the Strong Vegas Resilience Center. The program trains survivors and anyone affected by the shooting to provide appropriate support to their fellow survivors.
Many survivors said they enjoyed the festival and similar events. A survivor called Long and Bartlett “unsung heroes” for organizing them.
“Every year we get people who weren’t strong enough last year, and that’s what makes them stronger. Every year,” Long said in tears.
The names of the victims are expected to be read aloud at the annual reading at the Las Vegas Healing Garden on Saturday at 10:05 p.m.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.