In the dark days after the shooting that killed their daughter Neysa Tonks and 57 others at a country music festival in Las Vegas, it felt like a cold, black blanket had been thrown over Chris and Debbie Davis. For the past two years, they have been slowly peeling it away to let in the light.
They find it in moments big and small.
Big, such as the decision to return to Vegas and move into Ms. Tonks’s home to raise her three boys – their epic retirement road-trip cut short by that call at 1:42 a.m on Oct. 2, 2017, the morning after the massacre. Small, such as sitting on Ms. Tonks’s couch together eating ice cream and watching Friends, just as she loved to do. “It was all over,” Mr. Davis says of the light he finds in the tiny moments that are helping the family to heal. “You just couldn’t see it."
Oct. 1 is the second anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history that killed 58 – including four Canadians – and injured nearly 600 others. The community of Las Vegas is still trying to come to grips with its place in the history books and with the spate of mass shootings that followed.
The Davises found solace and purpose in “Children of the 58,” a scholarship for 55 children whose parents died during the attack on the Route 91 Harvest festival. Ms. Tonks, 46, was an ambitious career woman and single mother who always insisted that her sons go to college to get the degree that she never received.
The couple has raised enough to give every child $5,000. But in a country where gun violence has become so common that major tragedies rarely stay in the headlines beyond a few days, they have struggled to raise as much as they hoped. They plan to make one last push for donations before closing the scholarship later this year.
“In today’s society, unfortunately, there are so many shootings now that people are overwhelmed with what to do," Ms. Davis says.
Much of the world’s attention seems to have moved on. And in some ways, it feels like Las Vegas has moved on, too. The Strip is brimming with tourists and new hotel construction. Jason Aldean, the country music star who was playing when the shots rang out, announced his first concert back in the city in December.
At the Mandalay Bay hotel, the reflective gold windows of room 32-135 that were smashed out by the gunman that night have been repaired. The 32nd floor has been renumbered floor 57, the 100-wing is inconspicuously shuttered behind beige doors.
The festival grounds are untouched, wrapped in fencing covered with black fabric. MGM Resorts announced this year it would start using the property as a parking lot, with future plans for a memorial.
But beyond the Strip, most agree that the shooting has changed Las Vegas forever. Some say it has made the community closer, a rare feat in a city made up of transplants from other places, spread out across sprawling suburbs.
The shooting has also paved the way for gun control in Nevada. In June, the state legislature passed background checks for private sales and red-flag laws that allow courts to remove guns from someone deemed a risk.
A shooting this summer in Gilroy, Calif. – by a gunman who purchased his AK-47-style rifle in Nevada – served as a brutal reminder of the proposals, such as banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, set aside in the name of political compromise. But in a historically gun-friendly state, it’s a start.
"I’ve been a politician all my life, and you couldn’t even talk about gun control until a few years ago,” says Tick Segerblom, a former Democratic state senator now serving on the county government. “The fact that we got what we got through is just a miracle.”
Two years on, the shooting has also brought lessons about the ways that people bounce back from tragedy and the ways they don’t.
Kaitlyn Rogers was just three months into her paramedic training when she found herself giving life-saving treatment in a medical tent at the festival. The experience helped clarify that she didn’t belong on the front lines. She joined the private ambulance company’s public relations and marketing department instead. “That’s something I can look back on now and be thankful for,” she said. “I have to turn back and embrace the positive, because there are 58 people who can’t."
On the first anniversary of the shooting last year, Heather Graham and three friends got “One October” tattooed on their neck as a permanent reminder that they had run from bullets and survived. This summer, Ms. Graham, a Toronto native who lives in Las Vegas, took a job at Mandalay Bay. It forced her to confront her anxiety. But it also hasn’t stopped the flashbacks. “Every day, I think about it,” she says.
Even two years later, the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center, a support service set up after the shooting, hears from survivors calling for the first time with stories of nightmares, lost jobs and strained marriages.
News of another mass shooting elsewhere in the country is particularly hard on survivors, outreach co-ordinator Misha Ray says. The centre opened early after the Gilroy shooting. When gunmen opened fire hours apart in El Paso, Tex., and Dayton, Ohio, in August, support groups in Las Vegas ran all week.
The walls of the Resiliency Center are lined with mementos sent from other communities that have seen mass shootings – a quilt from Orlando, Fla., a wreath of paper cranes from Aurora, Col.
Recently, Ms. Ray wanted to pay it forward and ordered boxes of wooden stars to be painted by volunteers and sent to a community that has suffered a mass shooting since Las Vegas.
There is only one problem. “There have been so many recently,” she says. “So which one do we send it to?”
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