About 22,000 country music fans attended the Route 91 Harvest Festival Sunday night to see country music artist Jason Aldean perform. But by 10:08 p.m, the music festival transformed into the deadliest mass shooting in America’s history, resulting in 59 people dead and 527 injured. 64-year-old Gunman Stephen Paddock, a gambler living in Mesquite, Nev., shot down into the crowd from broken windows in his hotel room on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas strip, with an intent to kill but an unknown motive.
The Las Vegas massacre has sombered most of the nation into a period of mourning. Flags are flying at half-mast, and populations are volunteering their time, money and blood in an attempt to help the injured and deceased. Las Vegas, a four hour drive from the University of Redlands, is a popular travel destination and home to much of our student body and faculty. The university is grieving alongside the rest of the country.
Ralph Kuncl, University of Redlands President, sent an all school email yesterday afternoon, wondering, “when will it end?”
“While it appears that no one in our community was killed or injured, many have been affected,” Kuncl said. “A friend of a staff member was killed; a student’s parent was shot and is being cared for; friends of others had to take shelter, were injured, or saw people near them shot; some of our students were in the area and are shaken; and those close to a Redlands first-responder who was in the area are concerned about his welfare.”
Although the identities of those more directly affected by the massacre are not released, the affects on U of R campus are palpable. Students gathered together across campus to watch the news and be in the presence of friends as news continued to be released.
“I feel like this says everything [about where we are as a country],” said University of Redlands sophomore, Denger. “We shouldn’t be at this point, and it’s disheartening that we are. Be constantly aware of your surroundings, find a sense of community that you can depend on. We can’t work to stop things before they happen if nobody knows about them.”
Every Monday afternoon at 4 p.m., University of Redlands Chaplains John Walsh and Peter Tupou hold Monday Prayers for Peace at the Labyrinth where they invite people of all or no faith to come together with the intention of making the world a more peaceful place. First, a candle is lit during a moment of silent meditation and then attendees are invited to share thoughts, poems, prayers and music. Yesterday, the event was particularly focused around the shooting.
“You go to show to have fun and to sing to music and to experience it. Death on a massive scale right in front of you is not something you imagined when you got your ticket,” Walsh said.
Freshman Wenmei Bai is from Henderson Nevada, about 20 minutes away from the location of the shooting. At Monday Prayers for Peace, she explained to the group how Las Vegas is known as a tourist destination, but what isn’t always is acknowledged is the close knit community of those in residence. She hopes that the community holds on to that in times like these.
“I heard about it last night, and it was really weird seeing the strip I see everyday at home on all the screens,” Bai said. “All of the cars and people running– just absolute chaos. It just didn’t see real. But then seeing the death and wounded toll this morning really made it become real at that point, in terms of bodies and people and families. It really hit home then. It’s my home. When something like that comes so close to home, a little piece of you crumbles. I can only imagine what it’s like for people who knew someone killed or injured.”
Sophomore Jessica Fields is also from Las Vegas and explained how she never expected a tragedy like this to happen where she’s from.
“It feels so weird not being there with my family through the chaos,” Fields said in a digital message. “I don’t know who of my high school friends attended the concert, but all I know right now is that everyone is safe. I felt lots of remorse for everyone all of yesterday. I never had a tragedy happen in my hometown before. It was an unusual feeling to have.”
Cheryl Raine, a pastor at the local First Presbyterian Church, attended Monday Prayers for Peace and explained afterwards that at last night’s service, her message was that we shouldn’t wait for times of crisis to realize that we’re all human. We didn’t need another example, she said.
“[Sunday night,] It didn’t matter what race, gender, or religion you were,” Raine said. “If you were hurt, people came to help you. Why can’t we be like this all the time? Why do the things that we fight over have to cause so much division? Why can’t we realize we are one humanity? Will we ever stop using violence? We have to be better at building community across all of our differences.”
The Bon Appetit Plaza along with several other areas of campus, played the news all day as updates continued to roll in. In the plaza, students and faculty gathered around as they were getting their lunches, solemnly watching the coverage. Plaza employee, Kerensa Jones spent her time behind the counter checking up on students while the news played in the background.
“My initial reaction was ‘Oh my god I hope none of my students are there,’” Jones said. “I know it’s such a popular place here, and I just wanted to cry. I just don’t understand how someone can do something like this. Especially at a family event. Country music is as peaceful as you can get! It’s very hard to process. I am still having a hard time.”
Mass shootings have grown to be a repeated narrative in our nation. Sunday night’s massacre is opening more dialogues about the way the United States handles gun control and issues of mental health.
“It blows my mind how we’re all just going to class after a mass shooting,” said Chryse Kruse, University of Redlands junior. “Like ‘Oh, it happened again, too bad.’ We grieve for a little bit, and then it’ll happen again, and we’ll move on. Praying is a good thing, if you’re sincere about it. But it’s not like prayer is this magical power, and that’s coming from someone who is deeply devoted to the lord. We have a problem in America, and we have a problem with gun control, and no politician wants to recognize that this can be fixed, or at least somewhat control, with gun control. How weird that those things go together.”
The shooting is also being used as a vessel to continue conversations about race and it’s relation to foreign and domestic terrorism.
“I think it is absolutely white privilege exemplified. The shooter’s brother was allowed multiple platforms on which to characterize him as a three-dimensional, normalized human being,” said sophomore Olivia Beck. “There were full articles written about how the shooter was wealthy and successful and enjoyed nice things.” She continued, “Is that supposed to make me feel better about the situation? If a Muslim had committed this act of terror, no media outlet would have allowed anyone to humanize the perpetrator; they would be characterized as an inhuman monster and all of Islam would be blamed and face repercussions.”
These conversations surrounding policy and cultural prejudice are important to understand violence and injustice in the United States and globally. But as the massacre occurred so recently, many people are pleading for time to grieve before reconvening political dialogues.
“The things that caused it and the things we should be talking about will come in due time,” Walsh said. “There are things that we need to be talking about. But this moment right now is not the time we should be talking about gun control. That conversation will come.”
In his all school email, President Kuncl said that he wants “to encourage the community to acknowledge feelings of grief, anger, or fear.” As such, he laid out the following resources.
“Students may call the Counseling Center at 909-748-8108, or stop by the Center on the first floor of Armacost. Some appointments are available today (Oct. 2). In addition:
- For immediate support, please call 24/7 crisis line at 909-748-8960.
- There will be walk-in hours tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 3 from 12 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
- Up-to-date information on counseling is also available here.
Employees may seek counseling by contacting the Employee Assistance Program, which is available 24/7 as a free benefit for employees. Call 866-799-2728 or go to http://www.HealthAdvocate.com/members.
In addition, the Grief Group meets on Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. Students and employees are welcome.”
“It’s good to remember how short life is, and how little we know about when that moment comes,” Walsh urged. “So be with people you love, tell them you love them. Hold each other up. That is how we get through today and until tomorrow.”
photos contributed by reporter and Editor-in-Chief Willow Higgins