Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2019

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Ink with impact: Tattoos helped people cope, raised money for people shattered by the shooting

Downtown Tattoo Vegas Shooting

L.E. Baskow

Vegas-shooting tattoos being done by Ryan Phillips and others with Downtown Tattoo on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017.

Downtown Tattoo Vegas Shooting

Ryan Phillips with Downtown Tattoo talks about the Vegas-shooting tattoos they are doing on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Launch slideshow »

When tragedy strikes, people find their own ways of healing. Some turn to counselors, others get out and do something physically active, and there are those who go a more permanent route.

Local tattoo parlors were flooded with customers seeking Las Vegas-related ink after the Oct. 1 shooting — to honor loved ones lost or wounded, to memorialize experiences responding to the chaos, or just to show support for the shaken city. And shops across the scene stepped up to donate the proceeds.

Massive Tattoo Studio, Reverie Tattoo & Art Studio, Bad Apple Tattoo, Studio 21 Tattoo, Stedfast Tattoo, Vegas Val’s Tatts, Red Rock’N Tattoos & Apparel and Club Tattoo were among those offering themed designs for $25 to $100, benefiting victims, their families and first responders. Revolt Tattoos collected donations while inking ‘Vegas Strong’ for free.

Last Chance Tattoo owner Bradley Pauley started sketching after a sleepless night watching the news as the tragedy unfolded. Clients and friends close to it were texting, asking for designs that might help them cope: a stark skyline, a heart with ‘Vegas’ written across it, a memorial ribbon around a poker chip bearing the festival logo’s 91.

He ended up drawing about 20 options, each costing $40 that went to the National Compassion Fund, a platform for direct donations to victims of mass-casualty crime. From noon to midnight Oct. 13, the shop near the Strip raised most of a nearly $3,000 donation. Pauley said one tattoo recipient was a police officer who’d worked the crime scene in shooter Stephen Paddock’s hotel room at Mandalay Bay. A friend and frequent client whose uncle was killed decided to go without. “He didn’t want any memory of it.”

In a video posted by The New Yorker, artist Peter Barrios from Bad Apple boiled down the healing aspect of getting tattooed in the immediate wake of loss: “(They) take your mind off of the pain, take your mind off of what you’re going through — it’s very therapeutic. So I’m using this to free people,” he said. The New Yorker reported that in just three days, Bad Apple raised almost $5,000.

Through the crush of clients looking for that release, Pauley said, Bad Apple sent some to Last Chance and other shops. “The whole tattoo community turned pretty solid in October ... trying to make sure everybody that needed something done got taken care of. Between us, Massive, Bad Apple and Studio 21, there was probably $60,000 or so (donated),” Pauley said. “There’s nothing to brag about there. It was just us doing what we could, when we could, how we could.”

Pauley himself gets tattoos too often to give blood, so he gave cash to friends delivering coffee and Red Bull to first responders dealing with the horror at the festival. (He said that his aunt and sister had planned to attend but didn’t for whatever reason.)

He was proud of the city’s reaction, and eager to play even a small role in recovery.

“I just wanted to help people get closure or feel better about something that was so terrible,” he said. “And the people that did tell me their stories, it’s obviously something I’m not gonna forget. If me sitting down and tattooing you to donate to the people that lost their lives or are in the hospital still, whatever it may be, I’m gonna do whatever I can to help.”

In the first week after the incident, Downtown Tattoo on Fremont Street saw an influx of new clients, raising about $3,000 for Zappos’ “Support Las Vegas” $1 million match, which at press time had reached $968,343.

“It was one of the busiest we’ve ever been,” said artist Ryan Phillips. “One guy said he went to the bathroom (at the festival) and when he came back, he watched his friend get shot. He was killed right there. ... There was a couple from Canada that flew back here just to get tattooed. They had left after the tragedy, then made a day trip back out here four days later just to get tattooed and fly home. They wanted that closure.”

Pre-drawn options at Downtown Tattoo incorporated hearts into designs that called out Las Vegas in words or silhouettes of the Strip skyline. Some used the Route 91 Harvest festival logo or the frame of Nevada’s border.

The latter is now on the forearm of local musician Kaylie Foster, who has lived in Las Vegas on and off for 15 years. The state’s outline includes a tiny heart designating the location of the only city she has ever considered home.

“I have a very strong connection with this town,” said Foster, who wasn’t at the festival but wanted to make a statement about that night and her love for the community. She settled on the tattoo after visiting the memorial of white crosses behind the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, where shooting victim and fellow University of Arizona alum Christiana Duarte’s name was displayed. “That is when I lost it. ... The blood banks were full anyway, so I decided to get a tattoo,” Foster said. “I know that if I see anybody else with this tattoo, we’re all connected.”