Las Vegas Sun

December 14, 2017

Currently: 54° — Complete forecast

Sun Editorial:

To our heroes: Thank you

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Wade Vandervort

Fallen Officer Charleston Hartfield’s motorcade makes its way down the Las Vegas Strip as it heads towards Central Church in Henderson for his funeral services, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017.

Thanksgiving has taken on special meaning in Las Vegas this year, with the Oct. 1 shooting all too fresh in the minds of local residents. This is a community where we truly have much to be thankful for, as evidenced that night by the heroism displayed by thousands of law enforcement officers, health care providers, first responders, concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest Festival and others throughout the community. Today, we offer our gratitude.

Officers lived up to vow to protect and serve

In an age of mass shootings, international terrorism and an ever-growing civilian arsenal of high-powered weapons, being a law enforcement officer requires more courage and selflessness than ever.

The world learned that on Oct. 1 in Las Vegas.

The shooting revealed a key change in police tactics. Gone are the days when patrol officers would establish a perimeter and call in the tactical teams. Now, every officer is expected to team up in small groups and use whatever weapons are at their disposal to respond to active shooters.

When the four officers who did just that on Oct. 1 made their way through Mandalay Bay, they had no idea how many people were firing or whether those people had booby-trapped the resort, yet they went anyway. In putting themselves in harm’s way to protect others, they exemplified the best in their profession and the best of our community.

There were people like Officer Casey Clarkson, a gang unit member who was working overtime at the Route 91 Harvest Festival when the shooting started. Thanks to his efforts, which included draping his body over a concertgoer and protected her, a number of concertgoers lived.

“Please share and help us find him so that we can all hug him and let him know that because (of) him 7 little kids are waking up to their mommies this morning,” one concertgoer posted on Facebook about Clarkson, who suffered a gunshot wound to the neck but kept working.

There were too many law enforcement heroes to name here. Sheriff Joe Lombardo said “there’s a thousand heroes out there,” and while it wasn’t clear if he was just talking about law enforcement officers, we’re willing to say he was.

Metro officers fanned out across the city, helping the wounded get hospital care, assisting in locking down resorts up and down the Strip amid reports of multiple active shooters, and doing whatever else was needed to keep people safe.

And they did it all while dealing with the emotional pain of losing one of their own: Charleston Hartfield, the 34-year-old Metro officer who was killed while attending the event.

Hartfield, a youth football coach and former Nevada National Guard member, was described by Brig. Gen. Zachary Dozier as someone who “epitomizes everything good about being an American, a soldier, a police officer and a father. His loss is devastating.”

At a time of high risk and, justifiably, an increasingly greater level of accountability via cellphone cameras and body cameras, being a police officer takes a remarkable sense of duty and protectiveness.

It takes somebody like Metro Officer Brady Cook, who, on just his second night on the job, was assigned to work the festival.

He was hit by a bullet that traveled through his shoulder, bicep and chest before exiting his back — a serious wound. In less than two weeks, he asked Lombardo if he could come back to work.

The Metro team was extraordinary.

Officers reached the 32nd floor suite quickly, led concert goers to safety, kept traffic flowing to hospitals and did an untold number of other things that kept people alive.

Thankful? We can’t even begin to say how much, knowing our community is being served by law enforcement officers who proved the strength of their character under crushing duress.

Hospital staffs worked tirelessly to save lives

After most of us had started to move on and heal from the shooting, the staffs at local medical centers were facing weeks of long hours to care for those who were injured physically and emotionally.

It would be more than six weeks — 47 days, to be precise — before the last shooting victim was released from a Las Vegas hospital.

During those weeks, our community’s health care providers performed miraculously and inexhaustibly.

Consider the enormity of their challenge: dealing with trauma normally not seen outside of a battlefield while also handling the daily health care needs of our community’s 2 million-plus residents. And doing it all for weeks on end.

They passed the test, which is a testament to their professionalism, their training, the support services provided by their employers and, mostly, the strength of their commitment to being caregivers.

What they went through the night of the shooting and in the days immediately following is simply incomprehensible to most of us. They walked through hallways streaked with blood into emergency rooms filled with wounded concertgoers, some critically injured.

Their patients had a range of wounds — gunshots, leg injuries from jumping over fences, cuts and abrasions, and many more. As surgeons operated, staff lined up patients on beds in the halls outside.

As University Medical Center trauma surgeon Jay Coates told USA Today: “We started divvying them up, taking them to the operating room and doing what’s called ‘damage control surgery,’ where you’re not definitively repairing everything. You are just stopping the dying.”

At Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, the hospital closest to the Strip, the staff took in 214 patients in just three hours. Well over half of those victims had suffered gunshot wounds.

To handle the crush of patients, the staff turned to its training, which included tabletop exercises involving more than 250 casualties along with live-action drills it had conducted with sister hospitals MountainView and Southern Hills.

Such preparation, coupled with the extraordinary performance by health care providers, paid off in untold numbers of lives saved.

So to everyone involved — from the doctors and nurses to administrators to support staff — the community offers its gratitude.

First responders, security, resort staffs went above and beyond

From the first moments of the shooting, first responders and resort security officers played a critical role in protecting the public and saving lives.

A Clark County Fire Department crew that had responded to an unrelated call near the area was among the first on the scene, reporting that concertgoers were running away from the scene amid what sounded like gunfire.

From there, firefighters and ambulance crews would pour into the Strip.

Despite confusion about the location of the shooter and reports of an active shooter, firefighters would form small teams with law enforcement officers and enter resorts and other areas where victims had been taken by concertgoers. Wearing protective gear purchased with Homeland Security grant money, they were able to respond more quickly than if they had waited for the scenes to be cleared for them. Officials credited the tactic, developed in the aftermath of previous mass shootings, with saving numerous lives.

“We saw from the reports (from the shootings at Columbine High School and Aurora in Colorado) of how these people died and the lack of interaction with the police departments and we knew we had to fix that,” Clark County Fire Chief Greg Cassell said.

Meanwhile, up and down the Strip, security officials were locking down their properties and safeguarding those inside. At Mandalay Bay, security staff worked with law enforcement to help locate the shooter.

There, security guard Jesus Campos went above and beyond after he was shot in the leg on the 32nd floor while checking a blocked door, staying on duty and communicating information that aided Metro’s response.

Campos and his colleagues throughout Mandalay Bay — from housekeepers to gaming staff to executives — responded with amazing grace and concern, shepherding people to safety and providing care.

The same can be said at the other hardest-hit resort, the Tropicana, where a huge number of concertgoers rushed to escape the gunfire and receive aid.

It was the Strip’s finest hour. Staff members at every property showed care for visitors.

In assessing the response days later, officials would say cooperation between various departments and security staffs played a critical role. In some communities, various agencies don’t play well together — they can be territorial, even adversarial toward each other.

That didn’t happen on Oct. 1 in Las Vegas, which prevented a tragic situation from being even worse.

Their hearts gave us hope

As the estimated number of victims went from at least two dead and 24 injured, then to 20 dead and 100 injured, then to 50 dead and 200 injured, it seemed like each new detail emerging from the festival site was another step into darkness, sorrow and inhumanity.

But then came rays of light, inspiration and hope, in the form of reports about selfless acts of concertgoers.

As gunfire rained down and chaos erupted at the concert, there were numerous stories of people leading others to safety, using their bodies to shield fellow concertgoers from bullets and risking their own lives to provide care and comfort for the wounded.

They were people like Brian Feliz, an off-duty Henderson firefighter and paramedic who helped tear down a fence, and U.S. Marine veteran Taylor Winston, who commandeered an empty pickup truck to drive 20 to 30 victims to the hospital.

In many cases, their actions saved lives. Health care providers would later describe treating victims who likely would have bled to death if a bystander hadn’t applied pressure to their wounds or aided them with makeshift tourniquets fashioned from belts and clothing.

And after concertgoers flooded out, good Samaritans in Las Vegas swept in to help. They would turn out throughout the night at the Thomas & Mack Center, the temporary shelter for concertgoers, with blankets, food, bottled water and more. In the days following the shooting, they would stand in hours-long lines to donate blood. When the victims fund opened, they poured in donations.

How many people helped others throughout the ordeal? It’s impossible to tell. Many, many thousands.

After enduring a night of the blackest evil, we salute all of those who reminded us that there are angels among us.