Sunday, April 1, 2018 | 9:50 p.m.
Mynda Smith walked near the same spot on the Las Vegas Strip where her sister was killed in the Oct. 1 mass shooting.
Smith joined other survivors, and friends and family of the deceased on Sunday for a tribute to the victims six months after the tragedy that claimed the lives of 58 and injured hundreds more. She was side-by-side with others who grieved.
“It’s really hard, it’s a place where it’s tough to come, my dad couldn’t make it because it’s the place where my sister and 57 others lost their lives,” said Smith, who is the sister of Neysa Tonks, a Las Vegan killed in the shooting. “For me it’s taking back something that I’m not going to let anyone take away from me; which is my ability to live and go where I want to go. I’m not going to let him take away more than he already has.”
The group carried orange and purple glow sticks — the Route 91 Harvest Festival’s colors — and walked together down the Strip. The journey started on Haven Street, where many of the 22,000 concertgoers fled when the 11-minute shooting barrage began. When they passed the hotel where the shooter opened fire, one survivor walking in the tribute turned and gave it a one-finger salute in anger.
Family members of each victim were given a white glow stick and a rose to carry with them on the walk. Smith’s mother, Debbie Davis, placed her sister’s rose on the chain link fence surrounding the festival grounds — a spot where you could look into the site where the tragic events unfolded. About 300 unofficially attended the tribute.
“We started working on it in February, and it grew into this tonight,” said Stacie Armentorut, one of the event’s organizer. “We have a lot of family members of the victims, a lot of survivors who are in Vegas for the first time, coming as far as Alaska, to remember, honor and reflect our 58.”
For Michael Warino, brother of victim, Heather Warino Alvarado, Las Vegas was a place he wasn’t very fond of. Now, after losing his sister here, he’s made a couple of trips from Utah to participant in events for victims. The six-month anniversary remembrance was something he couldn’t miss.
“I come here because of my sister, she used to love it here,” Warino said. “I used to (get a bad feeling about Las Vegas), but after all of this, it makes you feel a little better. Because there’s a lot of people that care.”
Warino is starting a non-profit in his sister’s name, Heather’s Healers, to accumulate funds for the children of the 58 victims that were lost on Oct. 1. His sister left behind two daughters, who were present during the shooting. He’s opting for a butterfly with, pink and teal coloring and instead of the widely used angel wings with purple and orange of the Route 91 victims, because his sister was found of the three.
“My goal is to set up accounts so they have some kind of future,” Warino said. “My niece and nephews lost my sister, so it’s not just them, it’s all the other kids.”
Tracey Pirtle and Kacey Martino, who carried a “Survivor Country Strong, Route 91” flag during the walk, said they were near the stage as Route 91 Festival headliner, Jason Aldean, went on. But Martino got a sudden feeling to move to the back of the crowd — saving the mother and daughter from being in the area where most of the shots were fired.
After being ushered to safety by an off-duty police officer, they eventually made it to safety at Tropicana. Somewhere along the way Martino lost one of her sandals, but while in the Tropicana, she found a replacement.
“It was the exact same size,” she said. “It was the same brand but different color. I still have it and looked at it to day and thought, ‘Do I wear it? But, yeah, I still have it.”
These type of stories where prominent during the Sunday’s event, which gave many a chance to continue their healing with storytelling.