Las Vegas Sun

August 18, 2019

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A year removed, panelists recount haunting images, lasting effects of mass shooting

UNLV's Remembering 1 October: A Night of Healing and Community

Christopher DeVargas

Local photographer David Becker speaks to a room of invited guests during a panel at UNLV Fri. Oct. 5, 2018, recounting his experience of documenting the mass shooting that occorued at Route 91 from inside the festival grounds as it unfolded.

Freelance photographer David Becker pauses to collect himself as he stares down at the notes on his lap he says he needs to accurately detail the sequence of events from a year ago. He’d ramble otherwise, he says.

After photographing country singer Jason Aldean, he shifted his focus to editing the images to beat the 22,000 fans out of the venue. From previous Route 91 Harvest festivals, he’d known there would be snarled traffic.

Then loud pops tore through the sky — fireworks or a damaged speaker he says he was told.

“It’s the speakers, it’s only the speakers,” Becker repeated to himself as he rushed to the grounds, camera in hand, snapping haunting images of the massacre as it unfolded.

Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg somberly recalls food still cooking on grills at the festival grounds when he was ushered in more than three hours after the onslaught concluded. Empty plastic cups and water bottles were strewn about, with a breeze flicking debris into his path as he surveyed the grisly scene.

Cellphones also were scattered along the way, Fudenberg says. “It’s like everyone vanished suddenly.”

Various patients from the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting refused medical attention at University Medical Center, recalls Dr. Deborah Kuhls, UNLV professor of surgery and medical director of UMC trauma. They wanted others to be treated first, she says.

Injuries that would typically cause patients to wail in pain had a paradoxical effect, Kuhls says. These victims, overwhelmed by the shock, remained hushed.

Becker, Fudenberg and Kuhls on Friday night spoke to a crowd of about 75 at UNLV’s Lied Library about their experiences that fateful night from a year ago, and how it’s reverberated in their lives.

Jay Plegenkuhle, who immediately after the shooting envisioned and designed the downtown Healing Garden, and Aracely Rascon, who was instrumental in the design of the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center, also spoke.

Fudenberg had just left the Strip after attending his first Golden Knights game when he got a call from his office, telling him there was a mass shooting. Over the phone, he could hear gunshots from his staff member’s police radio.

The man who’s accustomed to seeing dead bodies encountered something much grimmer.

Since the tragedy, Fudenberg picked up meditation and, along with his staff, trauma recovery yoga. They’d also learn that people’s pain can’t be compared. His new normal, he said, involves being a lot more emotional. “I’ve done a lot of crying … and that’s OK,” he said.

Before the shooting, Kuhls had been researching gun violence, trying to find ways to prevent the violence before it occurs, she said. On average, only 4 percent of work at hospitals involve gunshot wounds, a task that’s mostly picked up by a medical examiner, she said, but the repercussions for those who survive can be devastating.

Becker said his hands shook as he scanned the images he’d captured: a trio running for their life; a man lying on a woman, a frightened cowboy hat-wearing man and woman crouched down, holding each other.

Meeting some of the individuals he photographed has been therapeutic, he said. Some have made the images screen savers on their phones and computers, a woman telling him the image is a “time stamp” in her life.

At one point during the solemn presentation, Becker looked up at his wife, saying how grateful he was for her. Just then did he smile.