Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Meghan Earley loves her retired life in Laughlin. She often goes out to lunch with friends, participates in trivia nights and takes monthly trips to Sunset Station in Henderson and Springs Preserve in Las Vegas with other members of her senior center.
But Earley’s quiet life in the riverside town she loves so much is often overshadowed by nightmares and flashbacks of what happened Oct. 1, 2017, during the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Earley suffered multiple injuries, including a concussion, after being trampled by other concertgoers who were fleeing the shooting at the country music festival on the Strip. Fifty-eight were killed, including a friend with whom Earley attended the festival; 500 were wounded.
Earley, who still is healing from her psychological wounds. said she was grateful for her life, has started to experience suicidal thoughts, especially after seeing news coverage of other mass shootings in Gilroy, Calif., and El Paso, Texas.
“Anytime there were fireworks, anytime that I hear a siren, I just have panic attacks and anxiety,” she said. “What I’m learning is, the events of that night don’t just go away.”
Contact the center
Contact the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center at 702-455-2433, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday or email [email protected]
Those affected by recent mass shootings can call the Disaster Distress Helpline anytime at 1-800-985-5990 or by texting TalkWithUs to 66746.
Those experiencing suicidal thoughts can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
The one constant source of support has been the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center, which first opened just a few weeks after the Las Vegas attack as a resource and referral center for those affected by the shooting. It’s at 1524 Pinto Lane near the Medical District on Charleston Boulevard.
“I can call them anytime,” she said.
“After Gilroy, things got worse. They offered in-person as well as conference calls, processing groups for the week after what had happened, and that really helped ... that was a tremendous help because that was when I realized I wasn’t the only Route 91 survivor who was having thoughts of suicide,” Early said.
In addition to mental health services, the center acts as a central location for legal and financial assistance for victims.
“Our plan is to set up a structure that could be adopted to provide any wraparound victim services for any mass casualty,” said Tennille Pereira, the resource center’s director.
When Earley was forced to relocate to the first floor of her apartment complex because of injuries sustained in the shooting, the resource center sent movers to Laughlin to help her move.
“The Resiliency Center has run interference for me a number of times and has always been able to come up with a workaround,” Earley said. “I don’t know where I would be without the Resiliency Center, especially living here in Laughlin.”
Earley is one of dozens of other survivors who have utilized the center since the shooting. The facility helped survivor Cristina Rohner get matched with her service dog, Juliette, through the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation, a nonprofit that matches service dogs with veterans. Rohner isn’t a veteran, but has post-traumatic stress disorder from the shooting.
Rohner said that although she wasn’t physically injured that night two years ago, she was mentally traumatized. The veterinary technician still struggles to talk about the events but she won’t allow the trauma to ruin her life.
“She helps me feel safe,” Rohner said of her service dog. “I know when something is going to go down, she’s the first one to pick up on it.”
Rohner said it was difficult to ask for extra support because of stigmas surrounding mental health.
“I walk around and you look at me and there’s nothing wrong with me,” she said.
But like many survivors of mass tragedies, everyday loud noises like slamming car doors can trigger flashbacks and panic attacks. Asking for help was a step in the right direction to getting some kind of relief.
“For me to come out and say, ‘Hey, I need a service dog’ is a big step for me because I’m publicly announcing that there’s something wrong with me and I need help,” she said.
UNLV psychology researcher Stephen Benning, who has studied the long-term effect on the mental health of shooting survivors, said some often tried to appear normal and would avoid seeking help.
“Sometimes they think other people need it more than they do and they don’t want to be a burden on the system,” he said.
Terri Keener, behavioral health coordinator at the resource center, said the center tried to cater its services to everyone’s unique needs.
“Most of the people we’ve come in contact with have some type of guilt,” she said. “It’s important for us to not add on to that.”
Rohner said that for survivors still trying to cope with what happened to them, the first step in the healing process was reaching out. She didn’t know what kind of answer she would get when she emailed the resource center asking for assistance in getting a service dog.
“I started with a simple email that could have ended in a no, but it ended in a yes that changed my entire life,” she said.