The first time I witnessed the Vegas Strong spirit was before I stepped off the airplane. I was flying into McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nev. on Sunday, Oct. 8 after four years of longing to visit the city. When I graduated high school in June 2014, my grandfather, a Las Vegas native, gave me the gift of an experience. He promised my mother and I a trip across the country with airfare and a hotel room for four days and four nights, and I was able to bring any friend I desired. I chose to visit once I turned 21, and invited my friend who’s originally from northern California.
I flew out of Portland, Maine and into John F. Kennedy Airport on the morning of Oct. 8. I met my mother at the gate, and we boarded the plane for Las Vegas we had eagerly been waiting for since I was 17. However, the atmosphere was unlike anything we had anticipated for the four years prior. It was somber. It was sad. It was regretful.
The six-hour plane ride was quiet. This was expected. What was not expected, however, was the woman in the row ahead of me sobbing as the pilot announced our final descent into the city. She told the gentleman next to her that she was visiting a victim. It was all she needed to say. The gentleman held her hand the rest of the ride, and when we landed, I noticed her “Vegas Strong” shirt as she gathered her luggage and wiped her tears on her sweatshirt.
My mother and I got picked up at the airport by my grandfather. The distance between my exit from the plane and my grandfather’s car showed several signs with the “Vegas Strong” motto on it throughout the airport. People were wearing shirts, there were signs in the airport shops and there were billboards as we exited the airport. This was the moment it became a real emotion in my heart.
Waking up the morning of Monday, Oct. 1 in Orono, Maine was another normal day until I checked the news as I was getting ready for classes. The emotion I felt learning of the massacre that killed 58 and injured approximately 489 people on my television was nothing compared to how I felt driving through the city six days later.
Once out of the airport, the road to the hotel was severely blocked, as it was near the scene of the crime. There were several police cars surrounding the Route 91 Festival concert venue from the weekend previous, there was crime scene tape set up in the surrounding area and the Mandalay Bay hotel loomed in the distance. There were hundreds of people on the adjacent street, placing flowers and other memorabilia in memory of those who were affected that night. The Mandalay Bay hotel glistened in the sun as we drove past it to our hotel, the Rio All-Suites. It was clear where the shooting occurred. Both windows used in the attack were covered with a fake gold covering, and in the sunlight were clearly identifiable.
The atmosphere of the city was worse than on the plane. At least one out of five people in the city were wearing Vegas Strong apparel as they walked the streets, trying to live their normal lives despite their hurting.
The Welcome to Las Vegas sign had a memorial set up for victims and their families. There was a line of 58 crosses for the 58 victims that included their photos, names, flowers, candles, paintings, balloons, American flags and other items of support. As I was walking through the line of crosses with my grandfather and friend from California, we witnessed one gentleman touch each and every cross in line and say a prayer for the victim. Each prayer, he wiped a tear.
Our third night in the city, my mother, friend and I had tickets to the Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey game held at the T-Mobile Arena. They are a NHL expansion team in the city of Las Vegas and were playing their first home game in history following two away pre-season games. If they won, they would be the first expansion team in history to go 3-0.
The original plan for the game was to celebrate the new franchise for the city of Las Vegas, a highly popular sports gambling space. Following the tragedy over a week earlier, however, the ceremony was turned into a tribute to the victims.
The outside venue for the hockey game included several signs that spelled out “STRONG” for civilians to sign. I signed “Love from Maine, HS.” My mother signed similarly for Connecticut, and my friend signed for California.
The Golden Knights began the ceremony by showing a video of famous actors and singers in the area who supported the cause, by telling the city that they were in their thoughts and they were “Vegas Strong.” Following this came a video of the players expressing the same thoughts and emotions. They then brought out and introduced EMTs, hospital staff, firefighters and other “heroes” who treated victims on the night of the attack. These people were each walked with a hockey player onto a carpet on the ice and celebrated. When the introductions were finished, there were 58 seconds of silence for the 58 victims. The arena displayed the victims’ names on the ice during this time.
At the hockey game, each seat came with a “#VegasStrong” towel and a gold wristband that said “#VegasStrong” and “Vegas Golden Knights Foundation” on it. University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) hockey players gave out hockey pucks in support of their assistant coach, Nick Robone, who had been shot at the concert.
The Golden Knights defeated the Arizona Coyotes in a 5-2 blowout to support and enforce the new motto of their city: Vegas Strong.
The Vegas Strong spirit was supported not only by the Golden Knights and the entire city but also the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, the college’s student newspaper. Following the tragedy, the organization printed a 34–page paper discussing the many implications, opinions and facts of the aftermath of the event. One of their students was killed, one was shot and the assistant hockey coach was shot. Those injured are currently recovering at nearby hospitals.
The motto Vegas Strong is not just for those hurting in Las Vegas after the massacre. It resonated through the flight crews, locals, visitors, sports teams and everyone across the country, if not the world. While the city is recovering, they are not the only ones, and the outpouring of support came from everyone. Everyone is Vegas Strong.