Las Vegas Mourns As Tourists Continue To Visit City

Oct 3, 2017
Originally published on October 3, 2017 8:19 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Las Vegas today - a search both for clues and for a motive for Sunday night's mass shooting which left 59 people dead and more than 500 injured. The death toll may rise as many victims remain in critical condition.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The Family Reunification Center is where you go when you're not sure where your loved one is and you're not sure if it's time to give up or not. It's in the city convention center four miles from where the attack happened. Our colleague Mary Louise Kelly is in Las Vegas and sends this report.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: As the hours have passed since the shooting, the flow of people into and out of the family center has slowed to a trickle, and that tells a story in and of itself. The Las Vegas coroner's office has been reading out regular updates, then taking mothers, fathers, siblings, spouses aside into private rooms and delivering heart-shattering news. We passed one family wrapped in blankets, trudging out. They saw our recording gear and steered clear. That family, we later learned, lost their daughter.

RICK GODINEZ: They need some closure. They need to know exactly if their loved one is there.

KELLY: That's Rick Godinez, a chaplain with the Las Vegas Fire Department. He has spent the long hours since the shooting trying to find the right words to console people who are beyond consolation. We bumped into him just outside the doors where family members were checking in.

GODINEZ: We didn't lose anybody. We had several of our LAFD firefighters enjoying the concert. And to hear their stories is bone-chilling.

KELLY: And you said some of them are here tonight with their families...

GODINEZ: Yeah.

KELLY: ...And some people still missing.

GODINEZ: Some are still missing. They're waiting to hear from the coroner's office as to who they have and get any information they can. That's the hard part - is just this waiting to get information. That's the hard part. One of our retired fire captains is here in - at the hospital. His daughter - it's going to be touch-and-go with her. She sustained a gunshot wound to the head. And she's got a family, and we're just hoping the best for her.

KELLY: I mean what do you say when - in a situation like that?

GODINEZ: You know, I'll tell you. I kind of learned a long time ago it doesn't even - it's not even what you say. It's just the fact that you're here. That's what most people tell me. I remember you being at the hospital. I remember you showing up. I don't remember what you said, but I remember you being here.

KELLY: That's Las Vegas Fire Department Chaplain Rick Godinez. Now, on that note of showing up, of being there, Janet Rubio had been trying to do that all day. Rubio is from Vegas. She's a paralegal here working on her law degree. She had two little kids in tow.

JANET RUBIO: First we tried donating blood, and they said, oh, no, we're good until next week. We'll be scheduling appointments again. So, OK, we can't donate blood. What about water? What about snacks or food? And then same - no, we're at capacity; we don't need any more. So then the next thing was clothing and blankets and...

KELLY: That's hard. I mean you must have such an emotional response to what happened last night, living here. And you're trying to pitch in to help, and it's full-up.

RUBIO: Yeah. I mean, thankfully I'm really happy, and you know, I'm really proud of my city that everybody has just come together.

KELLY: We heard the same story over and over - so many people trying to help, trying to give that there is nowhere left inside the family center to put it all.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KELLY: Outside the center, barely 10 minutes drive from all that food, all that grief, is what feels like a different world - Caesars Palace and the Bellagio the Venetian, the Strip in all its shiny, tacky, lurid neon glory.

We're just walking along the Strip right down the main drag, and there is a candlelit vigil right on the main fountain outside the Bellagio. But it's a funny feeling because the Strip is still hopping. There's music playing and people out and people dressed to go to the casinos and go to a nice dinner and posing for selfies with their friends, smiling even as they walk past and look at this shrine that's popped up just right in the middle of the main drag of the Strip. Reading messages here - R.I.P. - rest in peace to the ones who lost their lives, people signing so much love from Dallas, Texas. Ukraine prays for Las Vegas. This is people from all over the country.

Chelsea Ricotta told us she is the force behind that candlelit vigil. She made the posters. She bought the candles. Ricotta is a student at Nevada State College, born and raised here.

CHELSEA RICOTTA: Yeah, this is definitely home. It's a little bit of a different experience. I mean, I know with 9/11, we all were affected by it, but we all watched from a screen. But it's nothing like when your city is directly affected. And something like Vegas - we've never - hit this hard.

KELLY: Now, it's a different scene for people who don't call Vegas or even the United States home, like Jo Stevenson, a tourist from New Zealand. She's on a road trip down Route 66. Vegas is her last stop.

JO STEVENSON: I mean my view from little, old New Zealand is, you have a lot of guns here. We have just seen restaurants - people walk in with guns on their hips. And you know, even our police don't walk around with guns. I just think it's part of the culture unfortunately. And maybe until that changes, it's just going to keep happening.

KELLY: Behind Jo as we spoke, a jumbotron lit up, pray for Las Vegas. Across another scrolled, thank you to the first responders. But the next sign was bold and gold for the Britney Spears show and, next to that, one beckoning J-Lo Vegas. In Sin City, the show goes on. So do the slot machines.

ANNETTE HERNANDEZ: I'm winning.

KELLY: At Wheel of Fortune, you're winning.

A. HERNANDEZ: Yes.

KELLY: May I ask how much you've won?

A. HERNANDEZ: Well, so far we started with $20, and that's what I have so far - almost $800.

KELLY: That's Annette Hernandez. She and her husband, Robert, are in town from California for a little casino action, a show or two. On Sunday night, they were just leaving Caesars Palace when they heard something awful had happened a few blocks away.

ROBERT HERNANDEZ: When we got back to our hotel, it was a little dark. I mean, we just felt really bad about everything that was going on. In the middle of the night, we had friends and family calling and texting us, trying to see whether or not we were OK. It was a really, really dark night for us, kind of somber.

A. HERNANDEZ: And you know, when we got out this morning, there was people arriving. They probably already had their plans. They probably already had their tickets. They had their reservations. So as we're walking out, they're checking in. So you just kind of have to stop and just think, yeah, you know, they saw everything going on, but unfortunately life goes on.

KELLY: Life and grief and so, so many questions here in Las Vegas.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. And you'll hear her again tomorrow. She'll co-host the program from Las Vegas along with me here in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.