“On October 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old man from Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire on the crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. From his 32nd-floor suites in the Mandalay Bay hotel, he fired more than 1,000 bullets, killing 60 people and wounding at least 413. The ensuing panic brought the total number of injured to approximately 867. About an hour later, he was found dead in his room from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The motive for the mass shooting is officially undetermined.” – Wikipedia
A mass shooting is a crime in which an attacker kills or injures multiple individuals simultaneously using a firearm.
This is the story of Megan O’Donnell Clements, Market Director of Sixx Cool Moms of Delaware, and survivor of the 2017 Las Vegas Mass Shooting.
September 29th 2017, Las Vegas, Nevada. Three Days Before the 91 Harvest Festival Mass Shooting
I’ve lived three lives in 39 years.
The Before: It was easy. It was simple. It was suburbia- the perfect life, the husband, the house, 2 kids and the dog.
In that life, I was certain bad things like a mass shooting wouldn’t happen to me. Not in my safe suburban space, and not in my sheltered cocoon. It’s not that I didn’t know our world had problems, but I neglected to see they were my problems too.
I would say a prayer, send a donation, and move on.
The Before was a charmed and safe life.
The Moment the Mass Shooting Began
Then there was what I call, The Moment. The moment my safe life vanished. It started as a simple fireworks display at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas.
When the ‘pops’ started, I mentioned to my friend that, “This is strange, because I hear the fireworks, but I can’t see them. No bright lights, no colors.”
Pop pop pop.
“What am I missing? Where are the fireworks?”
Pop pop pop pop.
“Maybe it’s a helicopter and not a fireworks display? Wait, that doesn’t make sense. I don’t see a helicopter, either.”
Pop pop pop pop pop.
“Why did the music stop? Are those people running towards me?”
Pop pop pop pop.
“It can’t be. Not here in my space. Not a mass shooting in the sheltered cocoon of my safe suburban life.”
Pop pop pop.
“Oh God, this is really happening. Will my kids remember me? This is really happening. I hope my husband knows that I love him. This is really happening. Will my parents will be ok? How do I survive a mass shooting now that this is really happening? Where are the other two friends we came to the concert with?”
At this point in the madness, I grabbed my friend, and we ran. Quickly into our escape I was trampled under the crushing weight of hundreds of bodies running for their lives from the gunfire raining down around us from the sky.
“Go! I’ll find you, I promise!”
She didn’t run away from me. My friend pulled me up from the ground with strength only chaos can create, and through the bullets, we ran, again.
My amazing friend who saved me from being trampled.
“Whatever you do, don’t stop. Do you hear me? Do not stop.”
My friend and I did not stop running, even when the blood pooling on the gravel around us caused me to slip and lose balance. We did not stop running, even when my friend lost her shoes, and the debris and glass were slicing into the bottoms of her feet. And we did not stop running, when the ground shook with the force of the bump-stock aided bullets, so hard the gravel kicked up around us.
We knew we could not stop running.
At some point, we found shelter behind a sign. There was a brief second of relief, followed by the realization that, “This isn’t enough. This sign is cardboard, and the bullets are still coming. We have to keeping moving. BUT DON’T LOOK DOWN. If we look down there will be things we won’t ever un-see. We have to keep running until we find an exit.“
Unfortunately, there were no exits. We ran until we were face to face with a chain link fence. The barrier between us and the outside, but not between us and the bullets.
The concert strangers turned teammates, and together we saved lives. You’d be surprised at the strength you can find in a moment when survival isn’t guaranteed, and death feels imminent. We broke through that fence, just enough to form a human chain to get through. There were people hyperventilating through tears, who said they couldn’t keep going. We pushed those who needed to be pushed. We forced them to keep moving: Yes, they could; yes, they would keeping moving.
“Where do we go!?”
Every door to every hangar at the airport we ran to was locked. We tried door after door to no avail. Our safety was so close, and yet felt so far away.
“HERE!!! Come here, I found one!!”
Finally, there was some relief, and safety behind those walls. Next came the loudest silence I had ever experienced. The only noise came from other survivors, my teammates. They spoke words I’ll never forget.
“Where is she?”
“I lost him. He was with me and I lost him.”
“Mom? It’s me. I’m ok.”
“Turn on the news. Tell us what’s happening.”
“I love you. I’m sorry.”
All of my friends survived the Route 91 Harvest Festival Shooting
We arrived at the McCarran International Airport hours later. At this point in the evening, the two other friends we attended the concert with remained missing. Their phones just rang. Voicemails, texts, all unanswered. The agony of not knowing if these people I cared about were alive as the death toll rose on the TV screen – 10, 23, 40, 58 people dead – was unbearable.
Then we got the message. “It’s me, I’m ok.”
Four people traveled together that weekend, 2000 miles away from our home base, and all four made it back, along with the blood of an unknown fifth person on my bag. I still spend a lot of time wondering if that person is alive.
Physically, the scars have softened. The cuts on my knees are less visible now, but the scars you can’t see? They are soul deep. As deep as the abyss can feel some days.
My Third Life after living through a Mass Shooting
That’s The After: I never walk into a building without looking for that beacon, that red light shining, letting you know how to get out; EXIT.
Crowds of people that used to be unfamiliar faces full of potential friends are now potential perpetrators. “Are they too fidgety?” Or “do they look like they could have a gun?”
In The Before, it used to be just a firework I wasn’t prepared for. Now, in The After, it’s a panicked stare at my husband. A run to the car door to get inside. A moment of breathing in and out, in and out telling myself I am safe.
Before, it was just a helicopter. After, the thump thump thump of the blade mirrors the thump thump thump of the drumbeat of my heart in my throat.
In that first life, it was a car backfire outside my house. But now? Now, it’s a run up the stairs, a slam of the door, a mantra to myself, “It’s ok, it’s not a gun. You’re ok, it’s ok.” As I rock back and forth.
In this life, it’s my problem, here, in my space, my sheltered cocoon shattered. When shootings happen in places like Parkland, Uvalde, Nashville- I can feel it, quite literally. In the pumping of the blood in my ears, in the pressure of my anxiety, ready to burst through my skin. The physical reaction, it sucks the breath out of my body because I know what it feels like, and the horror of it happening to children is enough to make me lose all hope.
But instead, I keep going…
and pushing so that one day in the future, we get to a point where nobody else knows what surviving a mass shooting feels like. I am always looking for reasons to be grateful, mostly for this second chance to get life right. I look for the helpers in this hell, and I look to the survivors- the fellow members of this club that I never wanted to join- and I know that humanity is so full of good, even when the voices of hate are loud.
And I keep reminding myself those voices can’t win; because hate may be loud- most weak and insecure things shout the loudest, after all. Love is different. It is strong, and it is fierce and it does not quit. Love keeps going even when it all feels hard. And that kinda force, that kinda power? It will always win in the end.
Author: Megan O’Donnell Clements is the Market Director for Cool Moms of Delaware, a blogger, social media manager, survivor, mom and margarita lover. She lives in Wilmington with her husband Ron, twin girls, Rylee and Carmela, and their dog, Maxwell. You can read more from Megan on her blog, “The Loved Life.”
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