By Roberta J. Haney-Jones
On October 1, 2017 shots rang out from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. There were over 22,000 people in the country music crowd that was fired upon. There were fifty-eight (58) casualties, over five-hundred (500) physical injuries and all who attended suffered and continue to suffer psychologically. Nevada Attorney General, Adam Laxalt, saw there was a need for assistance from victim advocates around the country and sent the request to Michigan Attorney General, Bill Schuette, among others. AG Schuette had John Lazet work quickly to assemble a team of advocates from Michigan.
We were there for the Nevada victims for four full days. John Lazet from the Attorney General’s office, Karen Alvord from Delta County, Stella Chivikas, from Kalamazoo County, Sheryl Eckert from St. Clair County, Brenda Quiet from Washtenaw County, and myself. We worked at a Family Assistance Center (FAC) that was setup in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Those days were exhausting twelve (12) hour days filled with hearing heart wrenching stories from people who innocently went to the Route 91 music festival in Las Vegas for three days of fun, laughter and dancing. They never thought that the last hour of this concert, on a beautiful Sunday night, they would be filled with such deep terror.
We heard stories of intense fear, desperation, and panic. People being trampled on in the attempt to escape or being hit by cars in a panicked attempt to flee the area. Mass confusion about whether there were multiple shooters, whether there were shooters on the concert grounds, or whether this was a terrorist event. They would flee from one area to another and not feel safe so they would keep running, sometimes for miles. Even members of law enforcement who were off duty shared these stories. There were hundreds of off duty officers in attendance at this event. They did everything they could to assist others but ultimately felt helpless because they weren’t allowed to bring in personal or service weapons so they were limited regarding what they could do.
We also heard stories about incredible strength, about regular people who were heroes who risked all. People who risked their own personal safety to save others. In those moments, the differences in people didn’t matter. What mattered was getting away from the scene with as many people as you could take with you. What mattered was what we all eventually find to be most important: other people. Events like this change your soul, your expectations of safety, and your view of what and who is good in the world. We never expect someone to make a decision to take innocent lives but we also don’t expect perfect strangers to stay in a life-threatening situation to help a complete stranger escape danger.
Our job was to listen to these stories, match these people with available services and get property returned to them (if their property was available). I heard at one point thirty (30) tons of personal property was taken out of the concert site. A huge job for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). FBI Victim Services oversaw searching the thousands of personal effects until they found the one item that was a possible match to the item the survivor was looking for. I heard it compared to a very large scavenger hunt.
I learned a lot of things while in Las Vegas. People some together after a tragedy. After the shooting, many people donated blood and brought donated items to the Family Assistance Center (FAC). There were so many items donated everyone visiting and working the center were well taken care of.
One of the most amazing things I confirmed in my mind is how amazing Michigan’s advocates are. We worked many hours and never complained but just kept on. I don’t know how many people Michigan personally helped while we were there but I know over 3000 people had been helped by the time we left (many other states were assisting also). I believe these shooting survivors know they were cared for. During their times of sadness and fear I hope they know they are still being supported by strangers who came to them when they needed help the most.
A special thank you to the Crime Victim Services Commission (MDHHS) who made it possible for this team of experienced advocates to go out to Las Vegas and provide these much-needed services.
Roberta Haney-Jones is the Director of the Victim Rights Unit at the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM). She’s been in varying roles at PAAM for 18 years.
She currently plans and executes trainings for Michigan’s prosecutor-based advocates.
She holds a Master’s Degree in Victim Services Management from Sam Houston State University and is dedicated to ensuring victims in Michigan (and around the country) are served well.