April 20, 1999 started like any other Tuesday. Cassie Bernall, 17, made her way to class that day unaware of how this tragic day would unfold. For in just a few hours, two other students would enter into Columbine High School armed with firearms, knives, and pipe bombs intent on murder. What followed was a massacre which cost 8 people their lives, to include Cassie Bernall. When the gunman bore down on her, he asked her in a sick, evil, and sadistic way, “Do you believe in God?” To which she boldly, and courageously declared, “Yes!” At the time I was a sophomore at Ponderosa High school, less than 30 miles away. That day was felt by the entire country, but for the victims it will never be forgotten. At the time I was not a Christian, but the story of Cassie’s courage spoke directly to my heart. I even remember hearing some of the more “macho” guys talk about how they would have beat up the gunman had it been our school. Even at that age I knew their failed attempt at chauvinistic courage was false when compared to the true courage of Cassie. A few years later I joined the Army. I served overseas in multiple combat zones, and became an expert in firearms and tactics. After the military I even filled the role of an instructor and consultant in those fields. I eventually moved to Las Vegas, NV.
These events helped me, though I fear nothing could have prepared me, to help speak into the lives of many people in my city when another disaster struck. On October 1st, 2017, a crowd of more than 20,000 concert goers gathered in front of the Route 91 event stage. Across the street at the Mandalay Bay, a madman, who had planned his attack for weeks, broke two of the high rise windows on the 32nd floor; and began to poor down bullets into the crowd. His actions killed 58 people and wounded over 850 others. My Wife was working at one of the properties on the Las Vegas strip that night. I’ll never forget the phone call she made to me while I watched what was unfolding on the news. I began calling friends of mine, and we were making plans to go to the strip in an effort to get our loved ones out. My experience as an instructor and consultant though, reminded me there weren’t going to be any ways in or out of the area while the police responded. Helpless to do anything directly about the event, I hit my knees and prayed for my Wife’s safety like never before. Thankfully my Wife did come home safe that night, but not everyone was so lucky.
Even though this event was all but unimaginable, the tales of sacrifice and heroism have made a legend of a city know as the “City of Sin.” In response to this event our city showed the opposite to be true.
Tales of Lyft drivers opening their cars to get victims out of danger.
Stories of off duty first responders in the crowd, jumping directly to the aid of the wounded who lay on the ground even while bullets still fell around them.
Officers who scrambled to locate and engage the shooter among the most chaotic event to ever hit the Las Vegas strip. Many trying to draw the fire away from the crowd at their own risk. Others trying to usher the crowd to safety in an event that had never been trained for.
When the call for blood came from the local hospitals thousands turned up to donate and meet the demand.
Church groups and other charitable organizations coordinated food runs to keep the hospital staff fed and refreshed while they worked on the massive influx of wounded.
When a dark event clouded the “City of Sin” the inhabitants rose to shine the brightest light this city has ever seen. I for one am both humbled and proud to now be fortunate enough to claim Las Vegas as my home, and these hero’s as my neighbors!
As we look back on this event what is our best way to move forward?
-First we never forget the victims. Each of those individuals was a son or daughter. Every one of them has their own story. We must remember that who they were, and sadly how they were taken, are now a part of the lives of everyone who knew them. -Second we must honor those who step up and respond to such tragedies. It is a rare form of courage to be willing to run towards the sound of gunfire while everyone else is running away. Police, first responders, medical and trauma personnel are truly some of our nations finest. -Third we must remember how the finest of humanity comes in response to tragic events. The loving support showered on those effected. The selfless sacrifices of money and even blood which get donated to bring life into a horrible circumstance. We must bring the very finest of humanity to light where it can be shown bright for all to see. -Fourth we must remember to live our lives with the knowledge that no one is promised tomorrow. We must commit to love one another not just in tragedy, but every day. It would be a real shame if after seeing how much love can be poured out onto victims, that we would reserve these actions only for catastrophes.
-Fifth God can use even the very worst events in a way which brings people to a place where they can experience His glory and love. Either through the kind actions of another person or in searching for answers to hard questions. In this truth we can place our hopes. God bless all of us. May His mercy and comfort fill the hearts of those who hurt. May His wisdom enlighten those who experience such tragedies, that they may speak life into those who suffer in the future. On this, the one year anniversary of October 1st, 2017, let us remember.