KWC friend and writer Jill Hueckman was in the middle of the Las Vegas mass shooting. Here’s her account.
Last night, when I was standing in the middle of an enormous venue beneath Mandalay Bay on the closing night of a three day music festival with a nice little whiskey buzz going, the furthest thing from my mind was the unrest and uneasiness I had felt about 12 hours prior. For some reason when I got up yesterday morning all I could feel was a burning itch to get out of Vegas. My patience for lines and oblivious tourists was waning. I needed to pedal. Unfortunately, the junk they wanted to rent to me at the bike shop was not worth the astronomical rental fee, so I laced up my running shoes and drove to Henderson to scope out Sloan Canyon.
I ran mediocre trails in the heat, took some mediocre pictures and climbed to the highest rock I could find. It felt good to move and felt good to get out of the smog, the lights and the repulsive cigarette smoke that filled the lobby of the casinos. Mostly, however, it felt good to shed the nagging uneasy feeling I couldn’t shake that morning at the hotel. Everyone I saw seemed either angry, exhausted, annoyed or sad and unhappy. It was an overwhelmingly uncomfortable feeling, so it took me no time at all to get my stuff together and get the hell outta Dodge for a few hours.
When I returned all sweaty, stinky and rejuvenated, my friends were just getting back from the pool. I jumped in the shower, poured a Crown and Ginger for the shuttle ride to the concert venue and was looking forward to an awesome night with good friends and good music.
After the next to last artist, a lot of us dancing like fools, a bit more whiskey and a million laughs, Chelsea asked me if I wanted to go. I thought for a second:
“Ya know, I think I’ll stay, the music sounds really good tonight…”
“All good, I will see you ladies back at the room.”
Those were the last words I clearly remember saying or hearing before all hell broke loose. I was sitting in the middle of 25,000 people and really just taking it all in when I heard what I honestly thought was a kid’s cap gun or redneck “Bubba” shooting off a bottle rocket he had managed to sneak past security. I looked to my right, looked up and the next thing I knew, the band was running backstage and everything went dark.
At that moment I think everyone said a collective, “Oh my God, this is real” and pandemonium ensued. I heard people screaming and dove underneath the makeshift bar I was near. Tables were being overturned, bottles breaking and purses, shoes, hats flying everywhere. A girl grabbed my arm and was shaking like I have never seen a human being shake. I was sandwiched between her and another girl who was calling 911. It sounded like a firing range or what I would imagine a war zone would sound like.
Hundreds of rounds were pelting the galvanized steel wall structure a few of us managed to get behind and underneath a table. My face and arms were slammed against the ground and the guy next to me was crying and yelling that he was not ready to die this young and asking why people do this. The girl still had a hold of my arm and was shrieking and crying. I closed my eyes and listened to another 20 rounds exploding all around us.
The silence that followed those rounds was spooky. An eerie calm came over everything.
“Let’s go! Run!” a guy yelled to me.
I swallowed hard and opened my eyes.
No. Don’t move. Not yet. There’s more.
“No, don’t do it. Stay down!” I whispered. “Don’t move, there is more. You’ll get hit.”
I held tightly onto three complete strangers for the next five minutes while bullets zinged over our head and hit the wall and table around us. I was in complete survival mode which meant I could not let myself panic. It knew it was not my time to die and I asked God to just hold onto us through this.
The gunfire stopped and my instincts said run. Just fucking run and don’t stop. So I did. I ran for the gate and never looked back. I got onto the strip and ran for the Luxor. The police had opened up a door and were ordering people inside. About six or seven of us ran through all the secret security rooms none of us will ever otherwise see in a casino and ended up out on the gambling floor. I looked up and saw I was in Mandalay Bay. By this time I had heard people yelling that the shooter was in Mandalay Bay and every fiber of my being said get out, keep running and get away from the crowds. I ran through the parking garage, down the stairs and onto some side street that would take me to my hotel.
I ran another 4.5 miles through back streets and parking garages following a road that paralleled the strip. I hunkered down beside the tire of an F-150 and looked at my phone. It was exploding with texts and calls from my friends who had made it back to the room.
I just sat with my head in my hands for a second and talked to God. My head was spinning and the sounds of the bullets were loud in my ears for a second or two. This was real. It wasn’t the news, it wasn’t TV. It was real guns and real hate raining down in Vegas.
Fear controls, kills and destroys. Keep going. Get to where you are safe. You know how to survive.
I ran the last half mile amidst sirens, red and blue lights, horns honking and cars speeding by me. I got to my hotel just before it went on lock-down and sat down on the couch. I realized for the first time that my arms and legs were dirty and I had minor scratches on my legs. I also realized I had no clue where the elevator was. I had been on it probably twenty times in the last three days and I must have passed it three times already looking for it. Nothing looked familiar and I could not find my way to the restrooms or drinking fountains either. So weird.
I finally found the correct elevator and headed up to my room in a complete daze. When I walked in, my friends had the news on, and at the time there were only two confirmed dead. The next hour was surreal. I don’t really remember any of the conversations or what was said. It was like a big whirlwind of lights and TV and chatter that spun around and went in one ear and out of the other. I was still in my uber-calm survival mode, so every muscle in my body was tense, alert and ready to run. I don’t remember falling asleep but I woke up at 3:30am on the dot and all I could think of was Cheryl Crow’s song “Leaving Las Vegas.”
So that’s exactly what I did.
I drove nonstop to Hurricane, UT. It seemed like a 15 minute drive, as my mind was so focused on the feedback loop of bullets, screaming and sirens that was running in my head. I stopped for some coffee and a quick breakfast and was on the road again. My muscles and jaw remained tensed up until about Page, AZ when I finally started to relax and semi-process the fact that the guns and bullets were real. Not cap guns. Not fireworks. The guy was shooting fish in a barrel below him.
I lost it.
I pulled off and sobbed until I had no more tears. I answered a few texts and messages from friends making sure I was ok and that was actually what I needed at that moment. I got going again and cried a little more, wondering what happened to the young couple from Idaho who were pregnant, excited and so crazy in love. We rode the shuttle with them everyday. I wondered what happened to the old guy in the bib overalls that was a hit with all the women. I wondered who was searching hospitals for their daughter, their son, their mom, their dad, their husband, their wife, their old friend, their new friend or their co-worker.
I am still pretty numb I think, but I had to write this. I did not get covered with blood and I did not watch any one die. Last night in Las Vegas, I lived a very different experience than the 58 dead and the 500 injured, however my heart is torn to pieces for the families and victims. I feel a mix of utter devastation for everyone and overflowing gratitude that I am alive and uninjured.
The hardest moment of the entire night, the one where I was utterly terrified, was before we knew the shooter was on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay. I laid on the asphalt as flat and still as possible as I thought there were multiple shooters walking through the crowds gunning people down. For a split second I wondered if it was a matter of time before one of the gunmen would come upon us hiding and blow us away. Was this really the end?
No, Jill. Not yet. You are not done living. You are not done dreaming, loving and adventuring. You still have people to lift up and love with your whole heart. They need your kindness and encouragement. You have a reason to be here. You still have dreams to chase down and so much love to give.
And you still really suck at skiing….
This is the question I have gotten more than any other in the aftermath of Las Vegas. From Sunday night to Thursday morning, I honestly could not answer that question. What exactly do those words mean? Well, I want a cabin in Ouray, a massage in a remote and primitive hot springs, a plane ticket to Auckland, a horse trailer, an amazing guy who wants to chase down epic shit, and maybe a stiff drink on Friday night…..Ok, ok, so I digress….
Oh, what do I NEED after being shot at a couple hundred times by a crazy guy who somehow got his arsenal of guns up to the 32nd floor of his hotel? Hmmmm, well, all my friends keep sending me all this PTSD stuff. What is that? What does that mean? Crisis debriefing? Take care of yourself? Go talk to someone? Why? I don’t need anything. The replays of bullets in my ears and the pictures of the mass panic have stopped repeating in my head every 10 minutes. I am brimming with gratitude for the very fact that I have my precious life to keep living and as motivated as ever to help in any way I can to stop this from happening again. I’m good. What are you talking about? I got on my bike and rode it all out on Wednesday…..
So I thought. Enter yesterday morning when everything I did not feel immediately totally blindsided me. WTF is happening? Why am I unable to get out of bed after ten hours of sleep? Why does my brain feel like I am on a carnival ride? Why am I in my house but think I am in a hotel bed? Ummm, what day is it? I think I have a meeting or two at work today, but I am not sure what day it really is. Shit, what time is it? Hmmmm, I don’t really care. I’ll work from home today. What does this email say? Crap, I was supposed to get that done yesterday. Which client needs staff? Who is their case manager? I have no idea what I just read. Why do I want to cry?
Yeah, so maybe I do need some time off to heal mind and soul.
I cleared my calendar and took Thursday to go breathe some high mountain air and soak up the fall sunshine. I thought a lot about what I need. I found it extremely difficult to ask myself this question. The difficulty came due to the fact this is a question I only ask others, and never answer.
After returning home this evening, here are the words that so pitifully describe what is stirring inside my heart:
First and foremost, I need you to watch from about 1:07 to the end of this and listen to my voice as the clip closes. This was the first news I watched after leaving Vegas and I was stunned to see someone near me had submitted their footage.
Now…….I need you to look up from your screen and into the part of your soul that still harbors optimism and genuinely believes those words. And I need you to begin to nurture that belief again. I need you to water and feed it and let the light shine on it again.
“It’s gonna be ok guys, it’s gonna be ok…”
Roger that? Maybe your belief is alive and well and bearing fruit, maybe it looks like the wilted tomato plant growing in my office that did not get watered while I was on vacation or maybe it is a half-dead seed that has not sprouted? Whatever it looks like, I need you to get your gloves out and tend to it. Then I need you to start giving seeds and starts of that belief to others around you and others far from you.
That’s the tough part.
You are likely shaking your head and half-smirking at your screen right now at the absurdity of the notion that you are going to make anyone believe that. And how weird of a conversation would that be anyway?
“So, hey, um, Mr. Pissedoffattheworldangrypassiveaggressiveaccountant, I just want you to start believing it will be ok”
“And, hey there, Ms. Mybackhurtsihavethreekidsandicantpaymybillsworkingattacobell, yeah, so, its gonna be ok”
“Whooooa there, Miss Iwillpostabsolutleyanythingonfacebooktentimesadayforattentionandvalidation,
remember its gonna be ok”
Yeah, pretty weird dialogue. So try this instead.
Learn how to feel empathy for others’ pain or circumstances you do not personally experience
And now you are asking your screen how the hell that is even possible anymore? I have an amazingly succinct and ridiculously simple answer. Turn your eyes outward and begin to SEE and LISTEN to others. I mean authentically, not out of insinuated obligation. Pay attention. Get your eyes off of yourself and your “problems.” Tap into the humanity you share with those very like you and those very unlike you. The blood you bleed? The pants you put on one leg at a time? The loneliness you feel tapping a screen? The fear of failure/rejection you feel? The “something more” you can’t put words to, but you are searching for? The confusion? The elation? We ALL feel it. We all go through it.
Reach into that scary place your feelings reside. Come on. Do it.
What do you feel and what do you need? A smile? A genuine connection? Some authentic interactions? An ear? 5 bucks for gas? A shift covered? A homemade dinner? A huge hug? A friend to make you laugh? A friend to hold a punching bag? Some encouragement? A kind compliment? Someone who can fix your car? Have a beer and a laugh with you? A babysitter? You get it.
Stand in their shoes. Empathize. Be kind. No matter how small it is or how long it takes. This is where it starts. Then watch people soften and watch the stress melt away. Some will react in the tiniest ways and some will begin moving mountains. Try it.
And, lastly, I need you to watch this TED Talk – Ash Beckham “We’re All Hiding Something – Let’s Find The COurage To Open Up”. I need you to set all your devices and crap down and soak in every word she has to say. One of the best TED talks ever. And so pertinent to this moment. Raw, honest and unafraid. Begin here. Take my words and her words and put your beautiful and amazing self to work. You already know what needs to change and how to do it. Show the world in your own way.
Let’s start today’s incessant rambling by taking a trip back to the mid 80’s in rural eastern Oregon. I drove the feed truck for my dad before I could reach the pedals. He was on the back throwing off hay to the cows every morning before he went to work and I caught the school bus. There was always a .30-06 or a .222 in the front seat–stock against the seat, barrel on the floorboard. And a .22 in the gun rack. That was totally normal. Coyotes and badgers were the target. An occasional old cow who was suffering had to be destroyed out of mercy.
Fall meant hunting season. Hunting meant time off school and a huge elk camp. My dad and all his brothers knew where every deer and every elk in Grant County was and the patterns and weather in which they moved. This is evidenced by the amazing bucks and bulls on the walls of all their houses. Some people drop thousands of dollars to kill game like these. Not my family. It was just a way of life. We all had guns. I took hunter’s safety. I shot a tiny buck in Council, ID when I was 21 and cried. I never pulled the trigger on a mammal again. That’s just me. I was not hungry when I shot that buck and I personally prefer to see them alive and running through hay fields. If I was hungry, I would feel differently. I support those who hunt for sport. I have packed elk and deer out on horses and ATVs. I have helped skin and gut. I just cannot kill a deer or elk. My deal–no judgment or condemnation whatsoever to anyone who hunts.
Then I started working at a retriever kennel and subsequently hunting pheasants, ducks and geese. I bought a Beretta Urika AL391. God, I loved that gun. I shot a lot of clay targets and some birds. But I genuinely loved to see the dogs retrieve. It was in their blood, it was innate. I loved to watch my labs shake with excitement. I was observing pure instinct and DNA programmed to do nothing else. When I got my gun out, my dog knew what was going on. Gunshots meant it was time for her to find a bird. We were both in heaven. I moved to Colorado, knew absolutely no one who hunted waterfowl, my dog got old and I sold my gun at a show for money to buy a mountain bike.
Yes, I owned a gun. A semi-automatic, gas operated 12 gauge. I was stoked to not have to pump it like my brother’s 870 I had been shooting. I drooled for months over the Bennelli SBE with inertia recoil, but it was out of my price range at the time.
My dad taught me everything about guns. How to shoot, what they were for, where they were kept, how they were to be cleaned, and most of all safety and respect. They were tools. My brothers and I knew they were not to shoot people and being stupid with them meant someone was going to get killed. So we weren’t stupid with them. Because guns are tools. Tools to get dinner, tools to shoot targets, tools to have mercy on suffering animals or protect baby calves and the cats.
I would never trade how or where I grew up. I am who I am because I had parents who loved us more than they loved themselves. They knew they were responsible for cultivating little humans into good people and responsible citizens. Salt of the earth, kind, caring, hardworking people, my mom and dad spent time with us. They talked to us, taught us, made us work, supported us to follow our dreams and worked hard to raise us. We weren’t rich, but we never went hungry, we always had clothes and they sacrificed so I could play every sport out there and compete with my horses. They did an amazing job. And it was a hard job, because my bothers were both absolute hellions in high school. I say that with loving humor. They were small-town boys who raised hell in a small town. They grew out of it eventually and we all laugh about the antics they will admit to today. I vehemently disagree with the political views most of the county promotes. I never did agree with any of it, and never will. My heart screamed out different views based on, ironically, the fact that I was taught to love and respect ALL people, not just those people like me. But, whoa there, Jill, this is a can of worms that doesn’t need spilled here. Simmer down, everyone. I lovingly agree to disagree.
So, now, lets jump back to a couple of months before I was at the Route 91 Festival in Las Vegas:
On the night of some supposed meteor shower, a friend and I loaded up firewood, bikes and guns and headed up Missionary Ridge Road. We built a huge fire, solved the world’s problems from the two lawn chairs we held down for hours and talked about our ride the next morning. The meteor shower only yielded one spectacular burst of light I saw from my sleeping bag and the impending pedal adventure and the thought of shooting some big guns the next day were the two things on my mind before hitting dreamland.
The following afternoon, a black case holding some kind of big gun with a huge clip appeared in front of me. It was a spectacular feeling to shoot a bazillion rounds into a plywood target. The force that splintered the wood was exhilarating and my respect for that kind of firearm and the people who shoot them accurately for sport, deepened. The handgun I shot after my friend unloaded the clip and mowed down a young Aspen tree could not hold a candle to the excitement I felt shooting a rifle like that.
Because of how I was raised, I had no fear of the gun. I was full of respect and awe. As I am not primarily composed of testosterone, I did not feel powerful or aggressive or violent. I did not grunt or spit or yell “Murica!!” But most poignantly, I never once thought about taking another human or an animal’s life with this type of gun. This gun is meant to be shot at targets.
Responsible, ethical, law-abiding gun owners know this. They do and should have the right to bear arms. They know that guns are tools. Tools for sport and tools for protection if needed. They have respect for this tool and use it responsibly.
Is all of America composed of non-violent, benevolent citizens who uphold the values in the previous paragraph?
Do we live in a country where violent shootouts don’t occur on the big screen and glamorize killing people to make millions? Are there are no violent ideas and effects that seep into minds of both young and old?
Do we live in a country where the NRA pumps more money into mental health education and care than the Trump campaign? Do they fund art and sports programs for schools to provide alternatives to gangs and violence like they fund Congress?
Do we live in a world that is supportive of all views, colors, shapes, sizes, beliefs?
If you have been living a life void of social media, the internet, newspapers and TV, send me an email and I will give you the answers to these questions. And probably ask under which rock I can join you. Otherwise, we all know the answers, so I will spare myself the needless keystrokes.
This leads me to more questions:
How would you feel if the person you loved the most on this planet was one of the 59 you will only see in pictures from now on?
Or how would you feel if your child was gunned down at Sandy Hook right before Christmas?
What if your Colorado mountain wedding was in a month and your fiancee decided she wanted to see Heath Ledger play the joker in Aurora?
I kick myself for not speaking out more and speaking out loudly until I was the one who was running for my life because these guns (THESE EXACT GUNS) were being fired at me. Look closely. See those shells? They are the remnants of death, pain and suffering.
These are two of the guns that stopped the hearts of 59 people who did nothing to deserve it.
59 people in Las Vegas paid for our failure to keep these guns out of the hands of a madman with their precious lives. They paid for our failure as Americans to track the killer’s accumulation of 33 guns. They paid for our failure as Americans to come to terms with the fact that gun-control legislation is now necessary because of how we promote violence, how we hate each other because we are different, how aggressive and angry we have become and how no one has done anything that has even REDUCED the massacres.
The arguments “people kill people, guns don’t kill people” “maniacs will get the guns somehow and continue” are outdated, incredibly selfish, extremely weak and hold no validity any longer. Taking a look at the number of people slaughtered for no reason and the number of occurrences should give any one with a shred of a conscience the sense of urgency to advocate for legislation to at least STOP these maniacs from obtaining 33 guns LEGALLY.
Perhaps the sentence that is plastered on the window of the NRA headquarters “if they can ban one, they can ban them all” infuriates and deeply saddens me the most. This is a disgusting use of one of the greatest forms of control of people–fear. There is no proof or logic or validity to that statement, but people will believe it and not even question it. They will band together in the name of fear of losing all their guns and polarity is created. Sickening!
FUCK YOU, NRA!!
Well, I opened the can I said I wouldn’t. But I owe it to every one who died in Vegas and all the massacres prior to Vegas. My heart won’t let me stay quiet any longer. The right thing to do (the way I was taught by my parents and my rural community) is to be part of a solution, not just a self-centered bystander too scared to speak up!
Below is a diagram. I was standing in the red that outlines the white dot.
Yeah. That’s where I was standing.
Eric Church wrote a song titled “Why Not Me?” I have not listened to it yet. It will break me. I am not healed enough yet to process it in a healthy way. Why? It was the same question I was asking myself as I was hiding by the tire of a Ford truck in a parking garage, realizing I was going to live after running for my life. I do not even know why my brain went there. I cannot give you a clear answer yet. Pretty messed up, huh?
I write to heal. I write to inspire. Its raw and its real. I pray it stirs SOMETHING inside of you to do what you know is right. We don’t live in 1791 (the year the Bill of Rights was adopted), we don’t live in 1971 or even 1991 anymore. This is 2017. The weapons (and the number he stockpiled) the killer used must be made harder to obtain legally. Stop being controlled by fear of losing ol’ Betsy and your favorite elk rifle. You are not going to lose those guns!! Stop being told what to think. Reject the bullshit you are being fed with a spoon that intelligent, strict gun-control legislation aimed at preventing massacres will result in you losing all your guns.
We (yes, we the ones who are living) owe it to those who are now dead at the hands of maniacs with guns they should not have acquired legally to reject this fear, get off our asses and do something!