Benefit concert show goes on for Vegas shooting survivors

By , on October 20, 2017


LAS VEGAS — Some survivors of the Las Vegas mass shooting said they were ready for closure, though they confessed feeling engulfed by anxiety and security fears while gathering in a large group for the first time since the attack.

Theresa Almada, 49, drove Thursday evening from San Diego back to Las Vegas to attend a country music concert benefiting victims of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Fifty-eight people were killed and hundreds more were wounded Oct. 1 at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on the Las Vegas Strip. Gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino-hotel tower, unleashing more than 1,000 bullets into the crowd.

Almada was physically unharmed and was able to run back to her hotel, but she said she feels immense anxiety that comes in waves. She gathered at the Thursday night benefit concert with fellow survivors wearing matching orange t-shirts and bracelets. Almada said she hopes she’ll feel some sense of closure and can begin to heal from the traumatic experience.

“I don’t know if there’s a copy-cat person out there but I’m not going to let him do what he did to every single day of my life,” Almada said of Paddock.

Susan Pudiwitr, 56, of Las Vegas, who suffered a bullet graze wound on her hip, said she finds comfort being among other survivors but being in a big crowd again makes her think about who’s out there, where they are and how she would save her and her friends if the worst happened again.

“It’s been hard. I don’t sleep. I have trouble eating,” Pudiwitr said.

Security was also on the mind of John Rich of the American country music duo Big & Rich, which is headlining the benefit concert along with Rascal Flatts at the indoor Orleans Arena. Thursday’s concert is expected to attract 8,000 people, including 2,000 police and other emergency workers.

“It’s definitely going to be on your mind. You’re going to look at your surroundings through a different lens,” Rich said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I mean, how could you not?”

Big & Rich performed about 90 minutes before Paddock opened fire for about 10 minutes with country music star Jason Aldean on stage at the time.

Rich said he would expect “drastic” security measures going forward for live concerts, suggesting police snipers should be on hand at outdoor events and not only for those featuring major public speakers.

“You almost have to treat this event as if the president of the United States was attending the event. That level of security might be it. If that’s what it takes then that’s what it takes,” Rich said.

He added: “I would like for a bad guy to look up and see snipers.”

Rich, a gun rights advocate, said he had never heard of “bump stocks,” which Paddock used to make his semi-automatic guns mimic the more rapid fire of automatic weapons.

“To take a semi-automatic weapon and make it fully automatic, it’s not good,” Rich said.

Big & Rich, whose hits include “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” and “Lost In This Moment,” had left the festival grounds after their performance the night of the shooting but have taken the tragedy personally.

“Those are our people. That’s who we identify with. That’s who we make music for, so to see them suffering like that, it’s really painful to watch,” Rich said.

Security at the benefit concert will be “really robust,” said David Strow, spokesman for Boyd Gaming Corp., the concert’s host. Guns won’t be allowed.

The tickets for the concert were free and all were taken. Organizers accepted donations and profit from food and beverage sales will go to a victims’ fund.

Thursday’s show will also feature remarks from Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and Fox News host Sean Hannity, a friend of Rich.

President Donald Trump tweeted his support of the concert, using the hashtag #VegasStrong.