The aftermath of a mass shooting has become all too familiar: Funerals take place, obituaries are written, heroes are highlighted, hashtags are created, motives are questioned, guns and mental health are debated. There is often the painful breakdown of a parent who lost their child on the evening news, images of community members holding candles on the front page of newspapers, and soundbites of politicians calling for gun control on social media. A community’s physical pain and mourning are exposed.
That pattern rang true after a gunman opened fire at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017, leaving 58 people dead, hundreds more injured and thousands emotionally scarred.
As loved ones are buried, stories fade from national headlines. Weeks go by and heated topics cool. Community members, survivors and the families and loved ones of those killed begin their journey of recovery. Many survivors describe it as finding their new normal.
“We know we’re never going to have our old life back,” says Stacie Armentrout, a survivor who escaped the concert with her husband, Dave, and their two daughters Nora and Denise. The Armentrouts sustained physical injuries trying to escape, and the family is still working through their emotional recovery.
Two years later, some survivors are not yet back to work. Some of those injured are waiting for their next surgery. And widows are raising children alone while trying to balance their healing.
“All these people that think that you can just move on — you don’t,” says survivor Heather Gooze.
“You can feel 100% complete and fine and peaceful and have it be 100% taken back,” says Susanan Anely, another survivor. A couple of months ago, Anely had a panic attack at her workplace. It was under construction and the noise of a staple gun resembled a semi-automatic weapon.
The crying, pain, panic attacks, meetings with attorneys, appearances in court, hospital visits, doctors appointments, physical therapy and process of healing continue for weeks, months, years and decades. And for every individual that journey is different.
“It’s kinda been a strain on my marriage. My kids, they can tell that I’m kinda easily startled, that I’m just different,” says Brittany Bassett-Quintero, who is going through a divorce. She says that after the shooting “everybody kind of looked at you a little bit differently … not knowing how to react, to talk to you.”
Bassett-Quintero’s experiences are echoed by other survivors. And the search for a connection — for someone who understands and won’t question their trauma — was the impetus for the formation of a new community: the Route 91 family.
“I think it’s the most important part for everyone … to have that support,” says Chris Madsen, who attended the concert with his then-9-year-old son Nick. “It’s really hard for people that weren’t there to understand.”
This new supportive community is scattered around the country — held together by Facebook groups, gratitude, empathy and understanding.
“The weeks and months that followed left us finding it difficult to breathe and wondering how we’d ever move forward. Again on this day, thousands of lives changed forever when they had to live through that terrifying night and the days that followed. However, none of us were alone,” Mynda Smith, sister of Neysa Tonks, who was killed in the shooting, said during a ceremony remembering the victims a year after the massacre. “The battle is far from over. Wives, husbands, parents, families and friends are without their loved ones. People are still battling physical wounds, while others are battling mental wounds. We all need support and love. We must keep loving. We must keep supporting.”
Bridget Bennett is a freelance photographer based in Las Vegas.