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How Should They Be Remembered?

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

With the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in the background, white crosses for the victims of the Las Vegas massacre stand on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip.

No one in Las Vegas will forget what happened on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. 

The mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival is seared into everyone's memory - and for those who were there, the physical and mental scars from that night are permanent.

There are many questions moving forward but one for the Las Vegas Valley as a whole is: what is the best way to memorialize those lost that horrific night?

James Young is a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He’s written numerous books about memorials and he was on the jury for the national 9/11 memorial design competition.

Young told KNPR’s State of Nevada that the process of creating a memorial is already underway. He said the spontaneous memorials that sprung up almost immediately after the shooting happened are part of that.

 “Maybe the eventual memorial needs to broaden itself to include these current spontaneous memorials,” he said. “Think of this as an evolving process that may result in something permanent – one big space or one small space – in the years ahead or may not but both those possibilities need to be part of what we regard as the memorial itself.”

Two cities that are in a similar situation as Las Vegas are Orlando, Florida and Newtown, Connecticut. Both were home to horrific mass shootings. Before the Route 91 shooting, the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history and the shooting of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown shocked the world.

Barbara Poma owned the now-closed Pulse nightclub in Orlando. She is now the executive director of PulseOne Foundation. The foundation is working on creating a memorial for the 49 people killed by a gunman in June of 2016.

Poma and the foundation are using an online survey to discover what the community wants the memorial to be.

“It isn’t about me anymore,” she said, “Although technically it is my property, I’m handing that location over to the community that was affected and to the world that was affected and so you don’t know what’s going to come out of these competitions. You don’t know what the world wants to see there.”

Kyle Lyddy is heading up the commission looking to create a memorial for the victims and survivors of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012.

Lyddy said while there have been some members of the community who didn’t want the memorial to be built the majority did want a memorial. He said finding a place for the memorial has not been easy because people in the community have been concerned about the location. However, a donation of land about a quarter mile from the school has been made to the commission and the process can now move forward.

Lyddy said as the process moves forward the commission has had one focus: honoring those that were lost.

“That’s our main mission, celebrating the lives that were lost and not necessarily commemorating the event or even the shooter,” he added.

The Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission has also taken input from the community, using online polls, community forums, and outreach to different groups, but it has always made sure that the families of the 26 victims had a say in the process.

Professor Young admired both Poma and Lyddy for their efforts to open the process up to the whole community. He said allowing that space for discussion is vital.

“That is one way to both contain it and to define these questions but that’s good,” he said, “There will be commercial interests as well and those questions get to be asked also. By creating a well-defined, well-ordered process, you leave room for all these issues to be addressed.”

One thing Young doesn’t believe should happen is turning all 13 acres of the festival site into a memorial.

“Especially in urban contexts, when you begin enshrining every site or a murder or martyrdom or piece of catastrophe, you end up taking way living spaces,” he said. “These places will become places of pilgrimage for better or for worse.”

Amanda Fortini is a journalist, who has talked to several of the survivors for an article she wrote for the New Yorker.

“I think with a horrific event like this there is always a tension between people who want to remember it and talk about it and honor it… and then people who want to forget it and move on I’m definitely seeing that tension here,” she said.

Las Vegas has circumstances that set it apart from other cities and towns where a tragedy has happened. People come to the city to get away from it all. To unplug from their regular lives and have a good time – if only for a week.

But Fortini pointed out that for survivors of the shooting and for the people who lost a loved one that night, there is no going back to their ‘old lives.’ Those ‘old lives’ are gone forever.

“Maybe it would haunt the Strip a tiny bit but maybe it should,” she said.

From NPR: 58 Killed In Las Vegas: How The Victims Are Being Remembered


James Young, professor emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Barbara Poma, executive director, PULSEOne Foundation Inc; Kyle Lyddy, chairman, Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission; Amanda Fortini, journalist

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.