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Wounds Slowly Healing Two Years After Las Vegas Mass Shooting

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Jim Strickland, of Oroville, Calif., writes a message on a cross at a makeshift memorial for victims of the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in Las Vegas. "I needed some closure so I had to come back," said Strickland who was at the music festival and came back for the anniversary.

Two years ago, a lone gunman opened fire on a Las Vegas music festival, killing 58 and wounding hundreds. 

Authorities say assailant Stephen Paddock took his motive to the grave when he killed himself as police moved in. And today, the scene of the crime is being converted to a community center and satellite parking for Allegiant Stadium.

Still the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center, set up in the wake of the shooting, remains busy assisting those affected.

“One thing that we’ve learned from this tragedy is often people that need assistance don’t reach out," said Tennielle Pereira, director of the center, "So, we are actively reaching out.”

Pereira told KNPR's State of Nevada the center works to provide whatever kind of wraparound services survivors and the families of victims need from social workers to legal teams.

She said about 10,000 people are in the center's database. With that many people in need of help, the financial part of recovery has been difficult.

“The financial aspect is a very difficult piece to this," Pereira said, "There were a number of funds that cropped up right after it happened. That money was distributed based on some strict guidelines that were established but the financial needs didn’t fizzle out or go away. Sometimes they start to crop up even now.”

The center has started a financial assistance program that it is running completely from donations. Pereira said the idea is to give people with short-term financial problems immediate help while helping address any underlying long-term issues.

While the memories of the shooting remain fresh, Shiva Ghaed, a psychologist who was there, says it’s time for people to start moving on.

“Something that is important to understand is that as time moves further and further away from the actual traumatic life experience – regardless of what the traumatic life experience is – the symptoms that we start to see more chronically have less and less to do with the original traumatic event,” said Ghaed.

She said post-traumatic stress disorder is not a natural outcome after a traumatic event. She said the most common outcome is a natural recovery, but some people get 'stuck,' in the event.

Ghaed said 70 percent of those impacted by the massacre have recovered normally but about 30 percent are still struggling with rumination, which is obsessive repeated thoughts about past events.

One of the reasons some people struggle is they may have had a pre-existing mental health problem like depression or anxiety, which puts them at greater risk for PTSD.

She said people start to tell a negative life story, which can lead to avoidance behaviors like avoiding people and places that trigger anxiety, becoming overly busy to avoid processing the event or numbing feelings with alcohol and drugs.

“We do, at the end of the day, have control over the way that we choose to think about that event," she said, "We have to be willing to be accountable and take responsibility at this point because, two years out, if people are still having problems, like significant problems that are causing significant distress and disability, it has much less to do with what happened to two years ago than it has to do with their current way of thinking and their current lifestyle choices and behaviors.”

She said it is not a criticism of people but rather a reminder that people have a choice about how they react to an event and that while a traumatic experience might happen to us - it is not who we are.

“They may change our lives in drastic ways," Ghaed said, "We get to decide whether we view that in a positive way and we focus on gratitude and appreciate being alive and maybe clinging closer to people we love.”

Ghaed decided to lead by example and force herself into recovery - even though she didn't want to. Just two weeks after the shooting, she returned to Las Vegas. 

The weekend was a tough one, she said, with breakdowns and triggering events. But she managed through it. Now, she makes herself talk about October 1, 2017, whenever she is asked about it. She also started going to concerts and outdoor events - even if she didn't feel like it.

“I’ve probably been back to Vegas 15 times since the shooting, specifically to force recovery on myself,” she said.

For those who are still struggling with the tragedy, there is help. The Vegas Strong Resiliency Center will guide people to the help they need. Pereira said the community on a whole is headed toward recovery.

“I think that we are on a healing path," she said, "I believe that the community has really rallied around the survivors of this event and the families of the victims. And we want to heal and we’re doing the best that we can to move forward in that direction with the knowledge that we have.”

Tennille Pereira, director, Vegas Strong Resiliency Center; Shiva Ghaed, psychologist, assists those affected by shooting


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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.
With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.