Amid our national focus on memory and traumatic events, I failed to remember a significant one. The anniversary of the largest mass shooting in American history on October 1st caught me by surprise. Has it really been a year since Stephen Paddock targeted 22,000 concert-goers at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and wounding 851?[i] So much has happened nationally and personally since, I found it hard to believe, in some ways, that the shooting spree was only a year ago.
The New York Times had a recent piece entitled “After the Las Vegas Shooting, the Nation Moved On. Many Survivors Did Not.”[ii] The story reported on several of the survivors, chronicling lives struggling to come back together after being shattered that day. One, Janie Scott, was quoted as saying, “Survivors have been forgotten” and mentioning the Facebook survivor group she is a part of, which has provided her with support, “because nobody else is doing it for us.”
The Las Vegas shooting is now the deadliest on record in the United States.[iii] Before Las Vegas with 58 deaths, that distinction went to the Orlando nightclub shooting, with 49 deaths.[iv] But another distinction in Las Vegas, I think, has to do with the sheer volume of people involved. Many of those people, once the headlines changed and moved on, found they had not. From the NY Times story: “Nearly all of the 50 survivors documented by Abraham Watkins [a law firm representing victims] reported depression, anxiety, insomnia, fear of crowds and loud noises – hallmarks of post-traumatic stress disorder.”[v]
Fifty-eight people dead, 851 wounded, 22,000 involved – those are large numbers but still a very small percentage of the total population. A much larger percentage is the number of people who have experienced trauma in their lifetimes. In a research study entitled “National Estimates of Exposure to Traumatic Events and PTSD Prevalence Using DSM-IV and DSM-5 Criteria,”[vi] traumatic event exposure was placed at 89.7% and “exposure to multiple traumatic event types was the norm.”
In the research study, traumatic event had several definitions: disaster, accident/fire, exposure to hazardous chemicals, combat or warzone exposure, physical or sexual assault or witnessing the same, witnessing dead bodies/parts unexpectedly, death/threat/injury to family or close friend due to violence/accident/disaster, or work exposure. These events had the potential or result of producing physical injuries, fear of being seriously injured or killed or any other extraordinary stressful situation or event, including interpersonal violence.
Reading about the aftermath for the Las Vegas survivors, I was struck by the experience of Rosemarie Melanson, identified as the “worst injured survivor” and “one of the first to be hit by mass killer Stephen Paddock’s indiscriminate gunfire.[vii] Rosemarie, by all accounts, should have died but stayed in the 851 column, refusing to become 59. She “kept fighting and miraculously survived months in intensive care, 12 experimental surgeries and countless life-threatening complications.” After a year in the hospital, Rosemarie recently went home to continue her long, daily healing process.
The survivors I read about, in the NY Times story and others[viii], have found different ways to heal but they include family and social support, reaching out to others also affected, and searching for ways to reclaim their experiences for something positive. Remarkably, Rosemarie and her husband, Steve, have chosen forgiveness as their way forward. “I just felt that in order for us to be able to move on and get past this we have to forgive.”[ix]
With almost 90% experiencing some level of trauma in our lives, these valuable lessons remind me to pay attention longer.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE
and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years
ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities
for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center •
A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington,
creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health
issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and
[vi] Kilpatrick, D. G., Resnick, H. S., Milanak, M. E., Miller, M. W., Keyes, K. M., & Friedman, M. J. (2013). National Estimates of Exposure to Traumatic Events and PTSD Prevalence Using DSM-IV and DSM-5 Criteria. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 26(5), 537–547. http://doi.org/10.1002/jts.21848. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4096796/