Friday | November 24, 2017
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Big Islanders in Las Vegas reflect on Sunday night’s mass shooting and the aftermath

The Hawaii-Las Vegas connection is so strong, it’s often referred to as the “9th Island.”

Many in Hawaii, including the Big Island, have family and friends who moved to Las Vegas. So interest runs deep in the gambling and entertainment mecca’s reaction to and recovery from Sunday night’s shocking mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival country music bash.

Denny Bright, a retiree who moved to Las Vegas with his wife from Hilo in 2015, said Monday, “Everybody here is breaking down and crying, just because it’s so close to home.”

“The stories are just heart-wrenching about … guys lying on top of their wives to protect them and the husbands dying. It’s very somber here, very somber,” Bright said. “I know two people, one who had a relative who was actually hit twice, and one had a friend that was hit once in the leg. Both of them are OK. They didn’t die.

“And up until about an hour ago, ambulances were still delivering injured to hospitals. So for about 12 hours, it was back and forth, back and forth. People in their own vehicles. Uber rides and Lyft rides, taking people, bleeding … and delivering them to hospitals all over Vegas.”

Waiakea High School graduate Brad Tavares is a 29-year-old UFC middleweight who moved to Las Vegas to train. He’s fighting Brazil’s Thales Leites on Saturday in UFC 216 at the city’s T-Mobile Arena. Tavares’ girlfriend drove to her job Sunday night at Hakkasan Nightclub and Restaurant in the MGM Grand Hotel on Vegas’ fabled Strip.

He described the rest of his night as “pretty stressful.”

“I just feel safer when I take her to work and pick her up,” Tavares said. “But (Sunday) night, being that I’m fighting this weekend and I had to be up early to do Fox 5 news in the morning, she actually drove to work,” Tavares said.

The MGM Grand was one of the properties put on lockdown when the shooting started about an hour later from a 32nd-floor room in the nearby Mandalay Bay Hotel.

“She had a few friends who were at the concert, and they ended up running from the concert all the way back to work,” Tavares said. “Their initial plan was to go to this concert and … the nightclub doesn’t open for awhile. One of her friends was shot. … She’ll be fine. I believe she got shot in her foot and her hand, so she’ll be all right. But she was traumatized.”

As to be expected, Tavares’ scheduled appearance on the morning television news program was canceled as the station switched to full coverage of the mass shooting.

“Any time that there’s something like this — a massacre, a bombing, a terrorist act, anything of that sort — I kind of find out about it, but I’m not one of those who spends all day watching it,” he said. “But because it’s so close to home, (and) because I knew some of the people … who were actually affected by this at some level, I watched it all last night until my girlfriend was able to get home.”

The nightclub never opened Sunday, but Tavares’ girlfriend had to stay because of the lockdown. Her truck was still unavailable Monday afternoon.

Raven Lopez, 18, and her sister, Jasmine Weaver, 24, were driving away from the Pure Aloha reggae and Hawaiian music concert in Las Vegas when their vehicle became entangled in a web of police cars heading every which way.

The pair, who grew up in Hilo but now live in the Southwest, are unfamiliar with Las Vegas’ roads.

A police car pulled up behind them and made a car right behind them turn around and head the other direction — the wrong way — on the highway. They followed that car.

“It was scary,” Lopez said.

The pair pulled into a parking lot, turned on the radio to find out what was going on, then called their mother, Bobbi Lopez, who told them to find a place with lots of people because it was still early and wasn’t yet clear there was only one gunman.

The women drove to a parking lot buzzing with lots of people, which happened to be near the Route 91 festival grounds. They stayed and listened to radio news about four hours, until they felt they could safely drive away.

“Once we got to the parking lot, I did feel more safe,” Raven Lopez said. She said listening to the radio was difficult because “we could hear, like, the gunshots playing on the radio because they kept playing the video on the radio.”

“… I’m grateful that I’m safe,” she said. “But I feel bad for the other people that got hurt. … It hurts to even think about it.”

Robin, a transplant from Hilo who asked that her last name not be used, had difficulty getting to her retail job Monday morning in downtown Las Vegas.

“The freeway was shut down, so it took me about an hour to go only 10 miles,” she said. “The city took it really serious, making sure that everyone was safe, blocking off the area where the incident happened. The freeway entrances were all closed. A lot of people had to take detours and unplanned routes to work.”

Cassandra Clark, another former Hilo resident who moved to Las Vegas earlier this year, is heartened by the local response to those in need.

“Las Vegas, which I don’t think of as a warm and cozy place, is coming out and people are offering to help,” Clark said. “… There’s a Facebook (page) ‘Violent Incident in Las Vegas’ and people are offering places to stay, and clothing and blankets. There’s so many things that you don’t even think about that people are going to be needing. People are stranded here because they’re in the hospital. People who were supposed to be at work this morning. And they have pets at home and nobody to look after them. They might have kids. There’s a lot more to this than people are dead and people are shot, although that’s terrible enough.”

The stories of kindness by random strangers — some perhaps unexpected — were echoed by the others.

“I knew a few people who actually worked the event,” Robin said. “So when they heard the shooting, they, like, ran. I have a lot of friends on Instagram, and they posted there was a lot of good Samaritans who opened their cars up and took them to safety.”

According to Bright, the humanitarian efforts include the Thomas &Mack Center at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, which was used to house Mandalay Bay evacuees.

“They have hundreds of people at the Thomas &Mack who can’t go back to the hotel,” he said. “People are coming by in droves, just bringing water and food, hamburgers and coffee. … True aloha spirit.”

Tavares was “pleasantly surprised to see the community pull together.”

“They had to turn people away at the blood bank,” he said. “They didn’t have enough manpower to take in all the people who showed up to donate blood.

“… That aloha spirit, Vegas had it today.”

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