For Route 91 Shooting Survivors, 'Country Strong' Means Community

For Route 91 Shooting Survivors, 'Country Strong' Means Community


They have the date 10-1-2017 tattooed on their our bodies and have memorial partitions of images of their houses. One lady made a bracelet out of her Route 91 Harvest competition wristband, whereas many others will be noticed at live shows sporting shirts that say “survivor.” They fly flags from their RVs and have stickers on their automobiles.

About 22,000 folks gathered in Las Vegas a yr in the past with a shared curiosity in nation music. But because the competition’s last headlining act Jason Aldean was performing final Oct. 1, gunfire erupted and chaos ensued. By the top of the evening 58 folks had been killed and tons of extra injured, the deadliest mass capturing in fashionable U.S. historical past.

Now a yr later, many survivors, who had been already bonded by means of the music, have fashioned a tight-knit, encouraging group as they heal, assist and bear in mind. They name themselves “Country Strong.”



Sonny Melton, a nurse from Big Sandy, Tennessee, cherished Eric Church. When Church sang “These Boots,” Melton would take off his boots and lift them up within the air with all the opposite die-hard Church followers. He was at Route 91 to see Church play on Friday evening, however stayed till Sunday to see Aldean.

Melton died when a bullet hit him within the again as he wrapped his arms protectively round his spouse Heather that evening at Route 91. Just days after the capturing, Church obtained on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, combating again tears and his voice cracking with anger, stating the empty seats the place Sonny and Heather Melton had been speculated to be sitting that evening.

“The motive I’m right here is due to Heather Melton, her husband Sonny, who died, and each person who was there,” Church mentioned earlier than performing “Why Not Me,” an ode to the followers that had been misplaced.

“The subsequent factor I do know each Eric Church fan within the nation was contacting me,” Heather Melton mentioned. “At first I felt a bit of uneasy, however they had been simply so real of their compassion, of their sorrow for me that it was unimaginable to disregard. Those folks have develop into a few of my finest mates.”

Melton now has Church’s lyrics tattooed on her arm together with a solar, a nod to her husband’s identify. Her dwelling now could be shrine to the passions of her late husband, together with guitars, a baseball jersey, a pair of trainers that Church signed, live performance tickets, posters and data. Church’s fan membership has adopted her, has raised cash for a nursing scholarship in her husband’s identify and traveled to live shows together with her.

“I’ve simply by no means seen something the place a bunch of people who find themselves digital strangers have wrapped their arms round one another in the best way this group has,” Melton mentioned.


Linda Liewsuwanphong, of Rosemead, California, was such a fan of nation music she would go to live shows by herself. By the top of the evening, she typically made new mates. That identical factor occurred after she and her husband attended Route 91, however now she calls them household. “The nation household has all the time been sturdy, however now there’s the Route 91 Country Strong household that has a special and particular connection due to what we went by means of collectively,” Liewsuwanphong mentioned.

She determined a month after the capturing that she wasn’t going to let that gunman cease her from going to live shows, so she began a Facebook group to arrange a meetup of Route 91 survivors at Stagecoach, a rustic music competition in California in April. “It was an open venue. It was an enormous crowd. There had been so many people that had been not sure if we may even deal with it,” Liewsuwanphong mentioned. “You get tickets to a weekend competition. You by no means suppose you’re not going to return out of it.”

At Stagecoach, the survivors gathered collectively, most of them had been sporting matching T-shirts with the phrases “Route 91.” They posed for footage, behind banners that mentioned “Love Wins” and “Country Strong” with a vibrant orange ribbon. Many wore smiles, in cowboy hats and denims, holding their palms up within the air as in the event that they had been watching their favourite band. Connie Long, from Riverside, California, and her household typically noticed a number of nation live shows a yr. That nation music group she was already part of grew to become each nearer and loads bigger after she and her husband survived Route 91.

“I can’t think about my life now with out these folks in it,” Long mentioned. “It’s like one massive peer assist group.” While going again out to live shows or into massive crowds once more has been useful for some survivors, not all have recovered sufficient to benefit from the expertise like they used to.

Stacie Armentrout, of Las Vegas, and her husband had been to Route 91 earlier than, however determined their daughters, ages 12 and 15, had been sufficiently old to attend final yr. They had been sitting in chairs when the gunfire began and her husband laid down on high of the three of them. They ran from cowl to cowl each time the gunfire paused all through the competition grounds on the lookout for an escape.

When Armentrout went again to Stagecoach together with her husband, months after the capturing, it wasn’t the identical. “We had been on edge a lot,” she mentioned. “It was simply an excessive amount of for me to deal with.”

Other survivor teams maintain month-to-month meetups, plan outings like attending sporting occasions, increase cash for households that wanted help, create Christmas card lists and share potluck dinners. They carry out what they name “random acts of kindness,” the place they are going to do one thing good for a stranger, or go away a $58 tip in honor of those that had been misplaced.

When Liewsuwanphong came upon she was pregnant shortly after the capturing, a bunch of survivors got here to her child bathe. Armentrout’s husband broke his rib in the course of the capturing and he’s been out of labor and he or she solely works half time. Another survivor introduced her Christmas items to present to her daughters in the course of the holidays.

“The music makes us stronger,” Long mentioned. “The music is what brings us collectively.”


Only those that skilled that evening may perceive the triggers and fears that many survivors share. Janie Scott, of Bakersfield, California, alongside together with her husband and a buddy, had been about 15 ft from the entrance of the stage once they heard a popping noise after which a pause earlier than the primary volley of gunfire began.

“With the sound of the ricocheting and the audio system selecting up that sound of the bullets, you possibly can not inform what path they had been coming from,” Scott mentioned. “Lots of people have a tough time with the music, listening to Jason (Aldean) sing. I’ve extra points with the sound of metallic being hit.” Long had a visceral response when she was at a special live performance and he or she noticed the identical inexperienced synthetic grass that was at Route 91.

“I couldn’t stand on it,” she mentioned of encountering the turf once more. “That was the place all people died. That was what was in my mind.” Survivors have largely discovered one another by means of Facebook teams, a lot of which have was casual, comforting boards as they share on a regular basis struggles and progress by means of grief and restoration. Scott, a daycare proprietor and mom of seven, determined to begin a Facebook group to seek out folks she met whereas on the competition, hoping to listen to they had been OK.

"We got here dwelling to our hometown, fully damaged with no assist,” Scott mentioned. “I needed to discover different individuals who had been additionally damaged." The Facebook group she administers now contains greater than four,000 folks.

“You see survivors giving different survivors counseling by means of this group,” Scott mentioned.


Michelle Rodriguez, of Eastvale, California, met her husband whereas line dancing at a rustic music membership about 14 years in the past. Married for a decade, now their youngsters hearken to nation music, too. But Route 91 virtually took away these fond recollections for her. “When I got here dwelling, I mentioned I’d by no means go to Vegas once more, by no means go to a rustic music live performance,” Rodriguez mentioned.

Rodriguez and her husband had been about 10 ft away from the stage that evening when the gunfire began. They lay on the bottom for what felt like six or seven rounds of persistent gunfire earlier than they jumped behind a bar. “I believed we might by no means make it dwelling,” Rodriguez mentioned. Many people who had been close to them didn’t.

This previous Saturday, Rodriguez went to see Aldean’s live performance in San Bernardino, the primary time she had seen him carry out since Las Vegas. She had an anxiousness assault as she waited in line to get into the live performance, however as soon as inside she began seeing all the opposite Route 91 survivors with their T-shirts and their orange ribbons like herself.

“One of the toughest issues I believe I’ve ever needed to do is face that once more,” Rodriguez mentioned. “But afterward, the load that was lifted off my shoulders was one thing that I’ll by no means expertise once more.”