The latest bad news to hit the world is the Las Vegas shooting massacre.
As I write this, at least 59 people had died and 527 people had been injured. This is the worst mass shooting in American history, a colossal tragedy.
Of course, being in the news business, I learned about this big, horrific news story in typical fashion: the next morning after I had been asleep.
Instead of following the breaking news like I normally do during the week, I figured nothing was happening in the world on a late Sunday night and I went straight to bed.
It was only when I tuned in the John Gormley show on radio the following morning that I learned the gravity of the situation and just how many people had been killed, including those shooting victims who had been from Saskatchewan.
As the day unfolded, it seemed the news was getting worse and worse. I ended up taking a look at footage that had been posted online from the music festival, the scene of the carnage.
I ended up shutting the videos off. Just the thought of people being at the concert venue while bullets rained down from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel was unsettling enough.
What’s more, this shooting had gone on and on and on. The toll from this has to go way beyond the official counts of the dead and wounded. A multitude of PTSD sufferers must surely have been created from this utter horror show.
I have found myself with an unexpected emotional reaction to this story. There have been many, many sad and horrifying shooting stories to come out of the United States over the past number of years, but this one hit too close to home for a number of reasons.
The first reason is obvious: I’ve been down to Las Vegas multiple times over the last number of years, and I feel I’ve come to know the place very well. I even wrote a big travel article for the paper after my second trip down there, one of the most popular articles I have ever done.
The place is easily accessible to Saskatchewan residents via direct flights from Saskatoon and Regina. During the winter months, multitudes of Saskatchewan residents can be found in the resort hotels and casinos there.
Moreover, you can absolutely tell who they are, because many of them are wearing their identifiable Saskatchewan Roughriders jerseys and other apparel while they are there.
I’ve gone so far as to half-jokingly say Las Vegas is my “winter home,” having been there so many times in December and January in recent years. But more than that, so many of the things about my life that I care about like poker, the fights, and so on are directly associated with Las Vegas.
It almost feels like this incident happened on home turf, if you will. This was my city: my “winter” city, anyway.
What’s worse is the location where this tragedy happened: right across the street from the same area where I usually stay during my Vegas trips.
The outdoor concert venue was directly across from the Luxor, that pyramid-shaped resort where I stayed during my first trip to Vegas. Mandalay Bay is directly to the south.
This was basically my “neighbourhood” where this happened. Frightening business.
The other aspect of this tragedy is that it happened at a country music concert venue: the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
This fact impacts me on a professional level: over the last number of years, I had the good fortune in my newspaper job of interviewing several country music recording artists, ranging from up-and-coming performers to established stars.
Now granted, I’m admittedly a rock and roll guy, but I’m well aware that I live in a part of the world full of country music fans, where this is a big deal.
For this tragedy to happen to fans at a country music festival in Las Vegas, with people from Saskatchewan and western Canada among those in attendance, is another blow.
Sadly, this is yet another instance of a concert venue being a target of attacks. It’s happened too often around the world, including the explosion in Manchester, England, at the Ariana Grande concert and at the Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris, France.
In fact, shooting rampages have been happening way too often, especially in the United States at Sandy Hook Elementary School, at a movie theatre in Colorado, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and elsewhere.
It’s this sort of mayhem that turns you off completely on travel to the United States.
People who know me well are aware that I’ve worried for years that Vegas might become a target of some attack of some sort. In fact it was a big reason why I skipped out on my annual winter trip to Vegas back in 2015, opting for Cuba instead. This was around the same time that a lot of crazy stuff had been happening elsewhere in the world. Frankly, I had a bad feeling about Las Vegas. My worry was it would end up being the scene of a major incident, sooner or later, simply because it is such a prime destination for so many people.
I never expected this, though. This is worse than everyone’s worst nightmares.
I guess the question now is whether anyone could go back to Las Vegas after this.
In the long term, the answer for me really does come down to how Vegas and indeed America reacts. If they respond by imposing more “travel bans” and by increasing the security at the airport, and by imposing security screenings at every casino on the Strip, it may not be worth the trouble.
In the short term, I have to think any Las Vegas getaway is bound to be a depressing experience. That place is hurting, and it’s going to hurt for a long time.
The reality is this tragedy is not what Vegas is about. It’s supposed to be about fun and excitement and escaping all your problems. Unfortunately, there is no escape from all the world’s mayhem, not even in the Nevada desert.
The more I think of it, I do think I’ll go back to Las Vegas again, but not right away. I’ll let them heal first.