Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023 | 12:45 p.m.
At the front of the stage sit family and friends of the 58 people killed in the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting on the Strip.
They all are facing a gigantic electronic board displaying a message that’s become our mantra: #VegasStrong.”
The 1 October Sunrise Ceremony they were attending has become an annual hour of healing for many — from those who were at the country music festival when the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history erupted, to residents of the city where the tragedy occurred.
“As each year goes by, it doesn’t get any easier to grieve the lives we lost. While it doesn’t get any easier, we can take solace in the continuing strength and resiliency of the Vegas Strong community,” said Gov. Joe Lombardo, who led the Metro Police response to the shooting six years ago as the Clark County sheriff. “In our time of greatest need, our community came together to grieve more and heal together. Now, six years since 1 October, I continue to be deeply touched and moved by the response of our community, LVMPD and the strength of our friends and family.”
Lombardo, who was elected governor in 2022, was joined onstage by other local and state leaders, including Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, Sheriff Kevin McMahill — who was an undersheriff in 2017 — and four Clark County commissioners.
McMahill followed Lombardo’s comments with his own story from the night, but not before acknowledging the family members of Route 91 Music Festival victims sitting in the rows before him.
McMahill recalled taking his kids to a show on the Strip near the shooting site at the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard with his wife, Kelly McMahill, a now-retired deputy chief at Metro and former member of the now-dissolved 1 October Memorial Design Committee.
One Metro officer died that night at the concert — Charleston Hartfield, who was at the festival with his wife — and many more “are still dealing with their own scars,” McMahill said.
Despite the terror he recalled, McMahill also shined some light on the positives that have since come from that event, namely the Joint Emergency Training Institute built between first responders in the region.
He commended the community’s strength and support for each other.
“Six years later, we cannot forget those moments of resilience in the face of unspeakable tragedy,” McMahill said. “I want you to remember how we looked out for each other, how we helped each other; we lifted each other up to the darkest of times (and) that is what remains with me to this day, the love of our community.”
And keeping with the messages of communal love, Commissioner Jim Gibson took to the podium to “celebrate the lives of those who were lost and to remember them,” give thanks to first responders and give updates on the permanent Route 91 shooting memorial.
He urged the audience not to forget what happened on Oct. 1, 2017, and in the days following the massacre, saying, “The folks who were lost live on in our hearts and the things that were lost live there, too.”
The “incredible” lessons learned as the community came together after the shooting should not be forgotten as well, he added.
“We rose above awful circumstances, and this community demonstrated that it is unique, one of a kind; the outpouring of love and support we received from one another, and from across the country and from the world was noteworthy,” Gibson said.
He believes the permanent Route 91 memorial, named “Forever One,” will help keep the memories of people alive and provide a place of healing.
Last month, county commissioners approved the proposed memorial design from JCJ Architecture — selected and brought to them by the 1 October Memorial Design Committee. The county has since begun fundraising for the construction and maintenance of the memorial.
Gibson said the county also was “working to establish or select a nonprofit organization that will oversee fundraising, construction and maintenance of the memorial.”
“This is a day when we come together and we celebrate our love for one another and for those who suffer, those who have suffered and been lost,” Gibson said. “We celebrate the strength that we are as a community; we celebrate a future that is bright, that is influenced by the things that we’ve learned and make this community even stronger than we ever imagined.”
Before tear-jerking performances of “Forever Family” and “Amazing Grace” by survivor Patrick Amico, Steve and Julia Gomez shared stories of their daughter, Angela “Angie” Gomez — one of the youngest shooting victims.
Angie Gomez was one of the 58 who died the night of Oct. 1. Two others have died of the injuries they sustained since then.
Hailing from Riverside, Calif., Angie Gomez was a nursing student at Riverside City College and accepted her first job out of college at a recovery hospital in Southern California the week before the festival. She had also been proposed to by her high school sweetheart, Ethan Sanchez, the day she died, Steve Gomez said.
The pair had attended the festival together and Sanchez carried Angie Gomez off the festival grounds when she was struck by gunfire.
From the story of Angie Gomez’s birth on Dec. 26, 1996, to her work with children at the Riverside Children’s Theater, the Gomez family smiled as they told various tales of their “Christ angel.”
Angie Gomez was remembered as “the Christmas bow that kept (their) family together” and a woman who was always friendly, helpful, happy and caring, her family said.
The family “learned firsthand on that day that there was true evil in this world,” but “chose love” rather than live in fear or anger.
“The message we want to impart is to always be kind and spread love,” Steve Gomez said. “We can live life as (Angie Gomez) did – with genuine kindness, concern, and compassion for others. The world would be a much better place.”
Since their daughter’s passing, the family has given back by creating the Angela C. Gomez Memorial Foundation — a nonprofit that awards scholarships to students at Riverside Poly High School and Riverside City College, both of which Angie Gomez attended.
The family has also donated to children’s hospitals in Los Angeles and Orange County, homeless shelters, the Riverside Children’s Theater and a pet adoption agency in Riverside.
Before delivering a final message to the crowd, they reminisced about their drive to Las Vegas the previous night. It’s one that usually fills them with anxiety, but they had been assuaged when a song from Angie Gomez’s favorite movie – “Titanic” theme song “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion — began playing as the city came into view.
Steve and Julia Gomez finished by thanking the Route 91 community and delivering a powerful message: “Life is too short, so hold each other close, (and) always hold your children even closer.”
“There was a lot of love (from the Route 91 community), and there still is a lot of love out here,” Steve Gomez said. “We want to thank all of you for that because that makes our days easier.”