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Vegas Strong: Police, doctors and survivors turn to life of advocacy

 Ray Spencer
Aaron Mayes
/
Mountain West News Bureau
Ray Spencer

The 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip sparked a lot of changes intended to protect locals and tourists. And the changes were driven by survivors, doctors and police.

The shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival lasted just 11 minutes. 58 people were killed, and two more have since died from their injuries. The tragedy triggered discussions about gun control. Some of those discussions came from the Las Vegas police officers on the scene that night, including former Lt. Ray Spencer. A number of the shooter’s weapons were equipped with what’s known as a "bump stock," allowing them to fire much faster.

“I saw what that man did with a bump stock that night,” Spencer says. “Are there laws that should, can be passed that will make it more difficult for people who should not possess a gun to get their hands on a gun? It’s hard for me not to support that type of legislation.”

The police department also changed policy, so officers would have a better chance at responding to a similar shooting. Spencer says he had a stark realization as he ran through the crowd that night.

“I kind of paused and I looked down at my hand, and I'm holding a handgun. I take a deep breath and you know, kept on running, knowing what the outcome of that type of firepower versus the Glock handgun that I was holding,” he says.

Spencer says at the time of the shooting, long rifles were kept in police vehicle trunks, Now, officers carry those rifles at major events.

Crowd safety at shows was a major discussion right after the shooting, especially in a city where several major events often happen at the same time. Survivor Craig Nyman works as a festival organizer. He weighed in on the changes

 Dr. Deborah Kuhls
Aaron Mayes
/
Mountain West News Bureau
Dr. Deborah Kuhls

“Overall, I love that some of our venues and events here in town have switched to a new form of security protection, where it makes it easy to get into a venue, and it only will stop for weapons and you know, large masses, stuff like that,” Nyman says. “I think getting people into venues easier would be a massive help for people so they can get out and enjoy themselves as quickly as possible.”

Nyman also would like to see more events actively encouraging guests to report any suspicious activities.

“We need more people paying attention," he says. "We need everybody again, if you see something, say something. We are all in this together.”

After the shooting on Oct. 1, 2017, the Las Vegas medical community received worldwide attention for the work it did providing life-saving care to hundreds of people at once. And many of those professionals have shared the lessons they learned with other medical professionals all over the world.

Dr. Deborah Kuhls was a trauma surgeon at University Medical Center, one of major hospitals patients were taken to.

“I've given over fifty talks on not only Oct. 1, but some of the lessons learned how various hospitals, from small size to large size, can prepare in case an event happens near them,” she says.

Kuhls is also involved in Stop the Bleed, a program that trains people how to take care of someone losing a lot of blood. Courses are offered in trauma centers across southern Nevada, and some schools participate too.

“That continues to be, I think, very relevant,” Kuhls says. “It might not be a shooting, it might be some other event that results in someone bleeding and by either holding pressure or applying a tourniquet could literally save a life.”

 Tas Upright
Aaron Mayes
/
Mountain West News Bureau
Tas Upright

When the shooting happened, survivor Tas Upright came upon a man who was bleeding severely from a gunshot wound.

“I'll never forget there was this man – he was laying there in just his cowboy boots and he was bleeding out,” she says.

Upright stopped and asked a police officer if she could help. The officer asked if she had medical training. When she said no, he told her to leave and get to a safe place.

“At that moment I told myself, I don't want to be helpless or useless again,” Upright says. “I want next time to be like, ‘Yeah, I am. Give me some gloves. Let's go to work.’"

Upright started researching careers in emergency medical service. Less than a year after the shooting, she had started classes. Now she’s working to become a firefighter.

“I was told to always do more," she says. "So I have been doing more and got more certifications than I probably should have. And then hopefully by next year, I will finally be serving the community.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2022 KUNM. To see more, visit KUNM.

Kristen Kidman