What is now being classified as the deadliest mass shooting in American history has left a lasting impression on the Whittier College community. This includes several students and staff who were attending the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival upon which mass murderer Stephen Paddock opened fire with military grade weapons over the weekend.
On Sunday Oct. 1, the soothing sound of acoustic guitars was replaced by the crackling of distant automatic gunfire as a 64 year old retiree, with an arsenal of weaponry at his disposal, positioned himself in a Mandalay Bay hotel room and fired hundreds of rounds from an assault rifle into the large crowd of concertgoers. In the span of approximately 10 minutes, 58 people were confirmed dead along with over 500 injured as of Wednesday, Oct. 4, The Los Angeles Times reports. Paddock committed suicide following his violent attack, raising the death toll to 59 people.
According to NYMag, Paddock passed the required background checks in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Texas, and purchased an arsenal of firearms legally. Altogether, police have recovered 47 firearms from Paddock’s hotel room and his homes in Mesquite and Reno. Authorities said he bought 33 of the weapons in Oct. 2016. Paddock’s girlfriend, Marilou Danley, is currently in the process of being questioned and is a person of interest in the investigation. Authorities believe that Danley may possess some form of critical information.
Las Vegas is a city that many Southern Californians consider a second home, and the weight of the weekend’s horrific events profoundly affected the Whittier College campus, hundreds of miles south of the Las Vegas strip. The Dean of Students Office reported that an estimated five students were attending the Route 91 Festival, and were fortunately all able to make it back to campus safely. In addition to those directly impacted by the events, the Dean of Students Office also reported that there are currently 11 students enrolled at the College who are native to the Las Vegas region, and many of these students have stated they have some personal connection to Sunday’s shooting.
“Personally I’m very saddened by what has happened. Vegas is my home and I never imagined something this awful would have happened,” said fourth-year Carolyn Simms. “I was scared for my friends and family because at the time I didn’t know who was there. Some of my friends were at the concert and all of them thankfully made it out alive, but unfortunately I do know people who were hurt.”
Third-year Amy Kazmierski of Henderson, Nevada spent the 2017 summer working at the venue where the shooting occurred and had co-workers both killed and injured in the shooting. In addition to working with her brother at the venue, her father also worked on the security force there; however none of them were working the event that night.
“I have heard from people that they didn’t know where it was coming from,” said Kazmierski. “They didn’t know it was coming from across the street so you just saw people dropping, which was the thing that scared people. You didn’t know what was happening until you saw people dropping dead on the ground. People were going to hide under cars if they could make it that far, or if not they were literally just getting into tents and booths and going in and hiding until it stopped.”
Whittier College administration, faculty, staff, and students have reached out to support their colleagues who have been heavily traumatized by the weekend’s events. “We are deeply saddened by the horrendous violence that occurred Sunday night in Las Vegas,” wrote Vice President and Dean of Students Joel Perez in a Student-L email. “Our hearts are with the victims of this tragedy and their loved ones. This morning we were in communication with members of our community affected by this event to offer any needed support. Please reach out to me if you are in need of similar resources.”
Dean Perez reports that he has been in direct contact with the students who were either at the event or had close ones in attendance, and made accommodations with faculty for a student to return home in order to spend time with family. Whittier College President Sharon Herzberger reached out to each student from the Las Vegas to offer her support.
The Counseling Center will serve as the primary resource for students seeking assistance following a major crisis. In his student-L email sent out to the community immediately after the shooting, Dean Perez also referenced students to the Counseling Center for those seeking support. In the days since the shooting, the Counseling Center has reported an increase in service requests.
The Whittier College Choir is doing its part to reach out to the brokenhearted as well, with the help of Director and Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Benjamin Hawkinson. “A colleague reached out from [University of Nevada Las Vegas] UNLV, asking for musical expressions of unity to help heal the broken community on his campus,” said Hawkinson. The choir is recording a song of support to send to those who have been affected by the Las Vegas tragedy. The German song Verleih uns Frieden translates to “Grant us thy Peace.” It begins with one line and builds to include all members singing together. This represents a plea for peace on an individual, small group, and large community levels. According to Hawkinson, music is a universal language; an expression rooted in the human experience which makes it universally comprehensible. “In moments of tragedy I return a quote from the great conductor Leonard Bernstein. ‘This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before,’” said Hawkinson. “Our hope is to give comfort to those who are hurting– to show that they are not alone, and that there is a greater community that supports them – both here at Whittier and across the country.”
Such sentiments were echoed by student leaders on campus. “The ASWC is saddened and shocked by Sunday’s tragedy in Las Vegas. Our hearts and thoughts are with all those affected by the event and their families,” said third-year ASWC President Bryceton Scurr. “Students are more than welcome to share their reactions with their senators, community advisors, and other student leaders, and are encouraged to speak with the Counseling Center staff. Let us continue to show how resilient, connected, and united Whittier College is as a community.”
Additionally, The Quaker Campus contacted Campus Safety for a statement however, the department offered no response.
“The staff of the Student Counseling Center remain in tune with national and international events that could cause additional stress in the student body,” said Director Dr. Rebecca Romberger. “We offer appointments and walk-in services between the hours of 8am to 5pm. After hours, and on weekends, students in crisis may call Campus Safety (562-907-4211) and ask to speak to the counselor on call.”