Gar­den pro­vides place to mourn shoot­ing vic­tims

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NATION - BY REGINA GAR­CIA CANO As­so­ci­ated Press

An im­age of An­gel­ica Cer­vantes’ son don­ning a blackand-yel­low se­cu­rity guard T-shirt is one of dozens of smil­ing pho­tos tacked to walls in a Las Ve­gas gar­den dec­o­rated with rib­bons, cow­boy boots, horse­shoes and rub­ber bracelets.

Cer­vantes vis­its every other week to gaze at the photo that has with­stood the desert sun for al­most a year, and to ask her son, Erick Silva, to watch over her, his step­fa­ther and his sib­lings. “Cuidanos,” she begs him, some­times tear­fully.

Silva was one of 58 peo­ple killed Oct. 1, 2017, in the dead­li­est mass shoot­ing in mod­ern U.S. his­tory. For their fam­i­lies and those who sur­vived the mas­sacre at a coun­try mu­sic fes­ti­val , this gar­den cre­ated by vol­un­teers in the days that fol­lowed is a place to mourn and heal.

“It gave me a space to talk with him, and he is there with his an­gels,” Cer­vantes said, re­fer­ring to the other vic­tims. “Some­times, I come across (an­other mother) there. Some ask me how he was. Talk­ing about him makes me proud.”

Among the bright lights of the Las Ve­gas Strip, there’s no indi­ca­tion of the blood­shed that took place there a year ago. The fes­ti­val grounds are fenced, and green screens block any views to the in­side. The flow­ers, flags, wreaths and other items that crowded a nearby road me­dian and the “Wel­come to Fab­u­lous Las Ve­gas” sign have long been re­moved.

To­day, the gar­den with 59 trees — one for each vic­tim plus an oak rep­re­sent­ing life — is the only per­ma­nent pub­lic space in the Las Ve­gas area cre­ated in mem­ory of the vic­tims. It sits a few feet from a bus stop and an adult store and miles from the shoot­ing site.

The quar­ter-acre space was slated to be a dog park, but in the days af­ter the shoot­ing, the dirt lot was lev­eled, con­crete bricks placed, and trees, shrubs, pur­ple pan­sies, red and white roses and bright pink petu­nias were planted. A “Re­mem­brance Wall” was ham­mered to­gether from wooden pal­lets.

The wooden wall was re­cently re­placed with a set of metal and faux­wood struc­tures. The pho­tos and sev­eral items from the orig­i­nal wall were trans­ferred over. A foun­tain is now work­ing, and a blue­stone sculp­ture of a pair of an­gel wings bear­ing the ini­tials of each vic­tim was re­cently added.

Vol­un­teers on Satur­day planted dozens of col­or­ful flow­ers around the gar­den. Some peo­ple later took videos of their walks around the gar­den. A pair left red roses next to pho­tos of some of the vic­tims, while a man brought his gui­tar and played sooth­ing notes.

Many sur­vivors of the shoot­ing are in Las Ve­gas this week­end for a large pri­vate re­union and other planned events ahead of the one-year an­niver­sary Mon­day.

Through­out the year, some friends and rel­a­tives have dec­o­rated the tree of their loved one. A lam­i­nated photo of Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs play­ers hon­or­ing Chris­tiana Duarte is tied to one tree, while an­other one has dec­o­rated river stones for Han­nah Ah­lers. Cer­vantes pre­vi­ously left a T-shirt and flow­ers.

[AP PHOTO]

In this Sept. 21 photo, a photo of Las Ve­gas shoot­ing vic­tim Erick Silva, cen­ter, hangs on a wall at a me­mo­rial gar­den un­der con­struc­tion in Las Ve­gas.

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