Rolling Stone


Mark Gray was reporting at Route 91 for ‘Rolling Stone.’ Five years later, he’s still “mentally bruised”

- MG

I’ll always hate the sound of fireworks. That’s what it sounded like to me — and so many others — when a gunman opened fire on us at the Route 91 Harvest festival. Needless to say, the two hardest days of the year for me are Oct. 1 and July 4.

I was covering Route 91 for Rolling Stone, and Jason Aldean was about to bookend what had otherwise been a fun few days. Then the shots rang out.

I saw a woman a few feet from me get shot — fragments of the bullet hit my jeans. I watched thousands of people run for cover, fearing their last breath was imminent. It was pandemoniu­m as bullets peppered Las Vegas Village. I was one of the lucky ones; I was physically unharmed. Mentally, though, I’m still a little bruised. I remember crying in the car on Oct. 2 when Chris Stapleton’s “Broken Halos” came on the radio, and anytime I hear Aldean’s “When She Says Baby,” which he had just started singing when the gunfire began, I get worked up.

Over the past five years, I’ve gone through every emotion and talked to a trauma counselor to make sure what I was feeling was “normal.” Still, my thoughts regularly return to Route 91. In meeting up with fellow survivors at a baseball game this past May, many said they too couldn’t go a few hours without thinking about the shooting. Survivors shared their experience­s with me, and they listened intently as I spoke of mine. Many of us covered our ears, closed our eyes, and hugged when fireworks accompanie­d a postgame concert by country singer Josh Turner.

Those damn fireworks.

I don’t think any of us want our calling card to be Route 91, but it can be inescapabl­e at times. People who weren’t there want to ask what it was like, and we’ve all developed our stock answers: “I thought it was fireworks”; “I was a few feet from one of the first people shot”; “Everyone thought there were multiple shooters”; “We escaped when there was a break in the shooting.” I always add, “I army-crawled to get my laptop before leaving.”

Eventually, someone will ask how I’ve been able to carry on. The short answer is you just do. Sure, I look for exits now when I enter venues, and I go silent every time I drive that portion of the Strip. But I also wonder if I’ll ever have to escape from another mass shooting — considerin­g these tragedies seem to happen on a daily basis in the U.S.

Route 91 will always be a part of my identity and I can’t avoid that. I can’t avoid the range of emotions that come over me when I hear Aldean sing. I can’t avoid thinking of the victims when I see the words “Vegas Strong.”

I can, however, avoid fireworks.

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