Coun­try fans en­dure ter­ror again

Calif. club had be­come a haven for sur­vivors of Las Ve­gas at­tack

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page - RYAN PEAR­SON/AP

THOU­SAND OAKS, Calif. – Barely a year af­ter sur­viv­ing a mas­sacre at a coun­try mu­sic fes­ti­val in Las Ve­gas, Bren­dan Kelly found him­self in a ter­ri­fy­ingly fa­mil­iar scene.

Kelly, 22, said he was danc­ing with friends at a bar in sub­ur­ban Los An­ge­les on Wed­nes­day night when the bul­lets be­gan fly­ing. When the gun­fire was over, 12 peo­ple were dead, in­clud­ing a Navy vet­eran who had lived through the dead­li­est mass shoot­ing in mod­ern U.S. his­tory a year ago.

“I al­ready didn’t wish it on any­body to be­gin with for the first time,” Kelly said out­side his home in Thou­sand Oaks. “The sec­ond time around doesn’t get any eas­ier.”

Kelly, a Marine, said he heard “pop, pop” at Border­line Bar and Grill and in­stantly knew it was gun­fire.

“The chills go up your spine. You don’t think it’s real – again,” he said.

The mother of the 27-year-old Navy man killed in the lat­est at­tack, Telemachus “Tel” Or­fanos, said her son sur­vived Ve­gas only to die in­side Border­line, less than 10 min­utes from his home.

“Here are my words: I want gun con­trol,” said Su­san Sch­midt-Or­fanos, her voice shak­ing with grief and rage. “I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts.”

She said she wanted Congress “to pass gun con­trol so no one else has a child that doesn’t come home.”

Or­fanos’ fa­ther, Marc Or­fanos, told the Ven­tura County Star: “It is par­tic­u­larly ironic that af­ter sur­viv­ing the worst mass shoot­ing in mod­ern his­tory, he went on to be killed in his home­town.”

Dani Mer­rill, who sur­vived both Ve­gas and Border­line, was among mourn­ers at a packed the­ater Thurs­day hon­or­ing vic­tims of the more re­cent shoot­ing. Af­ter the cer­e­mony, she said she’s most up­set that the blood­shed is now af­fect­ing where she lives.

“I’m su­per up­set that it hap­pened in our home, and I feel aw­ful for the fam­i­lies that have to go through this,” said Mer­rill, the ex­haus­tion ev­i­dent in her eyes.

“I didn’t sleep,” she said. “It’s hard to sleep af­ter th­ese kinds of things. You don’t know how to feel.”

Kelly, the Marine who sur­vived both shoot­ings, said that dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s at­tack, he threw two of his friends to the floor and cov­ered them with his body. Then he got a look at the shooter and the ter­ror un­fold­ing and de­cided they needed to es­cape.

Kelly said he dragged one woman out a back emer­gency exit and then, us­ing his belt, T-shirt and Marine train­ing, ap­plied a tourni­quet to his friend’s bleed­ing arm. Two of his friends were killed in the shoot­ing.

Chan­dler Gunn, 23, told the Los An­ge­les Times that a friend who sur­vived the Ve­gas shoot­ing works at the bar. When Gunn learned about the shoot­ing, he rushed to Border­line.

Gunn said his friend, whose name he didn’t pro­vide, es­caped safely out the back.

“There’s peo­ple that live a whole life­time with­out see­ing this, and then there’s peo­ple that have seen it twice,” he said.

In so­cial me­dia posts, Molly Mauer said she was at Border­line and also sur­vived Ve­gas.

“I can’t be­lieve I’m say­ing this again. I’m alive and home safe,” she said on Face­book.

In Las Ve­gas and Thou­sand Oaks, coun­try mu­sic fans were the vic­tims. Border­line fea­tures coun­try mu­sic, and Wed­nes­day was “col­lege night,” which drew many young peo­ple to the bar. The Last Ve­gas shooter tar­geted a crowd of coun­try mu­sic fans gath­ered for the Route 91 Har­vest Fes­ti­val.

Kelly said that Border­line had be­come a safe haven for dozens of Ve­gas sur­vivors and it was com­mon for many of them to hang out there to­gether.

Kelly has a large tat­too on his left arm memo­ri­al­iz­ing the Las Ve­gas shoot­ing, which killed 58 peo­ple. On his other arm Thurs­day, he still had his wrist­band from the Cal­i­for­nia bar.

When the Las Ve­gas gun­man opened fire from a 32nd-floor ho­tel room, Kelly said he threw a friend to the ground be­fore help­ing get her out of the area and into a room. Armed with a knife in case an at­tacker came in, he hun­kered down and waited with 40 other peo­ple for four hours.

He said liv­ing through Ve­gas changed his life. He doesn’t know how a sec­ond mass shoot­ing will af­fect him down the road.

“Ev­ery­where I go, ev­ery­thing I do is af­fected,” he said. “I don’t sit in a room with my back to the door. You’re al­ways pick­ing up on so­cial cues. You’re al­ways over­an­a­lyz­ing peo­ple, try­ing to fig­ure out if some­thing were to go down, ‘What would I do?’ ”

Kelly said he and other Ve­gas sur­vivors con­sid­ered the Border­line “our home.”

A few weeks af­ter the Ve­gas shoot­ing, the bar held a ben­e­fit con­cert for five peo­ple from the area who were killed, and now-eerie so­cial me­dia posts show a num­ber of sur­vivors hold­ing up a “Route 91” sign in­side the bar at a six­month an­niver­sary event.

Kelly said he’ll be look­ing to God for com­fort in the com­ing weeks and months.

“I know that, be­ing a re­li­gious per­son, that God is never go­ing to give me any­thing more than I can han­dle,” he said. “I’m here for a rea­son.”

Kath­leen Ron­ayne and Amanda Lee My­ers

Bren­dan Kelly says liv­ing through the Route 91 Har­vest Fes­ti­val shoot­ing in 2017 changed his life. He doesn’t know how go­ing through Wed­nes­day’s mass shoot­ing in Thou­sand Oaks, Calif., will af­fect him down the road.

Peo­ple mourn those killed in Wed­nes­day’s mass shoot­ing in Thou­sand Oaks, Calif., at a vigil Thurs­day. JAY CALDERON/THE DESERT SUN

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