Thousands of lights twinkled on the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden’s Tree of Life after a 59-second moment of silence Tuesday night, honoring a woman shot during the Route 91 Harvest festival who died this month.
A handful of survivors huddled near the tree, chatting and reminiscing about loved ones. They were there for a vigil honoring Kim Gervais, the latest “angel” from the Route 91 family.
Gervais, 57, of Mira Loma, California, was left quadriplegic after a bullet lodged itself in her spine and shrapnel scattered from shoulder to shoulder in the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department had not determined Gervais’ cause and manner of death as of Tuesday, but if investigators find she died from her spinal injuries, Gervais would be the 59th victim of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Her oldest daughter, Amber Manka, told the Review-Journal last week that her mom had always been a fighter, and that came through after the shooting. She said that while her mother was in the hospital in June, her heart stopped twice.
She had been recovering at a nursing facility in Redlands, California, before she died.
Get Outdoors Nevada, a nonprofit group that helps to run the healing garden, is working to figure out a permanent way to honor Gervais at the garden. But Aaron Leifheit, the group’s education program director, said the land is owned by the city of Las Vegas and that the city is meeting with groups to figure out the best course of action.
“The new garden is a place that’s open and welcoming to everybody,” Leifheit said. “And we wanted to honor the people that were affected by the tragedy two years ago so that’s what we’re going to do tonight for Kim, to make sure that her memory is honored and she feels welcome and a part of this place.”
Leifheit said Gervais may be honored with her own tribute tree, to join the 58 scattered throughout the garden, or she may be honored in a new way.
Gervais raised her two daughters by herself after her husband died, survivor Sue Ann Cornwell said at the vigil Tuesday. She had five grandchildren and a zest for life.
“She loved country music, she loved riding her ATV out in the desert, and she loved life and traveling,” Cornwell said. “That was her big desire, to retire and travel, and she was almost to retirement at the time of Route 91.”
Cornwell said she is glad Gervais is being honored at the garden, and called the garden her church. She said it’s helped her immensely to heal in the wake of the shooting, and she knows it has done the same for others who were there, or who lost a loved one.
She said she hopes the garden, and the twinkling lights on the tree, remind everyone to live a little better for the ones who can’t.
“I think we love a little more, we care a little more and we try to help people heal just a little more,” Cornwell said. “So in the name of Kim and our 58 angels, the best thing we can do is love more often, smile even when you don’t feel like it and do random acts of kindness in the names of our angels, and now Kim.”