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‘Part of this brotherhood’: UNLV shooting survivors share stories

Updated January 24, 2024 - 9:16 am

Carolyn Salvador Avila remembers how sirens blared when she arrived on UNLV’s campus on the morning of Dec. 6. She made her way to the student union and briefly talked outside a room before someone called her inside.

There was a shooter, and it wasn’t a drill, they said.

Salvador Avila, a 19-year-old studying psychology, joined other students in the room, locking the doors and turning off the lights. They knew what to do, having been through active shooter drills twice every semester since the first grade. Eventually, she heard banging on a door, and she put her backpack on, thinking it might protect her.

If was difficult learning later that a gunman had killed three professors and wounded another, Salvador Avila said.

“It’s awful, but we’ve kind of become part of this brotherhood that exists where once you’ve gone through a shooting, you have this feeling of guilt that you don’t feel like you should live,” said Salvador Avila, who is also president of the College Democrats of America. “So many students understand this guilt that we have for being alive, or for not having it as bad as other people did.”

Salvador Avila spoke alongside other UNLV students during a roundtable Tuesday with Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., to share their stories about the recent shooting at the Las Vegas campus and to highlight the need for gun violence prevention measures.

The roundtable was hosted by the Biden-Harris campaign a few days before early voting starts for the Nevada presidential primary, where Biden is on the ballot alongside fellow Democrat Marianne Williamson and others.

Frost, the first Gen Z congressman, took the opportunity to stress the importance of re-electing President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and to highlight Democrats’ efforts to prevent gun violence.

“The thing about gun violence is it’s the symptom of many other issues,” Frost said. If someone wants to end gun violence, they also need to care about health care, the climate crisis and ending poverty, he said.

“We need to create a world and a country where people don’t feel the need to use a gun to solve their problems in the first place,” Frost said.

The 27-year-old congressman, who was previously an organizer of March for Our Lives, which pressed for gun control legislation, successfully introduced a bill last year to create a federal office of gun violence prevention.

Staffed by survivors of gun violence, the office acts as a sort of federal emergency management agency to help municipal governments get connected with resources after a shooting, Frost said.

Through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, money is being sent to cities across the country to help prevent gun violence, according to Frost. He said Las Vegas has received $3 million for programs that work with individuals prone to commit gun violence in an effort to break that cycle.

“It is about the regulation of guns, but it’s also ensuring that we hit the root causes in the community, and that holistic approach is what the Biden-Harris Administration has been taking,” he said.

Millan “Mack” Gledhill, a UNLV political science and film student, knows many people who have experienced gun violence. Gledhill’s siblings both had their own experiences with SWAT teams at their high schools, and a high school classmate was at a college where three football players were killed in a shooting.

“The degrees of separation between young people and gun violence is very small,” Gledhill said. “I feel like most of us know somebody who’s been affected by gun violence, and I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t understand about our generation. This is a very personal issue for most of us.”

Even though the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting, which killed 60 people, happened in Las Vegas, Gledhill was still shocked when it happened again.

“For some reason you let yourself believe you’re safe on your own campus,” he said. “It’s hard to reconcile with the feelings that it could be all over when you’re only 23 years old. … And now I have to go to class and have panic attacks, when I should be focusing on my education and my future.”

Gledhill said he is mostly angry. Columbine had happened before Gledhill was born. Since then, two elementary schools have been sites of mass shootings.

“I don’t need somebody to save me. I need politicians to work for me, not against me,” Gledhill said. “And as young people, I think it is our obligation to take charge on this issue and demand change, not ask for it.”

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on X.

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