Joe Robbins stood at the microphone, the sun rising behind him on the second anniversary of the Las Vegas massacre. His 20-year-old son, Henderson resident Quinton Robbins, was one of the 58 people killed during the Oct. 1, 2017, attack. More than 800 also were wounded.
“For a resilient community such as ours, no anniversary is more terrible than the one that recalls how your neighbors and guests were wantonly slain,” the father said, “even while their hearts were singing out in joy as they listened to live music with their friends and loved ones.”
Several hundred in the crowd before him quietly listened. They included uniformed officers, state and local leaders and the families of the 57 others killed on the final night of the Route 91 Harvest festival.
“How is it that anyone should perish in such circumstances?” Robbins asked. “How is it that our families, this community and the community’s guests should suffer as we have?”
The quiet crowd had no answer. So a few remarks later, Joe Robbins asked for hope.
“There is so much anger, evil and sorrow in the world, and we must do our part to make life better for others,” he said.
The sunrise remembrance ceremony Tuesday was the second of its kind hosted at the Clark County Government Center. Speakers this year also included Gov. Steve Sisolak, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick.
In teary remarks, Sisolak recalled his memories that night but also tried to recall the good.
“After the tragedy, two years ago today, many around the country remarked on the strength of the Vegas community, almost as if they were surprised that Las Vegas is in fact a tight-knit community,” Sisolak said.
“The nation discovered what we knew all along,” he continued. “That beyond the neon signs, we are a city of neighbors that look out for each other, that have each other’s backs, that have an immense pride in the place that we call home.”
The ceremony included 58 seconds of silence and ended with a slideshow of 58 photos, one for each victim, displayed on a bright LED screen on the stage. As the images came and went, a group of Las Vegas Academy of the Arts students sang “Amazing Grace.”
In the crowd was Mynda Smith, who last year spoke on stage. Her sister, Neysa Tonks, 46, of Las Vegas, died in the shooting.
“I think that any way to talk about the 58, talk about survivors, talk about what we’re all going through, I think it’s a beautiful thing,” Smith said.
After the ceremony, Smith and Joe Robbins hugged, chatting with several other families. Over the past two years, Smith has worked to track down all the families in an effort to connect and keep up with one another.
Together, they created a private Facebook group that allows relatives of the 58 to share photos and updates.
“I want people to feel connected,” she said. “I want them to feel loved. And I want them to understand that Vegas in itself is still taking care of those 58 families.”
Following the ceremony, two Route 91 survivors became engaged, the county announced on Twitter. They were from California and visited Las Vegas both for the 2017 festival and the Tuesday remembrance.
Inside the government center, the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center hosted a free wellness event after the sunrise ceremony. It featured areas for journaling, scrapbooking and meditation as well as a banner on which people left messages of hope and remembrance.
“Love Wins!” one message read. “Be a light in a world of darkness!”
Comfort dogs Star, an Australian shepherd, and Berlin, a yellow Lab, also were on hand.
“The dogs are there to simply let people relax and smile,” said Bari Boersma, a volunteer canine handler for HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response. “You get everything, from people who are really happy and petting the dogs, and people who get very quiet.”
There also was an opportunity to “pay it forward” through the Stars of HOPE project. Those passing through could paint messages of inspiration on wooden stars that will be delivered to other communities struck by tragedy: El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and Gilroy, California.
‘North Las Vegas Strong’
The wellness event was one of several hosted around the valley this year on the second anniversary of the mass shooting, including a busy blood drive at University Medical Center and a separate remembrance event at UNLV.
Smith, Tonks’ sister, later attended the dedication of a new memorial bench at Craig Ranch Regional Park in North Las Vegas.
The metal bench, adorned with the Strip skyline under an American flag sky and the words “North Las Vegas Strong,” was commissioned by the city of North Las Vegas and Chris and Debbie Davis, Tonks and Smith’s parents.
Tonks was a mother of three whose “light shines on, always,” Smith said at the event. The new bench sits between a duck pond and a playground.
Nearby, a freshly planted tree sits in a planter that bears seven hearts, which represent the victims from Nevada, and 51 stars, which represent the victims from California and several other states and also Canada.
The day of remembrance came to a close at the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden, where at 10:05 p.m., Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman began reading aloud the names of the 58 killed in the attack, which began exactly two years prior.
Tall, glass vases held the 58 candles, and it was hard for volunteers to keep the flames lit in the breeze. The crowd of more than 200 was silent as 58 rings of a bell echoed over the garden.
It took a few minutes for people to speak again when the ceremony was done. Goodman, who in her speech said the city will never forget the 58, promised to keep the flames going as family members began walking around.
“We will stay here to make sure their candles remain vibrant,” she said, ending the ceremony.