This is part of an ongoing series observing the two-year anniversary of the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. See all of our coverage here.
After the shooting, he learned to endure the bullet fragments embedded in his flesh, to make sure his back was covered in public. He learned how to twist his body when his left rib cage protruded an extra half-inch, to live without a portion of his right lung.
But 25-year-old Luca Iclodean still wasn’t sure if he could ever return to his normal life.
He’d been working as a barback on the night of Oct. 1, 2017, at the bar closest to the main stage and Mandalay Bay, when a gunman rained bullets into the Route 91 Harvest festival, killing 58 and injuring hundreds more.
The bullet narrowly missed his spine and landed in his right lung, 1 millimeter away from paralyzing him.
“I was very close to being 59,” Iclodean said. “It’s a miracle. I know I was saved for a reason. I was so close to dying.”
He returned to his seasonal job at the M Resort a few months ago, with co-workers who also had been at the festival that night. The hotel’s Henderson location wasn’t surrounded by other buildings, so it put him at ease.
But with the second anniversary of the shooting approaching, Iclodean wanted to prove to himself that he could reclaim his life. He wanted to work another big festival again.
“I feel very lost, sad, scared, especially around this time of year,” he said. “It’s weird what one date will do to you.”
On the Friday of the three-day Life is Beautiful festival downtown, just more than a week before Oct. 1, he tightened his bandana around his short, black hair and tried to calm his nerves. It would be a long weekend, and he needed to keep cool.
“It will help me move forward, to know I faced my fears and got through it,” he told himself.
It would be his first time working a major festival since he was shot in the back as he huddled inside a metal draft beer trailer the size of a small closet.
“Come in here! Hide with me!” he shouted to those ducked under the bar that night. He was in such a panic he didn’t realize how tiny the space was as he tried to close the door behind his 5-foot-2-inch frame.
When he was hit, he collapsed to the floor. His body became hot, and the wind was knocked out of him. He couldn’t speak, so he mouthed the words.
“Help me. I’ve been shot.”
It was 82 degrees by mid-afternoon on the first day of Life is Beautiful, which brought a flock of festivalgoers to a line that snaked along Fremont Street.
Iclodean had been at the bar for a few hours. He was yet again located by the main stage — off Stewart Avenue and 7th Street, past the mixed-media mammoth rearing its tusks. He danced around the bar wearing sunglasses.
What made the weekend easier to manage was that Iclodean asked to be placed in the same bar as Elliott Garfias, a friend from his days working at the Hard Rock Hotel.
The enclosed white-and-green tent also made Iclodean feel safe as he prepared the bar for the storm expected after Bea Miller performed.
To pass some time before the rush, he stopped to get a grilled cheese sandwich at the food truck across the street. As he stood in line, he noticed the shadow of The Ogden overlooking the tents.
It was ominous: The shooter had rented three condos at The Ogden overlooking the Life is Beautiful stages in 2017. Iclodean had been working the festival then, too.
“They’re really cracking down on security,” he said aloud. “Nobody gets in or out without them knowing. I feel good about that.”
Nearby, a police officer and a man in plainclothes escorted a man toward the exit.
Happy to be back
Back behind the bar, Iclodean swiftly drained the ice buckets, stocked cups and sliced pineapples. He told one of the bartenders it was his first festival back since the shooting.
“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” said Juan Carlos Garcia, 35.
“Yeah, I was a bit on edge,” Iclodean nervously answered. “I’m just happy to be back, man. I was worried, but I’m having fun.”
Almost everyone behind that bar had a story to tell from that night.
Scarlett, a bartender with multi-colored hair who declined to give her full name, worked a bar at the Route 91 festival. After the shooting, she didn’t leave her house for months.
The ginger-bearded bartender Brian Peede, who rubbed elbows with Iclodean at the cash register, also had been on the Strip that night and remembered harboring 45 people in his back office at Fat Bar.
Iclodean’s friend at the bar, Garfias, was working at the Luxor when he noticed a bunch of people crying in the kitchen. He’d called Iclodean when he found out where the shooting was.
Minutes later, he’d heard through a mutual friend that Iclodean had been shot.
Coincidentally, Anthony Park, another bartender in the Life is Beautiful tent, also was working in Iclodean’s bar the night of the shooting.
To Park, he and Iclodean shared an unspeakable bond. It was a twist of fate that they’d be paired together again.
“We saw it from the same vantage point,” he said, shaking his head. “Don’t be nervous,” he told Iclodean.
He reached to pat Iclodean’s back, where the nickle-sized bullet hole under his shoulder had been covered by a scar.
“If I touch your back, does it hurt?” he asked.
Iclodean fist-bumped in response.
Almost immediately after the shooting, Iclodean got a back tattoo depicting an image of his pulse. Coming out of the pulse are the Las Vegas skyline and two angel wings. It was a way to pay tribute to his life and those who lost theirs.
But it didn’t help much with the healing process. As the magnitude of the shooting sank in, Iclodean’s behavior started to change. He wouldn’t get out of bed until 4 p.m., if at all. When he and his girlfriend, Caroline, went for frozen yogurt and the workers were fixing the machine, the sudden noise startled him.
When he woke up in a sweaty panic, she’d scratch his back and hold him.
For Valentine’s Day, they booked a room at Vdara. He kept the blinds closed to avoid looking out on the Strip. The jostling of the doorknob of the adjoining room terrified him. He took a table and chairs and stuck them underneath the door handle.
One night, while on a trip to Huntington Beach, California, he and his girlfriend stopped at a random bar for drinks. There, a tall, burly man towered over him.
“I know you,” he said.
It was an off-duty police officer Iclodean knew only as Chris. That night he threw Iclodean over his shoulder after he was hit and helped him get out of the venue and to the hospital. All the while, another man, Russ from Canada, used his thumb to stop the bleeding.
By the time he had arrived at Valley Hospital Medical Center, where his mom had worked for 13 years as a nurse, Iclodean had lost so much blood that doctors thought he could not be saved.
Seeing Chris again for the first time months later, Iclodean jumped into his arms.
He still hears from Russ, too, he said, on the first day of every month.
On high alert
Before he got back to work, Iclodean said, he had been running from his problems. Going to Life is Beautiful gave him an option to confront them.
“It’s my first time working a festival, and knowing the anniversary is right around the corner, I’m just afraid,” he said before he started work. “Am I just going to relive it all again? Or is it going to be OK this time?”
He was still on high alert. For instance, he knew where the exits were. And when the fireworks went off during Post Malone’s performance, Iclodean posted himself up against the metal pole inside the tent until the end of the set.
“You OK?” Garfias, asked him as he served a ginger beer cocktail. He was.
On the first night, Iclodean took a short break to see the last bit of Walk the Moon’s performance. He and his friends weaved through the crowd and headed toward the main stage. They stood on the far right, in the back.
“I’m dizzy,” Iclodean mouthed as he spun his friend, Nicole Jeffries, around. She hugged Iclodean from behind as they danced and another friend, Jennifer Buchanan, joined behind her. His back was covered, and he felt safe. It was then that the lead singer shouted into the crowd.
“Whatever reason you’re here, whatever baggage you got with you, just give it to us.”
When the music started again, Iclodean broke away and jumped, both fists in the air.