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‘North Las Vegas Strong’: Oct. 1 memorial bench unveiled

Dozens sat in silence for nearly a minute at a North Las Vegas park on Tuesday morning, the second anniversary of the Las Vegas massacre.

The 58 seconds of silence commemorated the people who lost their lives in the shooting.

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.

Afterward, family members and friends of some of the victims helped to unveil a new memorial – a metal bench, adorned with the Las Vegas Strip skyline under an American flag sky, with the words “North Las Vegas Strong” front and center.

The bench was commissioned by the city of North Las Vegas, along with Chris and Debbie Davis, whose daughter Neysa Tonks was killed in the massacre. It sits between a duck pond and a playground at Craig Ranch Regional Park.

Mynda Smith, Tonks’ sister, encouraged everyone to come together with unity, compassion, love, courage, sacrifice and strength – the traits she said best show what it means to be Las Vegas strong.

She and her parents like to say that “Neysa’s light shines on forever,” so Smith asked that everyone continue to let the victims’ lights shine through them.

“We encourage everyone today and every day to honor the 58 by letting your light shine,” Smith said. “Honor the 58 by being more resolved than ever to come together and live a life of compassion and kindness.”

Just a few feet away from the bench sits another new addition to the park: a freshly planted tree, adorned with a big orange bow. Along the border of the planter are seven hearts and 51 stars.

The hearts represent the victims from Nevada, and the stars represent those from other states.

Councilwoman Pamela Goynes-Brown called it a “tree of hope,” and said that she’s glad to have been able to help provide a spot for people to sit and reflect on the lives lost two years ago.

“Remember their great lives and what they represented,” Brown said. “Think about their loved ones who are still surviving, and how we can progress and move forward from this tragic event.”

Chris Davis said he’d noticed there were memorials popping up across the valley, but nothing in North Las Vegas yet. He said he’d worked in North Las Vegas for a long time, so he thought it was important to erect a tribute in the community.

This summer, he and his wife reached out to Mayor John Lee who, with the help of the city’s neighborhood and leisure services director Cass Palmer, commissioned the custom bench in under two months, just in time for the second anniversary of the tragedy.

Debbie Davis said the mayor drove her and her husband around the park and let them pick where the bench would go. She said they chose the spot because it had a beautiful view of the pond, but also because of its proximity to the playground.

“Honestly, part of it for us is that there are young people here with their young children,” Davis said. “We really feel like the young children need to remember what happened because they can make a difference.”

The Davises said this year was harder than the first, but that they are determined to continue to spread their daughter’s light and be kind to others.

Neysa Tonks was a single mother of three, and her parents are now raising her sons. They’ve also adopted her dog, Chloe, who Chris Davis said “really rescued us.”

Chris said that Tonks never went to college, so it was important to her that her kids were able to go. But he said it was hard to get Tonks’ oldest son into college while they were mourning.

Tonks’ sons are just three of the 55 children under the age of 21 who lost a parent in the massacre.

“It was so hard for us and I realized, if I’m having a hard time with this, what about the other 57 families?” Chris said. “So we decided to start a scholarship fund.”

The Children of the 58 fund has raised enough money so far to give about $5,000 to each child, Chris said. The money is being managed by the Nevada Community Foundation, which will disburse it as each child graduates from high school.

Chris said the kids are not required to use the money to go to a traditional university, just to further their education in some way.

The couple also set up the Neysa Davis Tonks Mentor Endowment at UNLV. The endowment will provide mentors to show incoming freshmen around campus and help them adjust to college life.

“Neysa never got to go to college, but she was always working to mentor kids who needed it and help them to further their education,” Chris said. “And now, with the endowment, she’s finally in college.”

Debbie said she doesn’t want her daughter or any of the other victims to be forgotten, but she also wants to make sure people don’t forget about the tragedy itself.

“We do everything we can to provide kindness and tolerance of each other so that we as a society can have a positive path forward,” Debbie said. “That’s the only way to do it, is by caring about each other.”

Contact Alexis Egeland at aegeland@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0335. Follow @alexis_egeland on Twitter.

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