Thousands pay respects to Las Vegas victims at Strip memorial

Updated October 7, 2017 - 7:25 pm

Thousands of tourists and local residents, carrying flowers, signs and balloons, made their way Saturday afternoon to a memorial to remember the victims of the Oct. 1 massacre.

A slow-moving line about 300 people deep had formed by 4 p.m. behind the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, where 58 crosses had been placed, one to represent each victim.

Some people walked 20 minutes in the heat; others parked their cars on the dirt-covered intersection on Las Vegas Boulevard.

“We brought flowers so that we could lay one on every cross,” Las Vegas resident Heather Harrison said, fighting back tears. “My fiancé and my mother wanted to come down and pay our respects to all the people that were lost in the tragedy.”

The song “See You Again” by Charlie Puth played on a small black speaker placed before the first cross. The song was intermixed with the names of the victims and interviews with survivors.

Hundreds of yellow, red, white and orange flowers piled up several inches high in front of each cross. White balloons were tied to most crosses and a miniature pumpkin placed on the horizontal part.

Visitors read messages written on the crosses. “We will miss you so much” was written twice on Andrea Castilla’s cross as was a message in Spanish.

In the foreground, Mandalay Bay, from where the shooter unloaded thousands of bullets, rose high, gleaming in the sun’s rays. Black billboards reading “Vegas Strong,” “Vegas Together” and “Vegas Resilient” ran along the street south toward the hotel-casino.

Stephine Petitoescamilla came with her daughter, who carried flowers, Saturday afternoon.

“I am born and raised here; I am just showing that we are strong,” Petitoescamilla said, choking back tears as she spoke.

Pence departure

The crowds swelled later in the day after Vice President Mike Pence departed McCarran airport at 2:20 p.m. The police had blocked road traffic along Las Vegas Boulevard near the memorial before his flight.

The long lines and crowds continued into the evening. Some people came not just to pay their respects, but to take their portraits. Some people posed with smiles wide on their faces and their fingers pointed aloft or curled into heart signs. Young visitors immediately checked the shots on their smartphones, taking more if their poses seemed flattering.

Yara Diamantino, 24, and her friend Maria Perez, both of Spain, toted their luggage and backpacks to the sign to take photos before departing for San Francisco.

The pair recently finished their summer work and travel program in the United States and are visiting a few cities before returning home.

Diamantino said she also wanted to see the memorial after snapping photos of the sign, but that her friend would not join her.

“She is very sensitive,” Diamantino said of her friend.

Behind them and the sign stood the crosses, enveloped in a solemn atmosphere. As happens at ground zero in New York on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, some people found Saturday’s selfies disrespectful.

One man in his 30s, sporting a cut on his closely shaved head, sat alone near the sign, smoking a cigarette. He shouted a few times at the crowd that this was no place to be smiling for photos.

After his outburst, he dropped his head toward his knees as he tried to hold back the tears welling in his eyes.

Tiffani McMurray came with seven other friends to pay their respects and lay flowers at the crosses.

“I think it is awesome that this line is crazy (long),” she said. “It just shows that hate going on in the world won’t win.”

Contact Todd Prince at tprince@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0386. Follow @toddprincetv on Twitter.

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