Cities and states throughout America work hard to build their particular brand, to be known for “something” in order to attract new residents, new industries, and/ or tourists. I’m sure you’ve run across those articles and advertisements associating a city or state as, “best place to retire,” “fasting growing cities,” “lowest tax rates,” or “safest places to live in America.” Indeed, these are titles to be coveted by any city seeking to attract the right kind of attention. But one title that no city would ever want is that of the “site of the worst mass shooting in modern history.” Nonetheless, just a few days ago, on Sunday, October 1. 2017, Las Vegas added its name to a growing list of cities that will forever be associated with an act of horrendous violence and terror.
Our company, based in the Las Vegas area and just 5 minutes from the site of the attack, was a surreal place to be on this past Monday morning. Most staff came to work, while others chose to stayed home for understandable reasons. For the staff in the office on Monday, everyone had a different way of coping with the news they had learned only a few hours earlier. A few sat in their offices either softly sobbing or in stunned silence staring at the computer screen; while others looked for ways to help by donating blood, giving to “Go-Fund-Me” sites for the victims, or making phones calls to take inventory of friends, family or colleagues. For me, it was quiet anger. I had no words to express my feelings, other than a few terse words which arrived when someone tried to do their job and discuss business (I have since apologized). Being at work on Monday morning, October 2nd, wasn’t about the work for most. It was about being in a safe place with people you trusted, while silently or publicly sharing in the horror of the night’s events. Luckily, no member of the CHSI Tech staff was directly touched by the tragedy. However, almost all of us know someone who was touched by the heartbreak of Sunday night.
Thirty-five hours after the shooting, on Tuesday morning October 3rd, the two-day InsureTech Connect Conference began in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace; just blocks away from Sunday night’s carnage at the south end of the Strip. Arriving on the Strip Tuesday morning, it appeared to be business as usual, with throngs of tourists and conference attendees walking up and down the Strip sidewalks with Starbucks, or some other adult beverage, in hand. The only indicator of Sunday’s night’s event was a couple of groups of Metro Police officers standing on the Strip, talking to each other, in a show of force that seemed more publicity stunt than policing. Arriving inside the casino, I noticed the gaming tables and slot machines were bustling as I moved through the migration of people all headed somewhere with nearly a care in mind. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it.
In the opening ceremony of the conference, the speaker naturally acknowledged the tragic event of Sunday night, and then launched us into the two-days of sessions, speakers, and insights of the insurance industry. Over the next two days, hardly a word was mentioned about the tragedy. People talked about their companies, their business solutions, and exchanged business cards. It was the same on the inside of the Strip as it appeared on the outside; business as usual. I’m not sure how to interpret this observation. Was this the resilience of the America spirit at work? Or was it the desensitization of the human psyche due to the fatigue of years of war, previous terror and shooting attacks? Could be… Chicago alone had about 4,000 shootings in 2016, and more than 2,500 this year as of August. Yet we rarely hear about that, and people haven’t stopped going to Chicago. Or was it just another coping mechanism we call “denial?” Whatever it was, I found it unnatural and unsettling. But I get it, regardless of the underlying reasons, sooner or later, life goes on.
Just as it did with New York, Boston, Miami, and Sandy Hook, “this too shall pass” for most of us. However, for the many of the over 500 victims, and thousands of concert goers, this city, and that moment in time, will define them for a life-time. They are married to Las Vegas and October 1 for the balance of their lives. They don’t get the option of “business as usual.” The horror of that night will follow them and be repeated in their dreams and conversations for years, or decades, to come.
As I sit here writing these words, I feel a lump in my throat, the tightness of my chest, and tears welling up in my eyes while I will them away. The emotion comes not just from the event of Sunday night, but it also comes from the fear of knowing… knowing that somewhere in America, some disturbed person is watching the non-stop media reports on the “worst mass shooting in modern history,” and saying to themselves, with the same ambition and coolness of an avid video gamer, “I can beat that….”