Oak Park moms recapture Las Vegas shooting

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Oak Park moms recapture Las Vegas shooting

Oak Park moms attend the iHeart Radio Festival where they saw Jason Aldean perform.

Oak Park moms attend the iHeart Radio Festival where they saw Jason Aldean perform.

Oak Park moms attend the iHeart Radio Festival where they saw Jason Aldean perform.

Oak Park moms attend the iHeart Radio Festival where they saw Jason Aldean perform.

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Even in another state, the effects of the Las Vegas shooting, which took place Oct. 1 during the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival, have reverberated back to the Oak Park community.

Deemed the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the shooting amassed over 573 victims — 58 killed and 515 more injured. Debbie Gates, an Oak Park resident, real estate agent and mother of two, witnessed this event when she attended the festival to celebrate her birthday with eight friends. Gates said that seconds into country singer Jason Aldean’s song “Any Ol’ Barstool,” a rain of bullets was unleashed upon the crowd. Gates found herself in what would later be called the “kill zone.”

“When [the shooting] first started, it was just utter confusion. Everyone, I think, in the whole place, even if you knew it was a machine gun, you still had that disbelief,” Gates said.

Gates said her first instinct, along with other concertgoers, was to drop to the ground. In that moment, nobody could confidently pinpoint the direction from which the bullets were coming.

“We knew that the shots were coming directly at us. It seemed like it was coming from three or four people — it really didn’t seem like it was coming from one person,” Gates said. “I never had the feeling like it was coming from above. It was just so intense and the sound was so loud.”

Oak Park moms attend the iHeart Radio Festival where they saw Jason Aldean perform.

The shooting was the work of one man. Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retired accountant, reportedly fired over 1,000 bullets for about 10 minutes upon a crowd of over 30,000 concertgoers before killing himself in his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

First-responders had not yet arrived to help the wounded in the initial moments after the attack. Members of Community Emergency Response Teams, however, were actively working to tend to victims.

CERT offers safety programs provided by local government agencies to train community members in case first responders are not readily available in life-threatening situations.

Arizona State University junior Mitchell Buckley has received such training. He took a CERT class with the Ventura County Fire Department his second semester of junior year at OPHS, before graduating in 2015.

Buckley said a group of about 30 close relatives and friends, including his mom and sister, attended the festival. Out of those 30 people, five were injured and are currently in recovery. Four of the injured were shot and another partially paralyzed from being trampled by the crowd. About 20 minutes after the shooting, Buckley said he got in contact with a family member who was trying to locate an exit point from the concert venue.

“I was then able to help coordinate them finding each other because they were having a hard time contacting each other. I had maps pulled up on my computer so that I could walk them through step by step on where to go using visual clues around them. I was also then able to relay information out to other concerned family members and friends who were not there about who I knew was safe and okay,” Buckley wrote to the Talon.

When communications during the shooting became difficult, Buckley said being out-of-state with CERT training became crucial in notifying his family members about what was going on.

“[In CERT] we learned that the best way to help in big events like this one, is to stay calm,” Buckley wrote. “Even though I did not use the training in person [to] physically help people, it allowed me to stay calm and do the best I could to help my family while in a different state. So I want to stress that this class is what I have to thank for everything — it helped me help my family.”

Gates described her experience as being more frantic than Buckley’s. After jumping a fence to get to safety, she ran about a block and a half toward the MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, separating from her friends in the process.

“When I got there, nobody knew what was going on; it was a complete everyday-occurring situation: valet was still taking cars, cars still leaving to go out for the night and people were playing in the casino,” Gates said. “I just ran in frantically like ‘There’s a shooter, there’s a shooter, you guys have got to get out of the casino!’”

After Gates was released from a lockdown at the MGM Grand around 4:30 a.m., she walked back to the Delano at Mandalay Bay.

“It was a very eerie feeling to walk in Vegas with all the police cars, all the fire trucks. It was quiet and still, but yet all the lights and the sirens were eerie. My whole being was on such high alert,” Gates said. “All you wanted was daylight.”

Once SWAT forces and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department got to Paddock, he was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and lying among 23 guns –– 12 of which were legally altered semi-automatic rifles with a bump fire stock, allowing Paddock to shoot nine rounds per second.

Gates and her friends were reunited around 9 a.m. the following day. Since the shooting, they have kept in close contact.

“We’re bonded for life,” Gates said.

Gates said that she couldn’t wait to get home to her family Oct. 2.

“Home had never felt so good in my life. You just want to see your loved ones,” Gates said.

Oak Park High School junior Hannah Gates said she is “extremely humble and grateful” that her mother is alive.

“My mom is so strong,” Hannah Gates said. “It’s such a sad world that we live in, in the sense that shootings like what happened in Las Vegas happen more than they should.”

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, on average, about 93 Americans are killed daily by guns in the U.S. According to TIME Magazine, Paddock’s motive remains unclear as officials have uncovered no political or religious affiliations, but rather a clean criminal record and passing neuropathological examinations.

Debbie Gates said ever since the shooting she has maintained a full schedule and is regularly attending therapy sessions.

“Day-to-day I keep really active. I’m busy so I can push it out of my mind. It’s constantly your mind convincing yourself that it’s okay,” Gates said. “It’s been challenging in those quiet moments — and at night, it’s hard.”

 

Buchanan: ‘I’m a principal, not a sheriff’

Oak Park High School’s current security measures comprises over 100 cameras, campus supervisors, security fencing, visitor check-in procedures, benevolent relations with law enforcement and on-campus student groups like Advanced Peer Counseling and Safe School Ambassadors.

In the instance that there is a shooter at the high school, the first responders would be the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department and a Special Weapons Attack Team. However, before police forces arrive, students and staff must fend for themselves.

“In the time between when shootings start and when police get here, there can be a lot of harm done,” Buchanan said.

District policy does not allow guns on campus, even if one has a concealed carry permit. Nevertheless, even with growing debate after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, Principal Kevin Buchanan said he does not believe arming on-campus personnel is the best way to minimize risk before authorities arrive.

“I’m a principal, not a sheriff. If we’re armed, that completely changes the nature of how I am viewed and how we’re viewed,” Buchanan said. “I don’t think any of us are immune to these kind of incidents. We just have to be vigilant, and we don’t think that arming the staff is the most effective way of dealing with this.”

Principal of Oak View High School and Oak Park Independent School Stuart McGugan, who is also in charge of the community Safe Kids Task Force, said it is more important for community members and students to be aware of warning signs than to arm themselves against potential school shooters.

“Instead of putting fences up, our philosophy is about having people to talk to and educating the students on what to look for as well,” McGugan said.

It is important for students to report suspicious activity immediately, especially in cases of threats on social media or behavioral signals indicating student distress.

“It’s just a matter of getting those people who know to speak up and let us know and give us a chance to intervene before anything tragic happens,” Buchanan said. “That’s the approach we’re taking: eyes and ears on the ground, feet on the ground, knowing all of our kids, making sure that we’re aware of anybody who may be having difficulty, providing them with any help or support that they need.”

In accordance with preventing school shootings, Buchanan said that a balanced school environment overrules the need to increase security procedures.

“We don’t want to build walls and fences and watchtowers and have armed guards. We want to maintain the bucolic settings that are park-like, attractive and conducive to a feeling of well-being,” Buchanan said.

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