Sue Nelson finds strength in her survivor community
By Zoneil Maharaj | DTLV | Healing Garden
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As Sue Nelson frantically drove back to Lake Havasu City, AZ on the morning of October 2, 2017, she ripped off her Route 91 Harvest music festival wristband and vowed to never return to Las Vegas or attend crowded events ever again. She was shaken from the night before, when 58 lives were taken during the Route 91 Harvest music festival. But as soon as memorial crosses were placed at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, Sue was back.
“I couldn’t stay away. I just had to see if there were other people still alive,” the 66-year-old says.
As she sits inside the LV Healing Garden, she recalls that frightful night. Jason Aldean was performing “Any Ol’ Barstool.” Sue’s feet were tired, so she took her shoes off, something she never does. Then she heard gunshots.
“I thought, ‘I’m not going home,’” she says. “My phone was dead, there was nobody I could call to say goodbye to.”
She hid under chairs in the VIP section until “some wonderful man came and got me. He said, ‘honey, we gotta get out of here,” she says. “We army crawled across the astro turf of the VIP section. I don’t even remember going down the stairs.”
The community of survivors she’s found after that night has helped her find strength. “If you come [to the ceremony during First Friday] tonight, it’s a party. We’re all friends and family. We take care of each other and we help each other out,” she says.
Prior to the pandemic, Sue would visit the Healing Garden twice a month. She’s only visited five times since. “I don’t know what we would’ve done without the garden,” she says.
On this visit, Sue comes bearing gifts: soil from the Route 91 festival grounds and tile fragments from the Healing Garden’s heart-shaped planter. She hopes it gives comfort to those who visit.
Sue’s also taken it upon herself to place 58 rocks with the victims’ names where a new memorial is slated to go up in the northeast corner of the festival grounds near Reno Avenue and Giles Street. She’s also put up signs at the site of the shooting, asking visitors to say a prayer for the families of the victims. She doesn’t want to wait years for the new memorial to be built.
“I want their names to be there now,” Sue says.
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