After the gunfire

Brian Lebrun and his wife Tami Corona Lebrun reflect on the shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival from a hospital bed in Henderson, Nev. last year.

Las Vegas six months later.

Three survivors share the horror of the deadly mass shooting that left nearly 60 concert-goers dead and hundreds injured.

Some still search for answers while others won’t let the experience change their lives.

They feel lucky to be alive and mourn those who didn’t make it.

Their stories...

The color orange

By Makenna Stone, Staff Writer

Chelsea Romo was hanging onto the fence at the Jason Aldean concert during the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, simply enjoying the music.

Within minutes, the deadliest mass shooting by an individual in U.S. history began.

Romo, 29, was one of the first people shot. The last thing she saw was the Mandalay Bay Hotel before her vision was taken instantly. She said it sounded like Pop Rocks were hitting the ground all around her.

“I feel like I got lucky. I didn’t have to see anything. My vision was taken right away,” Romo said.

Romo said she didn’t feel pain after bullets struck her face. She felt uncomfortable, like she had metal in her face and was holding her face together with her hands.

She said all she could see was the color orange.

Her friend was screaming, “Chelsea! Your face!”

Romo worked at the Inland Valley Medical Center in California for six years, and was trained to know that she needed to remain calm. She didn’t want to go into shock.

“I was holding my face and thinking, ‘I just got my lips done, I am so pissed.’ I don’t know why I was worried about it, but I was saying anything to keep calm,” Romo said.

She remembers a man standing next to her at the concert pulled her over the fence and held her while the entire venue was under fire.

He broke the fence apart, laid her on top of it and carried her out to an ambulance, she said.

Once at the hospital she endured a seven-hour surgery and doctors said she may never see again.

The AR-15 used by the gunman left Romo with multiple gun wounds, shattering her left eye, almost blinding her in her right eye and shattering her cheek.

The shrapnel had exploded into her skull and face. She suffered two hematomas that shifted the position of her brain, she said.

She was in absolute darkness for a week.

Her family and friends didn’t know if she was going to survive.

“I kept telling my dad, ‘I have Jesus with me, I’m fine.’ My dad was so surprised that I was the one who calmed him down,” Romo said.

Today, even though Romo has had many more surgeries and doctor visits, and has been on medical leave from work since the shooting, she is enjoying her day-to-day life with her children Blakely, 2, and Gavin, 6.

Somehow, she came out of one of the surgeries with 20/25 vision — something her doctors can’t explain. She is now able to drive and drives her kids to school every day.

On Friday she will have another surgery for a skin graft between her ears to rebuild the loss of her eyelid.

They will obtain some of Romo’s own fat to fill the eye area, to avoid putting more foreign objects into her, and then put a prosthetic on top of it to rebuild her eye.

“Maybe I’ll do a purple eye — just have some fun with it,” Romo said.

Romo said her goal now is to stay positive and show her children she is OK. She doesn’t want their childhood to be negatively affected by any of this.

Romo is also working on writing her own book, with a goal to release it on Oct. 1 for the one-year anniversary of the massacre.

“I have been surrounded by so much good, it keeps me going and keeps me motivated,” Romo said.

Feeling skittish

By Margherita Beale, Managing Editor

For 53-year-old Tami Corona Lebrun, life hasn’t quite been the same.

She doesn’t like crowds anymore. She feels trapped in them. She doesn’t like the loud “pops” of balloons or fireworks.

On New Year’s Eve, when she heard the sound of a firework going off near her Huntington Beach home, instinctively she dropped to the ground to protect herself.

 A few weeks ago she attended a beach front country concert in Orange County with her husband, Brian Lebrun, 54. The couple hung back, not pushing their way through the crowd to the front of the stage as they had six months ago.

Thirty seconds after she told her husband she was heading to the restroom, he felt what he described as separation anxiety. He rushed after her, thinking to himself, “This is just not going to ever happen again.”

Tami and Brian Lebrun were two of the roughly 850 people injured at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1.

The couple said they were close to the stage when the shooting started. As the crowd of a reported 20,000 began to run out of the venue, they the couple stayed put, having been assured by military officers that the popping sound they heard didn’t sound like gunfire.

As the shots drew closer and louder, Brian Lebrun threw himself on top of his wife. All around them, they could hear the gunshots hitting the ground, shards of asphalt imbedding themselves in Brian Lebrun’s skin until a bullet struck his right arm.

Today, physical evidence remains in the form of a bullet, still lodged deep in his arm, but working its way back up the tract it came in.

“Once we got to the ER, that’s when it really hit,” he said. “There was blood everywhere and people were lining up these hallways just like a school. You see people standing or sitting in line, sitting in chairs and it was just a nightmare.”

After leaving the hospital, the couple sat at a restaurant across the street, waiting for Tami Corona Lebrun’s sister, a Henderson resident, to come pick them up.

Upon noticing Brian Lebrun’s blood soaked clothes, the staff gave him an Applebee’s T-shirt.

It wasn’t until the next day, Tami Corona Lebrun’s birthday, that the couple was reunited with their family in Orange County. On their way home, they stopped by the house of another California resident, a stranger, whose purse had been left behind at the concert.  

“That’s when she lost it, to see someone other than me. I think that affected her the most. Seeing that little girl, how physically shaken and scared she was from a horrible moment. You can’t describe why it even happened. There’s no rhyme or reason,” Brian Lebrun said.

The lack of answers haunts Tami Corona Lebrun to this day.

“There’s nothing on the news. It’s all said and done. He acted alone and nobody is going to say anything more about it. You know with other things they dig until they get you the answers but now, we have no answers,” she said.

Tami and Brian Lebrun said they consider themselves very fortunate. Despite the ramifications of the shooting, ones that have crept into their every day lives, they are still alive and well, they said.

“We were blessed. There are some families out there that were not so lucky and our hearts and thoughts go out to those families,” he said.

The recovery has been an emotional one. While the couple can talk about what happened comfortably now, even jokingly at times, fear for the safety of Tami Corona Lebrun’s three daughters has seeped into the conversation.

“It was just frustrating to not know why it happened,” 20-year-old Sarah Corona said. I think that’s what scares her more and why she didn’t want us going to Stage Coach, because it could have happened anywhere. Because there was no motive.

Country strong

By Kassidy Dillon, Arts and Culture Editor

Emalee Mackenzie kept her Route 91 Harvest wristband on for months following the music festival. She said couldn’t bring herself to take it off quite yet, it felt too soon.

“It’s hard to explain, but it felt like as long as I kept that on I wasn’t letting those go that needed to go,” Mackenzie, 49, said of the 58 concertgoers who lost their lives at the three-day festival in Las Vegas six months ago. “It was keeping them here.”

She has since replaced the festival wristband with a thin, silver chain, decorated with a pair of angel wings, and a charm bracelet reading “country strong.”

Mackenzie, a mother of two daughters and a microbiology professor at Irvine Valley College, has attended various country music concerts since the attack, including the Country Thunder music festival in Arizona last month. This time, she hesitated to push herself to the front of the stage as she had done in the past. Now, she keeps her distance.

“I do look for the exits now. Just last Saturday we went to a festival,” Mackenzie said. “I stayed near the podium near the sound booth because it was an easy place to get under and I never would have thought about that before.”

Helicopters, drones, large crowds and unexpected noises, like a gunshot in a movie, trigger a response she never felt in the past, she said.

Despite the trauma that has now become a part of her life, Mackenzie said she refuses to let anyone else dictate how she lives.

“Why would I not go (to a music festival)? Why would I let someone control that?” Mackenzie said.

About midway through Jason Aldean’s set at last year’s festival, Mackenzie and her friend, Kristie Clements, heard “pops” from their spot at the front of the stage.

Within seconds of the initial gunshots, the crowd yelled “get down,” she said. Mackenzie said she turned around and saw a blonde girl holding her head in her hands—a bullet lodged into her face—about five feet away.

Mackenzie said she knew that she had no choice but to run.

“There was that moment of, OK we have a choice—we can either lay here and die or we can get up and do something,” she said.

As the crowd charged the festival ground exits, Mackenzie and Clements ran in the opposite direction. They found themselves under a pitch black stage before making their way inside an artist’s tour bus backstage, where Mackenzie said they stayed through the night.

Mackenzie and Clements huddled together in the otherwise empty bus, unsure if they could believe what they were reading on Twitter. She texted her daughters, 13 and 18, to tell them she was safe and called her boyfriend.

“When we left, we basically walked out into the crime scene,” Mackenzie said. “In the morning, we saw all of the bloody towels, the miscellaneous boots, all the blood splattered on the walkway — we spent the night in the crime scene.”

Mackenzie and Clements walked to the Luxor, the hotel they had stayed at that weekend, and found crowds waiting in the lobby and hallways, some injured.

“It was eerie,” Mackenzie said. “We got into the hotel and there were just piles of white bloody sheets from people I guess spending the night in the hallways because they couldn’t get into their rooms.”

Mackenzie, along with other survivors, have united through groups on Facebook and started a movement they call “58 acts of kindness.” They passed out See’s lollipops with the victims’ names on them, giving the proceeds to survivors of the Route 91 Harvest festival.

“It’s something that will live with me forever,” Mackenzie said. “It’s a life-altering event and something that I can get through and I know I’ll be OK, but not a day goes by where I don’t think about it one way or another.

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