Alexander Zorensky wears a tiny orange bow pinned to the top of his baseball cap. His buddy has one pinned to his t-shirt. Both were there, on Sunday night, in the middle of 22,000 country Western concert fans, when chaos broke loose.
Zorensky says he turned and saw a victim struck by machine gun fire and started yelling directions to others, “Are you hurt? Are you shot? Now get up and run straight out.” He and his friend drove the first victims to the hospital in a pick-up truck. You could call him a hero who saved many.
But on Wednesday, he and his friend were busy working with dirt and concrete to take a break from the horrific memories of the gun massacre. “It keeps me from sitting at home and thinking about what we saw, ” says Zorensky.
He who plants a tree, plants hope
What he saw was unthinkable. Stephen Paddock, 64, had rented a corner room on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Hotel and Resort. He had 23 guns in the room, about half were modified to act as automatic weapons. Near the end of Sunday’s concert, Paddock fired multiple rounds into the crowd, killing at least 58 and injuring 489 others.
Zorensky and his friend volunteered Thursday at the Las Vegas Healing Garden, which popped up overnight in the city’s art section. Local landscaper Jay Pleggenkuhle of Stonerose Landscapes sketched out his idea on a napkin. It grew from there. Inspired by the saying, He who plants a tree plants hope, Pleggenkuhle wanted to provide something to help heal the city for years to come. “A lot of bad stuff happens in this world and we just don’t give up hope.”
Everything in the garden is donated. From the workers to the turf to the flagpole to the cement to the flowers to the trees. There are 59 trees. A larger Tree of Life towers in the center of the garden, surrounded by a huge heart. On Friday’s dedication of the garden, visitors will design ceramic tiles to form a mosaic heart, as if piecing back together the broken heart of Las Vegas.
Free food, courtesy of Nacho Daddy
Next to Planet Hollywood, the managing partner of Mexican Restaurant Nacho Daddy, is approving another $400 donation of burritos and salads. Since Monday, Paul Hymas’ restaurants have sent 1,000 free meals to first responders, residents donating blood, and victim family gatherings. “It is very chaotic. You just start making food and then start delivering.”
The word spread and other first responders showed up at his restaurants to eat for free. It’s personal for Hymas, who lives with his young son at the Ogden, a condominium complex, where police say the shooter rented a room the weekend prior to the massacre, when another open air concert was held. Hymas and hundreds of his friends attended the concert. Nacho Daddy also had food booths at the venue. “Personally I just can’t wrap my arms around it. I should be thankful, but I just get upset.”
Donations, GoFundMe pages
It is difficult to find anyone in Las Vegas who wasn’t affected by the mass shooting. Local business owners have donated thousands of dollars of needed items. A plastic surgeon group is offering free procedures to gunshot victims. A dentist is donating free teeth repairs. An automobile dealership is giving free rides to anyone wanting to donate blood. Counseling is available at numerous locations and over the phone.
More than 900 GoFundMe pages relating to the Las Vegas shooting have been created. An early GoFundMe page for victims by county government officials has raised more than $9.5 million.
Next step for families
The grieving now takes another turn. The bodies from the concert venue were released to the families Thursday. Local funeral director Ryan Bowen set up a GoFundMe page to help.
His page has a goal of $590,000 — $10,000 for each victim. “This is something they shouldn’t have to worry about,” he says. “Because when their family members went to the concert, they weren’t worried about it. But by the end of the concert, here the they are — faced with such a burden.” Bowen says family members can use the money at any funeral home across the U.S. Personally, he is donating free cremation services through his cremation business.
As he spoke with VOA, the first family was meeting with his staff to make arrangements.