Wednesday 18 September 2019

Las Vegas massacre: The innocent people who lost their lives

From a husband who saved his wife's life on their anniversary to parents grieving over the death of their only son, the stories coming from the relatives of those killed in Las Vegas on Sunday are heart breaking

Some of the victims of Sunday's Las Vegas shooting (from top L-R) Christopher Christopher Roybal, Melissa Ramirez, Jack Beaton, Adrian Murfitt, Angie Gomez, (bottom L-R) Jessica Klymchuk, Bailey Schweitzer, Sonny Melton, and Jordan McIldon. Social media/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
Some of the victims of Sunday's Las Vegas shooting (from top L-R) Christopher Christopher Roybal, Melissa Ramirez, Jack Beaton, Adrian Murfitt, Angie Gomez, (bottom L-R) Jessica Klymchuk, Bailey Schweitzer, Sonny Melton, and Jordan McIldon. Social media/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo Newsdesk Newsdesk

Through tearful stories of last moments together and in heart-wrenching tributes, relatives and friends have been remembering the dozens of people killed in the shooting massacre on the Las Vegas strip.

A woman recalled how her husband shielded her from gunfire, only to die himself on their anniversary, while siblings absorbed the news that their beloved big brother was gone.

Relatives of another victim waited for hours before getting the worst news imaginable - that a mother-of-two who was initially listed as missing had died. A man who loved the outdoors was recalled for his smile - wide and freely given.

Here is a glimpse at some of the people who died after a gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of a hotel onto a crowd of more than 22,000 at a country music festival in Las Vegas.


Laurie Beaton was at the festival with her husband Jack celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary when they heard what sounded like firecrackers. Like everyone around her, she was looking around to see who was lighting them when she felt something like air rush past her arm.

Jack Beaton

"I've never experienced gunshots but when I felt air go right past my arm I told my husband, 'I don't think that's fireworks'," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Bakersfield, California.

"He told me, 'Get down, get down, get down'," and put his own body on top of hers for protection, she said. "He told me, 'I love you, Laurie' and his arms were around me and his body just went heavy on me."

Mrs Beaton said her husband, a 54-year-old construction worker, wouldn't want much said publicly about his death. But she wanted people to hear how he had protected her, just as he always had done.

"I knew every day that he would protect me and take care of me and love me unconditionally, and what he did is no surprise to me, and he is my hero," she said.


Christopher Roybal, 28, was described as jovial and fun-loving, despite experiencing intense combat during four tours in the Middle East.

Christopher Roybal

"He is a guy that could always put a smile on your face ... after all the stuff he had been through," said David Harman, who founded a company that owns the Colorado gym where Roybal worked.

Roybal worked at Crunch Fitness in Corona and Riverside, California, before he moved at the beginning of the year to help open franchises in Colorado Springs.

"He was the guy who if your car broke down in the middle of the night, you could call him and he would come help you," Harman said. "He is that guy who would find solutions, not report on problems."

Harman said Roybal served in Afghanistan and was coping with the loss of a friend who was killed by an improvised explosive device.


Steven Berger, of Shorewood, Minnesota, travelled to Las Vegas as he had many times before with his friends, but this time they would celebrate his 44th birthday.

A fan of country music, Berger and five friends were enjoying the Jason Aldean show near the Las Vegas strip when the rain of bullets began.

Mary Berger, 72, of Brookfield, Wisconsin, said her son's friend had called hours later to tell them Steven had been hit by gunfire and collapsed to the ground.

"He tried to go to him but they were trying to get people out of the way," Berger said. He wasn't sure where Steven ended up, she added.

Steven's father, Richard Berger, said the family was notified by the coroner's office in Las Vegas on Tuesday afternoon that he had died.

"He's our only son," Berger said. "It's terrible. At least now we know. Now we got busy things to do with three grandchildren."

Mary Berger described her son, a father-of-three, as fun-loving with a serious side and a hard worker.


Teacher Kelsey Meadows, 28, was described as "smart, compassionate and kind" by Taft Union High School principal, Mary Alice Finn.

In a statement, Ms Finn said: "She had a sweet spirit and a love for children.

"Words cannot adequately capture the sorrow felt by her students, colleagues and friends in learning of her passing."

Her brother, Brad Meadows, posted on his Facebook page: "So it is with an absolutely shattered heart that I let everyone know that Kelsey did not survive this tragic event.

"Please keep my family in your thoughts and prayers as we try and move past this horrible time."


The family of Melissa Ramirez, 26, faced an anxious wait for news in the aftermath of the shooting.

"Nothing was confirmed, and we still had hope that she was alive," her cousin Maribel Ramirez told The Associated Press.

Melissa's parents and siblings hurried to Las Vegas from Littlerock, California, after getting word of the shootings.

"They searched Monday ... searched everywhere," said another cousin, Fabiola Farnetti, 34, of Palmdale, California.

At about 5am on Tuesday, Melissa's parents positively identified her body.

"I never once saw her in a bad mood or upset about anything. She was always positive. Her smile would just brighten up everyone's day," her cousin added.


Angela "Angie" Gomez graduated from Riverside Poly High School in 2015, where she was a cheerleader. School staff remembered her as a "fun-loving young lady with a great sense of humour".

Angie Gomez

Friend Lupe Avila wrote in a tribute to Gomez online that she was a "cheerful young lady with a warm heart and loving spirit".


Rhonda LeRocque, 42, was described as a kindhearted woman with a "beautiful life".

Rhonda LeRocque

LeRocque had attended the concert with her husband and their six-year-old daughter. LeRocque's daughter was taken back to their hotel before the shooting happened.

LeRocque's mother, Priscilla Champagne, said her daughter's husband, Jason, was next to her when she fell. He had thought she was ducking but she did not get up.


Neysa Tonks' employer remembered her as a "great mother, colleague and friend".

The 46-year-old mother, who had three sons, worked for the Las Vegas office of Technologent Inc, which offers technology solutions to companies.

"Neysa has brought so much joy, fun and laughter to Technologent - she will be greatly missed by all," said a statement posted by the California-based company.

The company has set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds to help her family.

Tonks grew up in Utah. Her brother, AJ Yerage, told the CBS affiliate in Salt Lake City that he felt "lucky" that Tonks was a part of his life and that she loved making jokes.

"I can hear her laugh, her voice in my head and my heart right now," Yerage told KUTV.


Quinton Robbins, 20, died when a bullet hit him as he was looking for a place to take his girlfriend for shelter, according to his uncle, Mike Wells.

Quinton Robbins

He said: "The kid was loved by everyone. He was popular in high school, but would walk up to the kid who wasn't so popular and befriend him and make him feel good."

Mr Robbins leaves behind a younger brother and sister, who adored him, as well as his parents, Mr Wells said.

He was an active member of the Mormon church and had hoped to go on a mission before he was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago, he said. He worked for the athletic department in his home city of Henderson, Nevada.


Mother-of-two Tara Roe Smith, 34, of Alberta, Canada, went to Las Vegas with her husband Zach for a weekend getaway.

Her aunt, Val Rodgers, said: "She was a beautiful soul. She was a wonderful mother and our family is going to miss her dearly."

Ms Smith, the mother of two young boys, lived in Okotoks.


Heather Warino Alvarado made the three-hour drive from her southern Utah home to Las Vegas to get away for the weekend and take her daughter to a country music festival.

Her daughter was unharmed in the Sunday night shooting, but the 35-year-old was one of at least 59 people killed.

She ran an in-home day care centre in Cedar City, Utah, and was a devoted wife and mother of three children who was always willing to help others, said her friend Megan Jackson Gadd.

"She has made huge impacts on those around her with even the smallest gestures," she said.

"A person like her will never be replaced or forgotten and will be missed dearly every day for the rest of our lives."

The daughter, whose age and identity is being kept private to protect her privacy, is physically OK, she said.


A one-time high school cheerleader who loved country music, Bailey Schweitzer of Bakersfield, California, went to the Route 91 Harvest Festival to see some of her favourite acts.

Bailey Schweitzer

A day after the 20-year-old's death, colleagues at the software company where she worked held a vigil.

"No one could possibly have a bad day when Bailey was around," said Fred Brakeman, chief executive officer of Infinity Communications and Consulting, where Ms Schweitzer was a receptionist.

"If you have ever called or visited our office, she was the perky one that helped direct you to the staff member you needed."

Ms Schweitzer graduated in 2015 from Centennial High School, where she was a member of the cheerleading squad. On social media she often posted photos from Bakersfield Speedway, a dirt auto-racing track that her family owns.


Thomas Day was a big country music fan, so there was no doubt he would go to the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas, and take his whole family with him.

Thomas Day JR

Mr Day, 54, of Corona, California, was a father of four, and died after he was shot in the head.

"He was just a fun-loving boy, a great family man who loved to spend time with his family," said his father, Thomas Day Sr, who spoke on the phone, surrounded by his son's four grown children at his Las Vegas area home.


Stacee Etcheber of Novato, California, was listed as missing for hours before her family got the worst possible news, that the mother of two was dead.

Stacee Etcheber

At the concert, her husband told her to hide, then to run, as he helped a concertgoer next to him who had been shot, said Al Etcheber, her brother-in-law.

Her husband, Vincent Etcheber, is a San Francisco police officer, and his training kicked in immediately when shots rang out, Al Etcheber said.

Ms Etcheber, 50, worked as a hairdresser. Al Etcheber called her a loving wife and great mother who was "tough as nails and just the salt of the earth".


Sonny Melton, a registered nurse, died in the shooting, according to The Henry County Medical Centre in Paris, Tennessee, where he worked.

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Sonny and Heather Melton

His wife, Dr Heather Melton, an orthopaedic surgeon who was with him when shots were fired, survived, the medical centre said.

Heather Melton told WZTV in Nashville, Tennessee, that her husband "saved my life and lost his". She said her husband was the most kindhearted, loving man she ever met.

Friend Jeremy Butler told the Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer that Mr Melton was shielding his wife from gunfire when he was fatally shot.


Off-duty Las Vegas police officer and youth football coach Charleston Hartfield was among those killed, two of his friends said.

Mr Hartfield, 34, was known as a selfless, respected leader who brought out the best in his players, said Stan King, whose son played football for Hartfield.

Charleston Hartfield

Troy Rhett, another friend of Mr Hartfield's through football, said he knew from social media that Mr Hartfield was attending the Sunday concert.

When he heard about the shooting, he texted him, hoping to learn Mr Hartfield was safe. He never heard back, and Mr Rhett said he later learned through another friend that Mr Hartfield had died.

Mr Hartfield, whowas also known as "Chuck" or "Charles" or even "Chucky Hart," was also a military veteran and leaves behind a son and a daughter, Mr Rhett said.


Commercial fisherman Adrian Murfitt, 35, of Anchorage, Alaska, was also among the dead, a family member said.

Adrian Murfitt

His sister, Shannon Gothard, said the family heard from one of Mr Murfitt's friends who was with him when he died, though they have not received official confirmation about his death.

She described her brother as a man with a hearty laugh and a former competitive hockey player who still dabbled in the game.

"His whole life was always around hockey," she said.

After graduating from high school, he became a fisherman, picking up odd jobs in the off-season.

He had just come off an extremely successful fishing season when he made the trip to Las Vegas with some good friends, she said.


MetroNews, a West Virginia-based radio network, reported that Tony Burditus wrote on his Facebook page that his wife Denise was among the victims.

"It saddens me to say that I lost my wife of 32 years, a mother of two, soon to be grandmother of five this evening in the Las Vegas shooting," he wrote. "Denise passed in my arms. I LOVE YOU BABE."

Denise Burditus' Facebook page includes a photo of her and her husband at the same festival last year. Mandalay Bay, the hotel where the gunman opened fire, is shown in the background.


Lisa Romero, a high school secretary from Gallup, New Mexico, was an "incredible loving and sincere friend, mentor and advocate for students," the Gallup-McKinley County Public Schools interim superintendent said.

District officials confirmed to reporters that Ms Romero, 48, had died sometime after the shooting.

"Last night during the mass shooting in Las Vegas we lost one of our staff members," interim superintendent Mike Hyatt wrote to employees.

"Lisa Romero, discipline secretary at Miyamura (High School), was a victim in the shooting. Our prayers go out to her family during this tragic time."

Survivors included her husband, children and grandchildren, Mr Hyatt said. Officials announced a candlelight vigil in her honour.


Two Canadians - a mother-of-four and a man just days from his 24th birthday - were among those killed in the shooting.

Jessica Klymchuk.jpg
Victim of the October 1, 2017 mass shooting at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Jessica Klymchuk, is seen in this undated social media photo obtained by Reuters October 2, 2017. Social media/Handout via REUTERS

Jessica Klymchuk, of Valleyview, Alberta, and Jordan McIldoon, 23, of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, died in Las Vegas.

Ms Klymchuk, 28, was an educational assistant, librarian and bus driver for St Stephen's School, said the Holy Family Catholic Regional Division.

"The scope of this tragedy is worldwide, and we are feeling its impact here at home," the division's superintendent, Betty Turpin, said.

A post on Ms Klymchuk's Facebook page said she got engaged in April, and was in Vegas with her fiance.

British Columbia Premier John Horgan said that Mr Mclldoon, a mechanic's apprentice, was among those killed.

JOrdan McIldoon 2.jpg
Jordan McIldoon

"We only had one child," parents Al and Angela McIldoon, told the CBC. "We just don't know what to do."

Mr Horgan offered condolences and said flags will be dropped to half-mast on the province's Parliament buildings and on government buildings in Maple Ridge.


Susan Smith, 53, a resident of Simi Valley, California, near Los Angeles, had worked for the local school district since 2001 as the office manager at Vista Elementary School.

"Susan was wonderful with the kids and the staff and was an integral part of the school community here," said Jake Finch, the public information officer for the district.

"She was the hub of everything that happened at the school. If a kid is sick, she's the one calling the parents and no matter how chaotic things got here, she was always smiling."

Ms Smith was married with two adult children.


Rachael Parker, a police records technician, died in hospital, the Manhattan Beach Police Department said.

Rachael Parker

She was among four department employees who were attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival while off-duty. Another suffered minor injuries.

"She was employed with the Manhattan Beach Police Department for 10 years and will be greatly missed," the department said.


Sandy Casey, a middle school special education teacher living in Redondo Beach, California, was killed in Sunday night's attack, the school district and a relative said.

Sandy Casey

"This is unbelievably tragic and sad," Mike Matthews, superintendent of the Manhattan Beach School District, wrote in a Monday morning letter to the district.

"This loss is impacting many of our staff members deeply."

Ms Casey was at the Las Vegas concert with her fiance and a friend, who were not injured, said Linda O'Leary, a cousin of Ms Casey's mother who is acting as a family spokeswoman.

Most of Ms Casey's extended family lives in Vermont, she said.

"They're receiving a lot of support and love, the best you can do with an unbelievable tragedy," she said.

The family is discussing setting up a scholarship in Ms Casey's name.


Dorene Anderson was the second person from Anchorage, Alaska, confirmed killed in the mass shooting in Las Vegas, her husband's employer said.

Her husband, John, works for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. The chief executive of that organisation sent an email to employees on Monday informing them that Ms Anderson had been killed in the shooting.

She described herself on her Facebook page as a stay-at-home wife and mother whose outside interest was a passion for the Alaska Aces, a minor league hockey team that recently disbanded and was sold to the parent company of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers.

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