Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) spoke on the Senate floor today about the lingering impact of the Route 91 Harvest Festival attack in Las Vegas and the need for more mental health support for everyone affected.
The attack on the Route 91 Harvest Festival on October 1, 2017 remains the largest mass shooting in modern American history. During her time in office, Senator Cortez Masto has advocated consistently for more mental health support for Nevadans. More information about her record on mental and behavioral health issues is available here.
Senator Cortez Masto’s remarks are available in VIDEO FORMAT. Below are her remarks as prepared for delivery:
Immediately after a tragedy, we wake up each day and feel the full force of it again. The shock, sorrow, and anger can hit us so strongly it’s hard to breathe. That’s the first part of mourning.
Eventually, the darkest times in our lives start to feel more familiar. They still hurt as much as ever, but they don’t surprise us. They become part of us.
Three years ago tonight, bullets split the air at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in my hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada. They sounded like fireworks, like a celebration. But these were the first shots in the worst mass shooting in modern American history.
Within minutes, those present at the outdoor festival understood at least some of what was happening: a gunman high up in a hotel room had taken aim at the people below. Hundreds of people were shot, and hundreds more wounded trying to get to safety. 58 people lost their lives at the time, and two more have passed from grievous wounds since.
Within minutes, Nevadans began working together to save lives and help those in need. From those with years of training as first responders to bystanders whose only qualification to help was a car at the ready, Las Vegas pulled together.
Nurses and doctors rushed to hospitals, and ordinary Nevadans stood in line to give blood. Individuals and corporations donated their time and energy as well as blankets, food, and other support.
And in the three years since, many all over the state of Nevada have worked to mark what happened, through memorial crosses, sculpture, a commemorative community center, and many scholarships honoring the memory of those who lost their lives.
Those three years have not erased the loss of the victims, the pain of the survivors, or the scars of the first responders who rushed into danger to save lives. If anything, the legacy of the Route 91 shooting has expanded during that time, not contracted.
Like ripples on a pond, the impacts of the shooting linger. It affects different people in different ways.
For many, fireworks on the Fourth of July are a reminder of what they went through that day.
Geena Marano has learned to prepare herself for Independence Day and New Year’s Eve, but if a car backfires unexpectedly, she has to start the process of reminding herself: “You’re safe. It’s okay.”
Her sister Marisa, who was also at the Festival, says her own daughter has picked up the habit of reacting to loud noises. “It breaks my heart,” Marisa says, “because my trauma has passed to her.”
The fear resurfaces for these sisters in so many situations: On anniversaries, including of all the shootings since then. At high schools, where Geena was doing outreach to students and feared that she was putting herself at risk of another shooting. Passing the Strip, eerily empty during the pandemic like it was on the days after the festival. Anywhere where there is darkness and music—even on an evening out.
And the Marano sisters are not alone. While the tragedy of the Route 91 shooting may be three years behind us, for many survivors, a moment can bring it all roaring back.
That is one of the reasons I’m so committed to getting more funding and support for mental health and substance use treatment in this country.
Just because you can’t see many of the scars from the Route 91 Festival, it doesn’t mean they’re not there. And that’s true for mental health in general. So many Americans deal on a daily basis with challenges that even their closest loved ones can struggle to understand.
Many first responders, for instance, carry the trauma they see at scenes of crime, disaster, and tragedy with them. I introduced legislation to provide confidentiality to federal law enforcement who use peer counseling services and to track law enforcement suicides in order to develop more effective prevention programs.
For everyone struggling with mental health concerns, peer support can be key, which is why I’ve introduced the Virtual Peer Support Act to help these key behavioral health programs move online to meet huge community needs during this pandemic. Because it really does take a community of support to help people through tough times.
Treating the wounds, visible and invisible, from the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting is only one part of what we owe the survivors.
The other part is to take more action at the federal level to prevent attacks like this in the first place—to reduce the gun violence that we’ve become far too accustomed to.
Overwhelming majorities of Americans want commonsense gun reform—including many responsible gun owners, like those in my own family.
We can do this here in Congress. Nevada has done it. At the state level, we’ve banned the bump stocks used in the Route 91 shooting. We’ve closed the loophole that lets private sellers sell guns without background checks.
We can and should do all these things at the federal level. I’ve pushed for all these things during my time here in the Senate. Because no family should have to go through what I saw at the Reunification Center in Las Vegas, with families waiting to hear what happened to their loved ones. No one should have to struggle for years with chronic pain, physical or mental, when we can take sensible measures to prevent it.
To all the families I met who have been touched by this tragedy—and for the hundreds more I’ve never spoken with—I want you to know that Nevadans haven’t forgotten you. We are still Vegas Strong, and we are still here for you. We’re still working together to get you what you need in the wake of a tragedy whose impacts have not faded with time, only changed and shifted.
Tonight, at home, let us all remember those who felt the impact of the Route 91 shooting, from survivors to families to firefighters, nurses to volunteers. Let us move toward an America that protects its communities from violence, and that helps those who live through it heal.