MGM Resorts agreed to pay 800 million dollars last week to settle thousands of liability claims related to a 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, which killed 58 people and injured hundreds more. This month marks two years since the tragedy, and the trauma continues to affect the lives of the survivors.
Freelance Photographer Bridget Bennett has been following survivors' personal journeys in a piece recently published on NPR.org, and KUNR's Bree Zender spoke with her on Skype about her project.
ZENDER: Can you tell me about a couple of those stories, the people that you followed?
BENNETT: Li’Shey is one of them. Li’Shey Johnson. She was working in hospitality the night of Route 91, over that weekend and the night of the shooting. It's a festival event, so she was there [for] contract work and whatnot. And that was also something that was important to me… telling the stories of the workers. Li’Shey has yet to go back to work full time. And it’s been, you know, two years. She’s gone through two surgeries...One on her shoulder and one on her ankle. And on top of that, it’s been a complete emotional journey for her. She lives alone, so she doesn’t really have that full support system of family members living with you, and being able to physically attend to you, and emotionally support you.
Stories like hers are really important because that’s something that’s more so behind a closed door. It’s not something easily to visualize [or] I feel like is easily understood, or the first story that’s at the forefront of this coverage. And also, her story is echoed with so many other people in Vegas and people across the U.S. that were affected by this.
ZENDER: How has her story changed since you first met her?
BENNETT: I met her in August of last year. That was about a month before she had one of her surgeries. So I’ve watched her go through that process of getting funds for the surgery and then going through the surgery and then having to recover through that. Also with that, go through her own emotional journey.
So I think at the one-year last year, she was at home on her couch, like physically healing still. And I think she just wrapped with her physical therapy this past week, or within the end of September. And so just seeing that, the process of her going through two surgeries and still continuously going through therapy and actively trying her hardest to do whatever she can to recover. Like, this weekend she is able to physically travel and be with her family in California. I mean, last year she was on her couch, physically healing.
ZENDER: I read it a little bit in the essay on your NPR piece about being retraumatized from seeing other mass shootings, especially over the past couple of months. Did you hear anybody who, you know, was struggling with something like that?
BENNETT: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, I spoke with Stacie Armentrout, who is in the piece. I don’t think this quote made it in it, but she was just talking to me about the day of El Paso, which was just in August, [which was] the same day as the Dayton [shooting]. They were grocery shopping , and she said that even before this, there's still stress and feelings that come up when she’s grocery shopping. She illustrated a situation where she was saying there was some altercation at the front of their store and it just kind of triggered an emotional reaction between her and her two daughters, just seeing security come get involved with another individual in the store. And still having those feelings.
She also held a vigil when the Thousand Oaks shooting happened. She helped organize that at the healing garden. Not only was it also in a country bar, there was a survivor from Route 91 that was killed. And she had met him through the Route 91 community and Facebook groups.
Find Bennett's photo series here.