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One Year After Vegas Shooting, A Mother Remembers Her Daughter's Close Call

Photo of women at vigil. / Gian Sapienza
A woman lights a candle at a victims memorial vigil on the Las Vegas Boulevard.

Sue Reynolds still gets goosebumps thinking about the phone call she received one year ago.

Her daughter, Carisa, and a friend were trapped at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, where a lone gunman had opened fire from his 32nd floor Mandalay Bay hotel room overlooking the concert.

“She just said, ‘I’m so scared, everybody’s dying… and there’s a guy that’s been shot right next to me,’” Reynolds recalled her daughter saying. “She goes, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’ you could just hear it her voice how scared she was.”

On that Sunday October night Carisa Reynolds, now 34, made it out alive with her friend, but several people around her did not. 58 people were killed and more than 400 were wounded by gunfire in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

“I still get chills and goosebumps when I think about it,” said Sue Reynolds, who, with her daughter, lives in La Verkin, Utah, a small town about two hours from Las Vegas.

“I went to her house, waiting for her to come home ... and when she came in, she just looked like she went through World War II,” she said. “She looked like she’d aged ... and like she was not herself.”

Authorities concluded that 64-year-old Stephen Paddock acted alone in the killing spree. Although there have been theories about Paddock’s motive — from gambling losses to alcoholism — investigators say Paddock left few clues as to why he ambushed concertgoers.

Neither Reynolds nor her daughter think there will ever be a satisfactory answer to Paddock’s actions.

“I just don’t know how one person could do that,” said Reynolds. “There’s just too many unanswered questions.”

Sue Reynolds said she knows of some other survivors in southern Utah who get together. Her daughter and another friend who attended the festival both got tattoos of a ribbon that says “Vegas Strong,” the hashtag that united a grieving community.

Her daughter didn’t want to talk about what happened for a long time — and still has difficulty with survivor’s guilt, Reynolds said.

Over the summer, two FBI agents returned an earring Carisa Reynolds, who declined an interview about her experience, lost in the chaos of that night, bringing back all the memories.

Reynolds said she has not been to Vegas since the shooting, but her daughter eventually did after a few months. Despite a lingering fear of crowds and painful memories of that night, Carisa wanted to visit the memorial to the 58 victims.

“It was really hard for her,” her mother said.

Although her daughter was spared, Reynolds said the shooting has changed her, too. She always considered herself a person who helped others, but said the shooting has made her more empathetic.

“I mostly think about the people who lost their lives and their families,” said Reynolds. “Because here I am, I have my daughter still, and there’s another mother out there that doesn’t have hers, and I feel for her.”


Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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