Las Vegas shooting: I was in Mandalay Bay last year, it could have been me
The famous spirit of Sin City will help overcome this tragedy, but it's a cliché we use after every such massacre.
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Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, Nevada. The moment I heard about the horrifying shooting incident, I couldn't help but sit with my eyes glued to my computer screen with the TV switched on above my head. Such attacks usually do make people across the world behave in the same manner, but I was more horrified because I had stayed at the same hotel on one of those high-rise floors exactly a year ago.
A gunman, Stephen Paddock, killed 59 people and injured more than 527 others by firing from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas towards the Route 91 Harvest country music festival.
Later, the dreaded ISIS claimed responsibility for the massacre through two emails claiming that killer Paddock, a white Christian male was a recent convert to Islam.
Investigators, however, have disputed the ISIS claim and ruled out any link to international terror so far. They are still probing why and how a childless, former accountant, divorced 27 years ago and of late living with a Filipino-American woman (so far found unrelated to the crime), a habitual gambler, son of an infamous psychopath bank robber, smuggled 42 guns to carry out the biggest massacre in modern US history.
Did he hold a grudge against Las Vegas even as he gambled on cruises? His brother described him as wealthy, but investigators are yet to confirm how much he owned and if he had lost a fortune lately.
Image: Reuters photo
While planning my stay there last year, I had Googled for threats and learnt that terrorists had threatened to create mayhem on the Las Vegas Strip. As we would walk along the strip, the thought of a possible attack often crossed my mind and what would I do. If I would be reporting about it from the spot?
So far, people across the world have blamed the US gun culture and laws for the massacre. The gun culture has led to many such random shootings in the past. People have become somewhat used to mass shootings in the US. The number of such attacks have only increased in the recent past even as Americans struggle to come to terms with the tragedies, as it happens in case of natural and man-made disasters in India.
Since my return, I have been watching movies shot around the Vegas, most recently Leaving Las Vegas and Cirque Du Soleil, whichI finished watching only last night. This is perhaps my way of keeping the good memories of the beautiful place alive.
It was a family trip and our first visit to Vegas. I chose this hotel primarily because of its biggest attraction, a massive wave pool, a sandy beach with tonnes of real sand and a lazy river. We got a room that overlooked all this. We could see the pool parties right from our room.
On a travel site, a few people had described it as a cheaper five-star with complaints about guests being heavily "charged for just everything", including $8 for a bottle of water, which one could buy by the gallon from the departmental store across the street. A hotel staff was kind enough to tell me about the store at the time of checking in.
It was near this space that a music concert was being held and the killer started firing indiscriminately from his room through the window at a crowd of 22,000 people across the street.
Mandalay Bay is a massive casino resort on the Las Vegas Strip with more than 3,000 rooms, a dozen or so restaurants and its popular evening Cirque Du Soleil show, Michael Jackson One. The day Michael Jackson One opened in 2013, the Canadian circus company had its first ever fatality during the show at another hotel, MGM Grand.
Mandalay Bay is located at the Southern end of the strip near to the airport that we could see from the window of our room. On October 2, people breached the airport fence seeking shelter as the lone wolf attacker rained down bullets.
There were some concerts due around our visit as well, but we could not attend any of them since it was not possible to extend our stay. But after coming back, we had been planning to save enough and fly back to Vegas to attend at least one, we had Jennifer Lopez in mind.
Concerts are a big attraction across the US and people, tourists and students plan their travel and save money to attend these, especially during the spring break.
But who knew such a tragedy would strike. Were there enough security checks in place? It is prohibited to carry glass bottles or an open beverage in a glass container on the Vegas Strip to prevent them from being used as weapons, or people getting hurt accidentally. It is believed that was done also to cut down on litter. If you buy a glass bottle from a store, they will seal it in a pack. There is enough screening of guests done at discotheques, pool parties and concerts. So stringent that at times it gets frustrating. We had to go back to our room to bring the host's name and passport for a pool party and a dance evening. They were so particular about our age and didn't allow our son, who was 18, to enter places where liquor was being served. (It's illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcohol in Vegas.) And that included an adjacent 64-floor sky fall lounge which offered a 180-degree view of the Vegas Strip.
I presumed that our luggage was properly screened though I wonder if individuals were screened ever for security. It is almost impossible to screen tens of thousands of guests who can freely walk through any of the hotels along the strip. But what about guests? Apparently, the killer knew that he could safely smuggle so many guns into the room where he stayed as a guest.
There can't be any act less evil than firing on a crowd of 22,000 enjoying a music concert. Many took the sound of shots fired from automatic guns as fireworks that were on even as the concert was drawing to a close.
The Sin City, famous for "whatever happens in Vegas remains in Vegas" will return to normalcy, just as other cities have done after similar tragedies. It will have a memorial place for every visitor to pay their respects to the victims at Mandalay Bay from now on. There will be more security for which guests will be charged through higher tariffs and of course at the cost of "the free spirit".
People, though panicked, rose to the occasion and rushed the injured to hospitals. That spirit will keep Vegas alive, but this is a cliché we reporters use after every such massacre.
Like everywhere else, it is the family members and kin of those killed and the persons injured who are left scarred for life.