A year after Las Vegas shooting, Indianapolis woman struggles with survivor's guilt
It’s been a year since Jason McMillan was shot at the Route 91 Harvest Festival while shielding his girlfriend from the gunfire raining from a nearby high-rise. Since the shooting, the father of two got engaged, bought a home and got a puppy. (Sept. 27)
Angela Goffinet's stomach turns when she hears the Jason Aldean song "When She Says Baby." That's the last thing she heard as she walked inside the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas on a Sunday night one year ago.
It was precisely at that moment that a gunman began firing on the crowd of thousands gathered at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on the Las Vegas Strip.
The Indianapolis woman was in Vegas with two friends to attend the country music festival. All three had been close to the stage for several shows on the night of Oct. 1, 2017, just before Aldean was to begin performing. Goffinet unwittingly escaped the gunfire when she left her friends behind and walked across the street into the Mandalay Bay to pack for an early flight home the next day.
It was just after she entered the hotel that Stephen Paddock opened fire from a perch on the 32nd floor of the hotel. She heard nothing as she rode the elevator to her room on the 26th floor of an adjoining hotel. By the time she entered the room, her phone was exploding with texts from her friends who feared she was dead.
Goffinet would spend much of that night huddled alone in the back of her hotel suite, trapped by fear, worried the shooter or shooters might burst into her room. Meanwhile, her friends escaped to another hotel amid the chaos.
All three women, friends for 20 years, survived the shooting, but they faced a difficult recovery emotionally. Even though her friends Tiffany Thomas and Denise LoForti live in California, Goffinet, 44, said they were her lifeline in the days and months after the shooting. They still text every day.
For three months, she said she rarely left her house. "I couldn't be around people."
Public spaces scared her. People scared her. Noises scared her.
"I didn't feel safe with anyone but Tiffany and Denise," Goffinet said. "No one understands this. You have to deal with the fact that you made it and 58 people didn't. I had horrible, horrible survivor's guilt."
The software consultant and mother of two has leaned heavily on her family, her friends and other survivors in the past year. A Facebook page, Go Country 105 Route 91 Support Forum, has been a safe place for those affected by the massacre to share their anger, sadness and fears.
Country radio will mark the one-year anniversary of the Route 91 Harvest Festival massacre with a moment of silence on Monday at 1:05 p.m. Eastern time.
Goffinet did not attend this weekend's anniversary tribute concert, but the three friends did return to Las Vegas in February. It was the first time they had seen each other since the shooting.
"We went to celebrate Tiffany's birthday and to celebrate being alive," she said. "We're like sisters now."
Goffinet said she feels stronger today, though she couldn't listen to country music for a long time. "And I can't listen to that Jason Aldean song. It almost makes me sick."
The country singer returned to Las Vegas Sept. 21 to perform in concert for the first time since the shooting. He paid tribute to victims and survivors, as well as police, fire and EMTs who were on the scene that night. Earlier this year, he visited several wounded survivors in a Las Vegas hospital.
Goffinet said she doubts she''ll ever go to really big public events again, but she did go to a concert at a small venue recently. That was a big step, she said. Wherever she goes, she said she takes a seat near the exit. "It's what they call the power seat, where you can see everything."
She wants to return to the music festival some day "because they're my people. We have a bond for life."
Still, she struggles with why so many died and she lived. "I think about those families (of victims), and I just can't imagine. Some of those people were so young," she said. "Why wasn't it me? Why did I make it?"
Like others who were there that night, she has found comfort in the kindness of friends and strangers who reached out after the tragedy. She wants to live a good life to honor those who died and those still suffering.
"If I could hug all those families, I would. I've got my kids; I look at them every day, and I thank God I'm alive."
Follow Maureen Gilmer on Twitter: @MaureenCGilmer.