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Coping with the trauma: Survivors of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting gathering in Ventura County

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Ruthson Zimmerman
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A gathering is planned in Ventura County for July 18 for survivors of the 2017 Route 91 Harvest Festival Attack in Las Vegas.

Ventura survivor talks about living with memories of being in the middle of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.

It was a traumatic evening Greg Hayes will never forget.

The Ventura man was in Las Vegas with his best friend for what was supposed to be a fun night of country music. But, Hayes ended up being in the middle of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival attack.

"The sound was like fireworks... when I realized it was not right, is was when the band stopped, and Jason Aldeen, who was performing at the time, ran off the stage with his security guard," said Hayes.

"We hit the ground. I just told him to get down, and we just hit the ground through the first volley of gunfire, which seemed liked it lasted forever," said Hayes.

When it stopped, they started to run towards the exits. They were pinned down multiple times before getting out of the concert area safely.

60 people died, more than 400 were wounded, and another 400 were injured trying to flee to safety in the 2017 attack. And, many of the more than 20,000 people who survived are still trying to cope with the emotional scars from it. There are more than a thousand survivors living in the Tri-Counties.

On Monday, an ongoing project involving what’s known as the SoCal Route 91 Heals team will hold a summer gathering for survivors in Ventura County.

Michael Morisette is Outreach Coordinator for Give-An-Hour California. Give-an-hour is a non-profit which helps provide mental health services with professionals who donate their time. The California Victims Compensation Board provided funding to help Route 91 survivors in Southern California.

"This is our chance for the project team to connect with family members, to meet with us, to share about what our program is," said Morisette.

But, he says even more important is giving survivors the chance to check in with each other. He says no one can relate to the emotions they are feeling better than another survivor.

Hayes says connecting with other survivors has been incredibly therapeutic for him.

"I'm doing well," said Hayes.

The Monday night (6 p.m.) gathering at the Ventura County Community Foundation building in Camarillo is also open to victims of the 2018 Borderline Bar and Grill attack in Thousand Oaks, which left 12 people dead.
Morisette, who is coordinating the event, lost his daughter Kristina in that attack.

Hayes said one of the hardest things to deal with is despite what happened in Las Vegas, in Thousand Oaks, and in other places, the mass shootings continue.

"It is heartbreaking... a feeling of helplessness," said Hayes. "There needs to be some decisions made as to where we want to go as a society, and as people."

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.