On October 1, 2017, at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas, NV, the largest mass shooting in US history took place, killing 58 and injuring 527. For those watching the massacre on TV, it was surreal, but for Melissa Wall of Ararat, VA, a mom of two little girls, attending the concert with a friend, it was a life or death experience. Melissa’s memories of that night have remained fresh in her mind. “I was near the front of the stage waiting for Jason Aldean to come perform. It was a time of people being happy, smiling, even turning cartwheels, a lot of laughing. Some say the gunshots sounded like fireworks, making people wonder what to do in those first moments, but I knew immediately it was gunfire. People screamed ‘Get down!’ I watched people crouched over others, but my first instinct was to RUN and zigzag as I did,” recalled Melissa. With her senses heightened, she was scanning the venue as she ran, trying to process where in the chaos, she might find safety, while at the same time she wondered if this was the end and thought of her two little girls, Makenzie, 7 and Adelyn, 5. Melissa called her parents to ask them to tell her kids she loved them. Making it to the MGM Grand, Melissa and others filed into an open elevator and then stayed in the room of a couple of ladies they met on the elevator until it seemed ‘safe’ to venture out. A year later, Melissa has adjusted her view of life. “I lived, and it was for a reason. The experience gave me a new meaning for my life and that of my daughters. I am pursuing dreams I never thought I would and don’t want to miss any opportunities that life has in store,” said Melissa. Little did Melissa know, but life had another trip to Las Vegas in store, this time with her aunt Lisa Barnard-Grezmak, almost a year to the day of the massacre.
After several weeks of trying to win a trip to Las Vegas for the iHeart Music Festival through Q104.1, Lisa texted the word ‘Vegas’ at the right time and was in shock when she got the call that she had actually won a trip for two to the event and her name would be put in a drawing for the grand prize!
“There was never a question on whom I would take with me. My niece, Melissa, who I often travel with, is like the daughter I never had. I knew Melissa was hurting from what she’d been through a year ago at the Route 91 concert and struggling on why her life was spared that night. This would be a way to get a bit of peace for her, maybe,” said Lisa. The week of the trip, Lisa got another call from the radio station informing her that she indeed had won the Grand Prize, a trip valued at $21,000, tax-free!
Lisa and Melissa knew this was the trip of a lifetime and they made the most out of every minute they were in Las Vegas.
“Melissa and I were treated like royalty; we were going to meet celebrities, and yet we felt like celebrities ourselves. From the first class airfare to limo transportation, to four nights at the Park MGM, fully stocked bar with our favorite beverages and snacks, dinner at Bavatte’s Steakhouse with a $500 limit, not something this girl from Pilot Mountain, NC sees often, poolside cabana, front row seats to both nights of the iHeart Music Festival, backstage tours, a VIP golf experience with artist Dustin Lynch, a pre-show toast with Jason Aldean, a commemorative guitar signed by the performers, personal assistants to keep us on schedule and we met several of the performers. It was an amazing, unbelievable and surreal trip. Meeting Jason Aldean and sharing with him that Melissa had been at the Route 91 concert a year before, as had he, was a special time for them both. The #VegasStrong has great meaning for Melissa and those who survived that terrible night. Melissa and Jason wear matching purple bracelets honoring the 58 angels who died that night,” Lisa commented. Meeting Jason was special as was the time they spent with Carrie Underwood, but getting a photo with Mariah Carey was filled with instructions to not touch her, stand only on her left side and don’t ask for an autograph. With all the celebrity encounters, Lisa and Melissa took some time to try and make peace with the memories of the Route 91 events.
As with any tragic event, a memorial area was established to honor those 58 souls who left this earth October 1, 2017, and the many lives, like Melissa’s, that were changed that night. “I walked through the healing garden and saw rocks that were painted with kind words and Bible verses. I saw VEGAS STRONG everywhere and felt understood. Being in this sacred place, honoring those lost, seeing their pictures, wondering if maybe I met them that night when everything changed. Having my aunt by my side as I went through this time meant so much to me,” stated Melissa. For Lisa, although the time didn’t mean what it did to Melissa, it was special.
“I felt honored to be with Melissa as we retraced her steps from that horrific night and she explained to me what happened. We visited the memorial for those lost, and I felt like she had some closure. Giving Melissa this experience and the ability to walk away from Vegas this time, instead of running was a great gift for us both,” Lisa said.