An anniversary we can’t forget

On Thursday, Las Vegas remembers an anniversary it never wanted to be any part of.

Three years ago — Oct. 1, 2017 — a crazed gunman set up inside his hotel room at Mandalay Bay and proceeded to spray a concert across the street with bullets.

Fifty-eight people died. Hundreds more were wounded. It remains the largest mass murder by an individual in the history of this country.

I was a half-mile from the scene, having covered the Vegas Golden Knights’ final preseason game in what would be the franchise’s inaugural NHL season. I left T-Mobile Arena 15-20 minutes before the shooting started.

The memories remain vivid today. My phone was pinging with texts from people wondering if I was O.K. The office at my former employer calling to make sure I was accounted for. Watching the news as I got home and hearing of the carnage.

Why? Why would someone want to do this? You hate your life that much that you want to end it all, go ahead. But you didn’t need to take 58 others with you.

I think about all of the school shootings, the rampages at places of worship — churches, synagogues, mosques — along with clubs, bars, restaurants, and I always wonder why the individuals who perpetrated these heinous acts didn’t seek help. Why didn’t they reach out to someone? Why didn’t they try to right themselves?

So many questions. So few answers.

And as much as I recall the events of Oct. 1, 2017, I also have vivid memories of the aftermath. People lined up to donate blood. Strangers helping those hurt seek shelter or medical attention. The bravery of law enforcement to prevent even more from being wounded or killed.

But most of all, I remember how a newly-formed hockey team, one with so few roots to the community it represented, did its part to help a city heal.

The Golden Knights truly became Las Vegas’ in the days that followed the shooting. Players visiting with first responders and going to the hospitals to comfort those affected as well as their families. The team getting behind the slogan “Vegas Strong,” raising money and donating millions of dollars to help those who needed it most.

And who will ever forget Deryk Engelland’s stirring speech the night of the team’s home opener on Oct. 10? The soft-spoken defenseman who was the lone player with ties to the community from his days as a minor leaguer, spoke from the heart and reminded us that we can get through this as a community, that he and his teammates were committed to doing their part to help us heal, that we were indeed “Vegas Strong.”

I’ve always thought that sports, more than anything else, can help people get through the tough times. We saw it in New York after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center when a veteran catcher hit a home run in his team’s return to play and lifted the sagging spirits of an entire city.

We saw it in Boston in 2013, after a horrific incident marred the Boston Marathon, and the city’s sports teams would not allow its fans to capitulate to terror and a baseball player for the Red Sox who wasn’t even born in this country gave the middle finger to those who wanted to do harm to his city.

Anywhere where wanton acts of violence were committed, that community’s sports teams have stepped up and been there to help with the healing process.

No, it doesn’t bring back those who died. It doesn’t alter history. But it is the glue that bonds communities with their sports teams.

Here in Las Vegas, where we now have an NFL team and a WNBA team to go along with our NHL team and our Triple-A baseball team, it gives us something to bond with, some reason to believe that when things appear to be their darkest, there are those among us, talented individuals, working together, to be there for our community and bring us back into the light. Men and women who call this place home and care about it as much as we do.

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Derek Carr wasn’t in Las Vegas the night of Oct. 1, 2017. But after hearing him say last week that this is his home, that he doesn’t want to be anywhere else and that he is proud to be a member of the Las Vegas Raiders, it made me feel like he was there for us, at least in spirit.

As we muddle our way through what for most of us is arguably the worst year of our lifetimes, it’s comforting to know the teams we root for in our town give a damn about us. Let us pray there’s never a repeat of Oct. 1, 2017 and we have to lean on them again to help us heal.