Listen

News 88.9 KNPR
Classical 89.7 KCNV

member station

KNPR

Clark County Coroner Remembers Oct. 1 Mass Shooting

ap_18274004093330_1.jpg

(AP Photo/John Locher)

People visit a makeshift memorial for victims of the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in Las Vegas. Fifty-eight people died, 413 were wounded and police say at least 456 were injured fleeing bullets that a gambler-turned-gunman rained down late Oct. 1, 2017, from the Mandalay Bay casino-resort into an outdoor concert crowd on the Las Vegas Strip. He then killed himself, taking the reasons for his rampage with him.

One year ago, a city known for its revelry and neon charm was wounded in a way that has become all too familiar in this country – a mass shooting left 58 dead and hundreds more wounded.   

Today and tomorrow we look back and remember the ways Las Vegas responded, how we mourned and then began to heal.  

It began about 10 p.m. on a Sunday night when gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. 

Civilians and first responders did what they could for the wounded and shuttled people quickly to hospitals around the city.  

Hours later, the last responders arrived on the scene. This was the team from the Clark County Coroner’s Office there to register and collect the bodies, then notify the families. 

“I was going to attend my very first Golden Knights game on Sunday, October 1 at 5 p.m.,” Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg told KNPR's State of Nevada.

He was supposed to meet a friend at the game who had tickets to the festival and would perhaps go with him to the music festival, but as it ended up, the friend couldn't go to the game or the festival. So, as a result, Fudenberg didn't go to the festival but instead headed home after the game.

“In an Uber, on way home and it was just after 10 p.m. and I received a somewhat frantic call from one of our investigators," he recalled, "The thing I remember so vividly about that phone call was our investigators have police radios that have police scanning capability and when she called me the first thing she said to me was, 'we have an active shooter at the Mandalay Bay and they know of at least 20 dead at the moment.' I could actually hear the gunfire being broadcast through her radio and through my phone.”  

Support comes from

Fudenberg went home, showered, made some coffee, packed a bag, contacted an employee at the office and headed back down to the Strip to go to the scene.

He said even before they got to the festival grounds it was an eerie scene as people were still walking from the area and some of those people were covered in blood.

After talking to Clark County Undersheriff Kevin McMahill, Fudenberg went into the festival grounds and started deploying the coroner's office resources.

“It was like everybody vanished all at once," he said, "There was still food on the barbeque. There were still fresh drinks on the bars. It was very windy that night so there was like a wave of water bottles and red solo cups that would hit us in the shins as the wind blew.”

He remembers vividly a "sea of cell phones" going off as he walked through the grounds.

Before Fudenberg got to the grounds, he knew there would be between 40 and 50 victims but when he got there and surveyed the area he knew it would be well over 50.

Everyone in his office - part-time and full-time employees - were called into work. 

Fudenberg said he's not sure how many hours he worked on the first day but it was at least 40 hours and he wasn't alone. He said everyone in the office worked the same amount.

“And those who tried to sleep just couldn’t and just went back to work like I did,” he said.

The coroner's office had gone through training for mass casualty events and they knew this event would change their lives. Fudenberg said no one was really prepared.

After taking those who had died from the scene to the coroner's office, the staff started the grim task of identifying the deceased and notifying their next of kin.

Fudenberg said it took days to go through that process.

“For me personally, I think that my staff would say the same thing, that’s probably one of the most difficult parts of our job is notifying a next of kin of a death,” he said.

Normally, Fudenberg only notifies a deceased person's family a couple of times a year. The coroner investigators usually make the notifications but because of the scale of the tragedy, he notified between nine and eleven people. 

And that process took a toll.

“I don’t care how many you’ve done. These are kind of a different dynamic," he said, "It’s one thing to do one or two during a shift but when you’re doing three or four even five an hour that’s a whole different dynamic. It’s just emotionally exhausting.”

He said his office had several emotional group debriefings to help staff work through their emotions and trauma. But he admits everyone has struggled.

“In our business, as with police and fire and the first responder types of professions that people are really afraid to share their feelings and really open up about the struggles that they are having,” he said.

Since the shooting, four or five people have left the coroner's office. Fudenberg believes it is because of the shooting.

To make a stressful situation even worse, the body of shooter Stephen Paddock had to be kept for four months in the coroner's office. Fudenberg explained that they were waiting for some forensic information to come back and could not release his body.

“I think that probably added a level of stress to our staff knowing that the shooter of one of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history is in your workplace every day when you’re coming to work for four months is probably something that doesn’t feel real good,” he said.

Plus, there was pressure to make sure everything was done correctly. Fudenberg said his office had to go above and beyond on forensics for Paddock.

“I would be lying to myself if I didn’t say there was an additional level of pressure handling this incident,” he said.

Despite the trauma and the stress, Fudenberg said the incident actually made him want to stay in his job and stay in Las Vegas.

“It has kind of changed the face of Las Vegas. It has become more of a community to me at least and I think a lot of people that I talk to share that sentiment.”

Guests

John Fudenberg, Clark County Coroner 

You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for.  If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.