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Out-Of-Town Reporters Recount Complexity, Emotion Of October 1 Shooting

crouching_couple.jpg

Dave Becker/Getty Images

A couple crouches in the festival grounds where the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival was held on October 1, 2017.

In the hours after the October 1 shootings, journalists from around the world were dispatched to Las Vegas.

They stepped into a city in shock and tried to get answers from a police department that itself was scrambling to find out how it had happened and just who was responsible.

Jennifer Medina is a national correspondent for the New York Times. She's based in Los Angeles. So, when she woke up in the night, checked her phone and realized what happened, she hopped on the first available flight and arrived in Las Vegas around 6 a.m. on October 2.

Rachel Olding was based in San Francisco at the time. She works for the Syndey Morning Herald and had only arrived in America from Australia two weeks before.

Olding arrived around noon and checked into Mandalay Bay.

“When I first landed, I went to the Mandalay Bay just to get my bearings," she said, "I wanted to see the scene. It was quite eerie. I remember walking out of the front of the hotel and I could see the blown out window and there was almost no one walking around the front of the hotel.”

Medina's first stop was the Strip. She wanted to talk to witnesses and get an idea of what they saw.

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“Everybody almost without exception was just willing to talk and almost eager to talk about what they had seen,” she said.

Olding spent the first few hours trying to determine if anyone from Australia had been killed or hurt in the shooting. After discovering no one from her home country was a victim or survivor, she began looking at the bigger picture of the shooting.

“It was a really strange mood," she said, "It was really eerie to see the Strip absolutely deserted. But then going inside the Mandalay Bay hotel and seeing the casino floor packed and seeing people still have their holidays and sitting at poker machines and doing what they would be doing on any other day in Las Vegas.”

Both reporters were surprised by how open the Las Vegas Metro Police Department was in the hours and days after the shooting.

Olding said in Australia it is odd for authorities to release so much information following a large event.

“It was challenging but I was quite impressed with the flow of information and the openness from the authorities,” she said.

Medina was also surprised but she believes it was part of an effort that Metro later regretted once questions started to arise about the first timeline.

“It seems they wanted to be forthright right away and they thought, ‘jeez was this the right thing to do?’” she said. 

She believes Sheriff Joe Lombardo wanted to release the information quickly and calm any fears about the city's safety.

“The worst thing, I think in his mind and in many political leaders’ minds in Vegas was for people outside to think that this is suddenly a dangerous city.”

Medina said she was also surprised by how quickly conspiracy theories took off, especially the idea that there was a second shooter.

“I was stunned by how quickly and sincerely people really seemed to believe [conspiracy theories] and how skeptical people were,” she said.

The New York Times was one of the organizations that sued the police department for the body camera video from the night of the shooting. That lawsuit led to the release of hours of video and massive reports about the shooting.

Now, a year later, the experience of covering the event still lingers for both reporters.

“I don’t think there is a way that a story of this magnitude couldn’t stay with anybody," Medina said, “Knowing the magnitude of this and how many hundreds of lives were changed because of this one act is just mind-boggling. It is really hard to wrap your head around.”

For Olding, covering the event was especially impactful because she had only just arrived in the U.S. and she rarely covers mass shootings.

“Coming from Australia, I’ve covered mass tragedies, but we don’t have mass shootings pretty much and even gun crime is next to negligible in Australia.”

Guests

Rachel Olding, New York-based reporter, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age; Jennifer Medina, Los Angeles-based National Correspondent, The New York Times