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So much has happened in the five years since a sociopathic high roller opened fire on the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Festival from his 32nd-floor sniper’s nest in Mandalay Bay, killing 58 people and causing the injuries of more than 850 others. Two more of the injured died later.Memorials have gone up and been taken down, though the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden, with a tree for each victim, remains a soothing sanctuary. Event promoters and venues canceled or moved shows, tightened security, and then continued business as usual. Law enforcement agencies completed investigations, issued reports, changed their crisis response tactics, and ultimately concluded that no one would ever know why the shooter did what he did.And, along with the rest of the world, Las Vegas has been swept up in the chaos of political turmoil, global pandemic, and economic recession.Through all this, carrying the colossal weight of acute trauma, survivors have kept on getting their kids to school, showing up for work, and putting food on the table.But now, they say, everything’s different. In the aftermath of 1 October, life is tinted by a purposeful hue — something deeper than the self-indulgent cliché of seizing the day. They’re moving through every moment with the intention of making it count, for their loved ones, for each other, and for those who didn’t make it out.Their existence is a triumph of resilience, a source of hope in a world that sorely needs it.

Tas Upright

Photo of Route 91 shooting survivor Tas Upright
Photo: Aaron Mayes
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Using her background in mindfulness, this yoga teacher-turned firefighter kept everyone around her calm and found a meaningful path to serving the community

"Unless you were there, you would never understand the feelings that we were going through,” Tas Upright says. Upright had just been hired as a bartender, one of her side gigs, the day before Route 91 and got oriented two hours before the concert. She was among the hundreds of bartenders serving in the tents at the back of the concert lot that night. Upright was a yoga instructor who had been teaching classes in Las Vegas since 2013.

Because she grew up in Thailand, yoga is a big part of who Upright is, and its teachings of mindfulness and meditation have infused many aspects of her life. The night of the shooting, being “present and in the moment” helped keep her grounded and allowed her to survive physically and emotionally. Ducked behind the service carts in one of the tents, a strange sense of calmness hit her, while panic and fear ensued all around.

“There was this girl who was holding on to me tightly, so I kept telling her and everyone around me to stay calm and quiet, and that everything will be okay,” she says, “That’s when I thought, ‘Whatever happens, happens.’” It’s not that Upright was ready to give up; instead, she was focused on her breathing and surroundings, determined to figure out her next move. Eventually, Upright got up and walked out, escaping the lot unharmed.

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That odd feeling of peace and clarity kept her going through a scene of horror. As she walked out, she noticed a police officer rendering aid to a man bleeding on the sidewalk. She asked if there was something she could do to help, but the officer dismissed her because she was not medically trained. In that moment, she says, a light shined on her true calling: being a firefighter. “I told myself I don’t want to be helpless or useless again. Next time, I want to be able to say, ‘Give me some gloves and let’s get to work.’”

In 2018, Upright started her journey at the EMS Training Center of Southern Nevada, where she took the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course to get her Basic EMT certification, one of the state’s requirements for firefighters. She furthered her education at the College of Southern Nevada, where she received Advanced EMT and Fire Science Technology certification. With these credentials up her sleeve, Upright has worked with one of the local fire departments seasonally and is currently a volunteer firefighter. She hopes to get hired permanently and claim her spot in the fire academy.

Upright took a break from teaching yoga as fire training has taken top priority in her life. The pressures of being a full-time professional firefighter may seem at odds with yoga and meditation, but she doesn’t forget her roots. She says yoga still gets her through tough situations, especially in any physical training.

Upright says it’s been years since she’s had to recall what happened that night. Seeing a therapist has helped her, but talking to the other survivors, friends who’ve experience gun violence, or colleagues in the military or police, was what made her feel understood. She’s randomly met other survivors, some even in her yoga classes. Their shared experience has tied them together and evolved into stronger bonds, as powerful as their hands holding onto each other that night. “I’m glad you’re still here,” are the words they end up saying to each other.

As a mother, Upright teaches her daughter what she lives by. “I tell her to not let things or anyone get to her — to think first and to try to control your actions,” she says. “Live your life with compassion … And for me, to focus on serving the community and doing more good.”Φ