Deadly Las Vegas Strip stabbing leaves showgirl impersonator business devastated
Last month, a man randomly stabbed six people on the Las Vegas Strip. He killed two people, injured several others and was arrested.
His case is now in the court system. Yoni Barrios, 32, is expected in court again on Dec. 2 to determine if he's competent to stand trial.
And while many will remember the incident and those killed —Maris DiGiovanni, 30, and Brent Hallett, 47, of Canada— we don’t often hear about the impact to those left behind.
But what so many learned from the Oct. 1 shooting five years ago is that healing from such a violent act is never easy.
Digiovanni got tips from people who took photos with her and worked with Cheryl Lowthorp, whose business is called Best Showgirls in Vegas.
She said DiGiovanni was a bright, beautiful woman. She was a school teacher when they met.
“I think she really liked the idea of interacting with people from all over the world,” Lowthorp said. “That's one of the most amazing things about being a showgirl, is that every language is there, every occupation is there, every size, shape, color, people from all over the world, from every state, you're getting to meet them.”
Their agency has been closed since the stabbing. One of their colleagues, Anna Westby, was also stabbed and has been recovering.
Lowthorp said Westby was trying to become a flight attendant, and had to put off two major airline interviews due to the stabbing.
“She's been through emotional trauma before this, and she's carrying really heavy emotional damage that she's trying to navigate through just to go outside and feel comfortable,” Lowthrop said.
One thing Lowthrop emphasized was the safety she tries to provide the women she works with, including being accessible 24 hours a day, and not pushing them to escort work or illicit drug use, as well as making the women feel empowered.
Mikayla Yegge also works as a showgirl impersonator on the Strip. She said it’s been lucrative enough for her to leave her casino job, but it’s not without safety measures. They use a buddy system, for example, to keep safe on the Strip.
It’s overall an easygoing job, Yegge said, but they deal with people who are intoxicated, touch more than is comfortable or are mentally ill.
She said she wants to go back to working, but it’s “definitely a little scary.”
“Life continues on, unfortunately. And some people hold trauma better than others. And I'm grateful that I kind of do. But that's not the same for other girls,” she said.
“Trauma is complex and can present in a multitude of ways,” said Dr. Halleh Seddighzadeh, a trafficking expert and forensic traumatologist. “It's different for everyone. But that is absolutely not uncommon.”
Seddighzadeh said after a trauma, survivors are focused on trying to control and suppress all physical and emotional symptoms – anxiety, depression, fatigue, hypervigilance, hopelessness.
“Many survivors talk about feeling like they're seeing this horror movie replay over and over in their heads, and that their whole being has been hijacked. That is indicative that they're not just remembering the trauma, they're reliving it, and oftentimes don't even recognize what is happening.”
Seddighzadeh recommended anyone experiencing this to see a licensed trauma practitioner.
A GoFundMe was created by Anna Westby, one of the surviving victims of this stabbing. To donate, visit her GoFundMe page.
If you are in need of help, contact the National Alliance On Mental Illness at 1-800-950-6264 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
Cheryl Lowthorp, costume designer, Best Showgirls in Vegas; Mikayla Yegge, showgirl impersonator; Halleh Seddighzadeh, traumatologist