Sometimes healing is going to a concert.
For three friends who were there the night of the nation’s deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas, attending Jason Aldean's Thursday concert is part of the healing process. The Tulsa concert is the first performance by Aldean since the attack.
The friends left Thursday afternoon for Tulsa.
“I don't know that Jason Aldean will see us tonight, but we just want him to know that his family is in the audience,” said Audra Miller.
For three days, Miller, her best friend Amanda Zmak and Lee Holstein two-stepped their way through the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. They hadn't a care in the world. They were in that crowd 12 days ago during Aldean's concert when the shooting started.
In the chaos, Zmak was separated from her best friend and the others. She dove behind a bar, cutting open her knee on broken glass.
She thought for sure she was going to die and wouldn’t see her 6-year-old son again. She called home to say her goodbyes.
“I think I probably said about 1,000 times I have a 6-year-old I have to get home,” she said. “I wanted to lose my mind but all I could think was, ‘Don’t lose it. Stay calm. You have to get out of here.'"
She realized later that she didn’t make it out of the concert venue until after the shooter had stopped firing. Even now, it feels unreal.
Meanwhile, Miller, Holstein and a fourth friend escaped over a fence using makeshift ladders.
Miller and Zmak will never forget their emotional reunion later that night.
“I met her in the lobby and basically ran to her,” Miller said.
Zmak couldn’t run. She had injured her knee and required stitches. That was the moment Zmak said she finally felt safe.
Later they ended up on an elevator with an off-duty cop, a nurse and a paramedic, who gave them shelter in their room.
“I remember shaking, just shaking at that point,” Holstein said. “Not because I was cold. It was just everything had set in.”
Later when they got back to the hotel, Holstein said she decided she had to go home right that moment.
“I just lost it," she said. "Just absolutely lost it."
She packed her things and called the airline. Hours later, they were back in North Texas.
“I tell everyone I need normalcy in my life,” Holstein said.
Six days after the attack, she went to a mall. It was too much.
“It’s not that I was afraid of being shot,” she said. “It was just a matter of everything happening so quickly in front of you.”
She attended the Cowboys game last Sunday. The anxiety was overwhelming, but she forged on.
“I feel like everything is more important now so I’m trying not to work as much,” Holstein said. “I need to see family more. I’m making plans with friends I haven’t seen in years.”
Amanda's son doesn't know what happened that night. When he asked about her cuts, she told him, “Mom was being silly and she fell and he goes, Sounds like a mom thing you would do.”
She's intensely aware of loud noises now.
“Somebody clapped really loud behind me and I almost dove under my desk,” she said.
She can’t bear to watch the crime and police procedurals she loved to watch so much before. But she's determined not to let the shooter win.
“I don’t want to live in fear,” she said. “It’s so unreal that it could have been me. … It’s that survivors guilt of why not me?”
Miller said she’s finding strength in faith and in knowing that “it’s OK not to be OK right now.” She’s trying not to dwell on the awful moments from that night, but instead on the good times before the barrage of gunfire.
Taking it step by step, the three friends are getting used to a new normal. They’ve spent a lot on time on a support page created by others who were there during the mass shooting.
For them, the people that were there that night are now like family -- a unfortunate fraternity of people who’ve survived a mass shooting.
They had T-Shirts with the words “Vegas Strong” made for the concert.
“I’m not going to hide from it,” Zmak said. “I’m not going to run from it. I ran from that guy and I’m done running.”
They'll never forget. They're country strong.
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