The night of October 1, 2017, a gunman (later identified as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada) opened fire on a crowd of thousands of people at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival on the Las Vegas Strip, leaving 58 people dead and 546 injured. Between 10:05 and 10:15 p.m. PDT, more than 1,100 rounds were fired from a suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, which was located across Las Vegas Blvd. from the event.
The tragic incident is the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in the United States and it hit especially close to home for Dallas Cowboys Rhythm & Blue Dancers' second-year veteran Kasey Phillips.
Kasey was born and raised in Las Vegas, discovering her love of dance at the age of four and continuing all through her time as a member of the prestigious UNLV Rebel Girl team. She moved to the Dallas area only after she made the DCRB following the 2016 auditions and training camp, meaning Las Vegas and DFW are the only places she has ever called home.
With the year coming to an end, Kasey took a few moments to reflect on the events and aftermath of 10/1/17.
JAY: Describe the circumstances in which you heard the news about the shooting in Las Vegas.
KASEY: I was actually at my apartment and few of my teammates had been over. They had just left and I got a text message from one of them saying, "Hey, have you seen the news? There's been a shooting in your hometown." I immediately got on my phone's newsfeed and saw that it was still active, so I turned on the news. At the time, there was one confirmed dead and 10 injured. In the next 15 minutes, the number jumped up to 10 killed and 50 injured. As the night went on, it kept growing to where there was 50 killed and 100 injured and it felt like a nightmare that wouldn't end. I remember that my mom was here in town and we were both just sitting there staring at the TV, not believing what was going on. We could see the Las Vegas Strip, all the signs flashing all over the TV and to see your home plastered all over the news in that type of manner was like an out of body experience.
JAY: We all see sad, tragic events on a daily basis that occur all over the world. How much more "real" was this for you being that it happened in Las Vegas at a location you have literally passed thousands of time?
KASEY: Whenever there's a major tragedy, I have always felt for those people too, but it is a COMPLETELY different feeling when it happens to your hometown. I felt numb and the fact is that I wasn't even there in person and I still didn't want to move and I didn't eat for like 24 hours. I might have slept 30 minutes. Physically, it hits you more when it's your home.
JAY: Have you attended the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in the past?
KASEY: Not that event, but I have been to that open venue for a bunch of concerts in the past. I do have friends that go and did have friends that were there that night. It seemed like every time that I went on Facebook, there was another person telling their story of their experience that night.
JAY: Did you talk to any of your friends that were there that night?
KASEY: I did, granted many of them were so frantic that a lot of it was them just letting me know that they were ok and they were very short. Once there was time and the situation wasn't so active, they went back and explained in further detail. It's really crazy to see people my age, people I grew up with and went to school with experience such a life-changing event while they are so young. There were a few people that I knew that did get shot that night, some that were in critical condition in the hospital. Their experience, compared to those who did't get injured was totally different. They're still hurt by it, but they are more thankful to even be alive as opposed to those who were there being more of the "I can't believe that happened" mind frame. For those who did get shot, they were very appreciative for their lives and realized that it could be taken from you at any moment.
JAY: Of your friends that were injured that night, do you have any updates?
KASEY: I still have one friend who couldn't breathe on her own for a month and is still in the hospital doing physical therapy. Another friend got hit in the lung and her lung collapsed; she is ok now. I had a friend who was hit in the elbow. Some were more life-threatening that others, but all very serious.
JAY: Have you been back to Las Vegas since the shooting?
KASEY: Just once. It was about a month after it happened and it was eerie.
JAY: Did you go by the location of the shooting?
KASEY: I did, I wanted to be there so that I could feel connected. I felt so guilty being here in Dallas while my family and friends were running around, freaking out and not knowing if they were going to live or die. I couldn't do anything to help. I was watching and calling and texting, but physically, I couldn't go check on anybody or help anyone and that really got to me a lot. When I did go home, I went to the Las Vegas sign because that is where they have the memorial including a gentleman who actually brought 58 crosses on display for every life that was lost that night. It's a place for people to go and mourn and it was really sad. It was very quiet and anyone who has been there knows that Vegas is not a quiet place at all. To see it in that somber state was eerie.
JAY: Were you nervous or anxious to back to Las Vegas?
KASEY: Flying in, I always look for the Strip, it's my favorite part and I was so anxious that day to fly. That day when I was going home, things didn't feel right and when I saw the Strip from the plane, I got sick to my stomach. It was the very first time I have every felt anxious about going home.
JAY: Speaking as someone who has visited Las Vegas roughly a dozen times, I think it's fair to say that most people see Las Vegas as a tourist destination rather than a major city where people lead their daily lives. In the aftermath of the shooting, how proud were you to see Vegas' reaction and the #VegasStrong campaign?
KASEY: I was so proud. I've always been proud to be from Vegas, but after all that happened, the amount of support and how fast everyone came together all while they were still mourning. The next day, there were lines wrapped around the blood banks and people bringing food to the food banks and families of people who had been shot. People brought food and water to the police stations for those who could't go home. For everybody to step up in those conditions, it made me even more proud to be from Vegas. Millions of people are in and out of Vegas, but for those of us that live there, it has a small community feel to it in that everyone knows someone who knows someone. The impact that Vegas Strong made was so amazing.
JAY: You are going home for Christmas following the Cowboys game against the Seattle Seahawks on Christmas Eve. Do you foresee the same anxiety from your trip a few weeks ago?
KASEY: I think since I kind of "ripped the band aid off" with the last trip home, I'm good, but I know it will still feel weird. Seeing the Vegas Strong shirts, it still gets to me, but I think since I have already been home and experienced how it felt, it won't be that bad. Plus, it's the holiday season and family, so there's a lot more to focus on than just the fact that I was not here when it happened.
JAY: You mentioned your family, since the Dallas Cowboys Rhythm & Blue Dances are essentially your family here in Dallas, how were they able to help you in this difficult time?
KASEY: Wow. I would say they helped take my mind off of it, the MAX. They allowed me to have a sense of normalcy and my everyday routines with the team kept me from being focused solely on what had happened and what was going on at home. I was a wreck anyways, but the team stepped up, they were coming over and hanging out, bringing me flowers and food and practice they kept me upbeat. I remember the first practice after the shooting, Jenny (DCRB Director Jenny Durbin Smith) was so great. When I got to practice, she just looked at me and I started crying. She gave me the longest hug and that alone, even though there was nothing said, she just knew and recognized that it happened and let me know that she was there for me. I am so appreciative of Jenny and my teammates, they really helped me "come back to Earth" because I felt like I was floating and oblivious to things around me. My friend Melissa grew up with me in Las Vegas and she is a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader who also lives here in Dallas. She texted me the day after it happened and said "if you feel as weird as I do, you can totally come over," and I was on my over to her place right after. We sat there and watched the TV coverage and talked about it a little bit. While it's easy to talk to people here, no one will really understand unless you are from there, so it was nice to talk to her. I am definitely thankful for my Dallas Cowboys family.
Fans can follow Kasey on Twitter @DCRB_Kasey