LAS VEGAS (AP) — As a cloud-streaked orange sunset glowed over Las Vegas, officials, victims’ families and survivors of last year’s mass shooting at a country music festival marked the first anniversary of the tragedy by placing roses on a tribute wall and dedicating a memorial garden Monday night.
The ceremony at dusk near the city’s downtown drew at least 200 people, including Gov. Brian Sandoval and former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona, herself a survivor of a 2011 mass shooting.
The quarter-acre garden, which features a tree for each of the 58 victims and an oak that represents life, is the only permanent public space that has been created in the memory of 58 people who were killed when a gunman opened fired from a high-rise casino-resort suite on a crowd of 22,0000.
The garden, built by volunteers starting days after the Oct. 1, 2017 shooting, was the community’s way of reacting to the searing violence, according to the project’s creator.
“We’ve pushed back with a very deliberate act of compassion,” Jay Pleggenkuhle said Monday.
The dedication was one of a number of somber events held Monday in the glimmering city, known for its gambling and entertainment, to mark the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
As dawn broke over the Las Vegas Monday, a flock of doves were released at a ceremony, with each bird bearing a leg band with the name of one of the 58 people slain.
“Today we remember the unforgettable. Today, we comfort the inconsolable,” Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval gathered told several hundred survivors , families of victims, first-responders and elected officials who gathered at the dawn ceremony at an outdoor amphitheater.
He added: “Today, we are reminded of the pain that never really goes away.”
The sunrise ceremony was followed by memorials, prayer services, blood drives and dedications to commemorate the lives lost in the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting. The giant casino marquees were set to go dark in unison Monday night with the names of the victims to be read shortly after.
The festival venue that became a killing ground has not been used in the year since the shooting. MGM Resorts International, the owner of the property and Mandalay Bay hotel, has not said if or when it will reopen.
Company officials redirected curious people on Monday to a nearby Catholic church that offered a spot for quiet reflection.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo recalled the chaos and confusion of the shooting, and the prayers to “heal broken hearts,” blood banks filled with donors and “acts of kindness that comforted the suffering” that followed.
“When the sun rose the next morning, grief turned to anger, anger turned to resolve and resolve turned to action,” Lombardo said.
Many who were cheering Jason Aldean’s headline set on at the Route 91 Harvest Festival late Oct. 1, 2017 , said later they thought the rapid crack-crack-crack they heard was fireworks — until people fell dead, wounded, bleeding.
From across Las Vegas Boulevard, a gambler-turned-gunman with what police later called a meticulous plan but an unknown reason fired assault-style rifles for 11 minutes from 32nd-floor windows of the Mandalay Bay hotel into the concert crowd below. Police said he then killed himself.
Medical examiners later determined that all 58 deaths were from gunshots. Another 413 people were wounded, and police said at least 456 were injured fleeing the carnage.
Lombardo declared the police investigation finished in August, issuing a report that said hundreds of interviews and thousands of hours of investigative work could not provide answers to what made Stephen Craig Paddock unleash his hail of gunfire.
That has left unanswered the question of why a 64-year-old former accountant, real estate investor, small plane pilot and high-limit video poker player assembled his arsenal and attacked the concert crowd.
Paddock was characterized by police as a loner with no religious or political affiliations who became obsessed with guns, spent more than $1.5 million in the two years before the shooting and distanced himself from his girlfriend and family.
Paddock’s gambling habits made him a sought-after casino patron. Over several days, Mandalay Bay employees readily let him use a service elevator to take suitcases to the $590-per-night suite he had been provided for free. The room had a commanding view of the Strip and the Route 91 Harvest Festival concert grounds across the street.
After breaking out windows, Paddock fired 1,057 shots in 11 minutes, police have said.
Jim Murren, the chief executive and CEO of MGM Resorts International, issued a statement calling the shooting “an unforgettable act of terror.”
“Oct. 1 will forever be a day of remembrance, reflection and mourning as we struggle to comprehend the incomprehensible — the senseless act of evil that caused such a tragic loss of life, along with the suffering that we know continues,” Murren said.