By now, everyone knows about Las Vegas. At least 59 people died. Nearly 530 people were injured. We’re learning the names, as well as the fact of the shooter’s stockpile, but still, we have no motivations. Since the shooter acted alone, we may never know. We will probably never know. To the families of the victims, there will be no closure and a lot of unanswered questions.
But the most terrifying thing is this: these devils and demons wear human faces. They look normal. They seem normal. Because up to a certain point, they are normal. I know this firsthand, as I could have damn well been the victim of a similar circumstance.
In August of 2013, I was employed as a cashier at my local Wal-Mart. The job was terrible but the hours were relatively steady and the pay was decent enough. As a general rule, I worked in the late morning to early evening; I was mostly a second shifter of a sort. This day, I was in at 10:30.
I used to hate those shifts. Now, not so much.
At 11:15 that morning, we heard something, the sound of a pallet being dropped? The sound of a shelf, collapsing? The rupture of a balloon? It was a loud pop, a sharp bang, nothing terribly noteworthy. The front end fell deeply and eerily silent. No one spoke. No one moved. No one breathed. Then, we heard the screams.
Customers wandered to the liquor store. Managers made their way up front. One of the assistant managers raced by my check out lane, her face ashen, her mascara melting, leaving dark rivulets down her cheeks. We could hear wailing, a deep, rattling howl from the pit of someone’s soul, the shrieks of someone who may be injured, dying. Someone had been hurt, but who? Why? What had happened?
The details, when they finally came, were fragmented at best: there had been a shooting. The victim was the cashier who was working in the liquor store. She was taken to the local hospital, in critical but stable condition. The shooter, we found later, was a fellow cashier. She had been carrying two semi-automatic pistols and 22 rounds of ammunition–all legally purchased–when she walked into the building and clocked in that morning. She had been told to relieve the victim for a fifteen minute break; instead, when the shooter walked into the liquor store, she pulled out a gun and fired point blank.
When I heard the word “shooting”, I went weak. I wanted to cry. I wanted to go home. I was frightened on a level I had never truly been before. I wanted my husband to come and usher me into our car to rush me to safety but I was terrified that if he did pull into the parking lot, he could be shot as well. Should I hide beneath my register, just in case? Should I run? A thousand, disjointed thoughts raced through my head, jostling against each other. Nothing made sense.
Later in the day, we had a customer in a motorized cart back into a display with a sharp crash. The entire front end, every cashier who was there, jumped. When I saw what was going on, what had happened, I managed a shaky laugh. It was nothing serious; I wasn’t about to die.
There were police everywhere. Both they and the company released statements. We knew that the shooter had been apprehended and we were allowed to go home early if we had wanted but the store itself remained opened. Several associates put in their two week notices that day. For some, it was the trauma. For at least one, it was the fact that management wouldn’t shut down our Wal-Mart after a violent crime. The company cared more about profit than their employees, he said. I couldn’t blame him.
I called my husband on my first break and let him know that I was all right. He hadn’t heard of what had happened; he no longer had decent access to a radio and couldn’t hear the news. But speaking with him, hearing his voice, tinny over my cell phone, was reassuring. I’d be okay now.
We were handed various sheets on dealing with trauma and how to cope with grief. I kept mine but I can’t say whether or not they helped. Even now, years later, I still have some trauma from the incident; hearing someone popping balloons will make me jump. Seeing multiple police vehicles outside of a Wal-Mart frightens me to the point of not wanting to go inside, out of fear that I might get shot. Although I’m better, I still have some PTSD associated with that day. But that isn’t as bad as the unanswered questions, the rumors that persisted then and still persist, even now.
There were theories that this was about a relationship gone bad. There were Facebook declarations that there had actually been two armed people in the building. There were reports that our building had been shuttered and we had all been evacuated. None of this was true. But even now, to this day, I have to explain to people that those theories are false.
The biggest innuendo, the most worrisome one to me, was the speculation that the shooter had a hit list. That one actually made sense, all things considered. Why would the shooter walk into our building with two guns and enough ammunition to take out every cashier there and most of the CSSs just to try and kill one person? There had to be more to it than that. But on that front, I’ll never really know: the official reason given was jealousy, over the fact that the victim got “easier” registers than the perpetrator. Again, I’ll never really know the true reason. None of us will.
However, I do know this: it could have just as easily been me. I could have just as easily been the one standing behind that register when the shooter pulled her weapon free. It could have been me, crumpling to the floor in shock as I bled out.
Even worse? That still could have happened. She had enough bullets to take out the whole front end. With the position of my register and how I was standing, I might not have seen her coming, not known what was going on until the bullet lodged in my spine. Or worse.
It’s a terrifying thought.
We have that idea that something like this, something of this magnitude will happen to “somebody else”. Well, we are all “somebody else” to the rest of the nation. “It can’t happen here because…” rings hollow because in my neighborhood, it did. It happened in my workplace. It happened on a seemingly normal day in August. It did happen here and it can happen here again.
I’m forced to wonder: when will we finally say, “Enough is enough”?