As emotion filled his voice and students carrying candles in remembrance huddled together, UNLV senior Randy Dexter offered a moment of perspective.
"There is a reason that more than 30,000 students call UNLV home," he reminded those at a candlelight vigil Monday night in the Student Union courtyard.
Hundreds had gathered — students and faculty, campus leaders and university regents — to mourn and provide each other comfort. Less than 24 hours beforehand, the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history had taken place on the Las Vegas Strip, just two miles from campus.
Vigil attendees observed a moment of silence to honor those who died or were injured when a gunman fired into the thousands of country music fans at the Route 91 festival. While an official list of those killed or injured hasn’t been released, social media posts indicate that current and former students are among them.
At the vigil, organized in less than half a day's time, some were in tears, others held onto one another tightly and some simply shook their heads in astonishment at the enormous and tragic loss of life.
Those gathered listened quietly as speakers condemned the horrific act while extolling the powerful spirit of UNLV and the community. The event offered campus community members a public forum for their thoughts and an opportunity for unity, said Las Vegas native Alejandro McGarvie, a senior.
McGarvie said he appreciated the opportunity to be around other students who were dealing with the same emotions he was experiencing as despair struck his hometown.
"The vigil provides an outlet for everybody to support each other," he said. "I know I was grieving all day."
Students grieved in different ways in the hours that followed the shooting. Students, faculty, and staff were encouraged to use various campus counseling services. The Residence Hall Association, CSUN student government, and Student Engagement and Diversity Office also had organized processing spaces for students to gather and comfort each other throughout the week.
At the vigil, California native Maby Montano felt surrounded by compassion and care. "I wanted to be around friends and the community," she said. "The events really make you want to be with people you care about."
Attendees at the vigil also had the opportunity to meet with grief counselors, and speakers emphasized the resources available to cope.
"Every individual deals with grief and tragedy such as this differently," said Robert Evans, a junior from Las Vegas and president of the Residence Hall Association. Learning to cope "is not something that's going to happen overnight."
Evans, like most attendees, said that when he awoke to see the number of people who'd been affected, it shook him. "I don't think anyone ever thinks it's going to happen to them," he said. "I just kept getting notifications after notifications."
Kenna Martin, a freshman from Southern Nevada, wiped tears from her eyes as she talked about friends who lost family members.
"I came to honor everybody," she said. "Everyone's doing what they can right now."
The night before, junior Joseph Lopez had planned on turning in early. When he heard the first reports of the shooting, he wandered outside of his room in the Upper Class Complex for any clue as to what was happening. "I heard everything that was going on," he said. "I heard the gunfire, the sirens. I was kind of traumatized."
Processing the aftermath kept Lopez awake until about 4 a.m. The next day, he gave blood. And he wanted to use the vigil as an opportunity to remind others to be grateful for what they have.
"Keep the love," he said. "Life is too short to hate. Just keep loving each other. Don't take anything for granted."
It was a common refrain around campus and in the community. In the early morning hours that followed the shooting, hundreds of survivors streamed into UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center, which was turned into a temporary shelter for victims.
"In such difficult times, we are heartened by — and grateful for — the many ways in which we join together to support one another," President Len Jessup said in a statement afterwards. "UNLV police and Thomas & Mack Center staff quickly mobilized to take in evacuees. Generous individuals brought in blankets, water, food, and offered free transportation to those in need. Our counselors offered support for evacuees, and continue to provide resources for our students, faculty, and staff."
Student Mario Montemayor was at the festival when shots rang out. He implored people at the vigil to not hold onto anger and anguish. Seeing the campus community come together, raise money for victims, and volunteer, he said, made him proud to be a Rebel.
"Please come together," he said. "Don't divide. Always come together."
Dexter, who served as a combat medic with the U.S. Army, recalled attending another vigil in his life: One held near the Thomas & Mack Center in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Las Vegas and UNLV will serve as symbols of hope for the students, as they did for him as he served in military posts around the world post-9/11.
"UNLV is a symbol of Las Vegas," said Dexter, president of the UNLV Rebel Vets. "As we go forward, every day from here on out, wear that logo proudly."