By Dawn Aerts
Iron County Today
CEDAR CITY–More than 400 people gathered together at a special candlelight vigil last week on the Southern Utah University campus to remember and honor those who experienced the worst mass shooting incident in modern U.S. history. It happened on Oct. 1 at the Route 91 Harvest Festival concert in Las Vegas.
They mostly came to remember the 58 victims, to pray for the hundreds left hospitalized, and to mourn the loss of Heather Alvarado, a young ‘Mom’ from Cedar City, who will not see her children grow up.
“She was a great Mom, a really caring person – and a very good friend,” said her friend Brenda Wood of the incident that has left her mostly numb still looking for answers to the tragedy. “She and her kids came to my grandson’s first birthday party, she cared for my grandkids, and she just loved country music.”
Wood said many were touched by Heather’s outlook on life and family. “This concert was one of her favorite events,” said Wood. “So the family would go on many of these trips. She was a beautiful lady who adored her kids.”
While the community did not hear the gunfire or the calls for help at the popular Las Vegas concert, there were many at the vigil and throughout Utah who felt more than a little anguish and fear. Some of those, who experienced the concert ordeal, couldn’t bring themselves to attend the vigil.
“The people who were there, (and went through this), just weren’t ready to be in an open, public place,” said Stephanie Furnival of the recent encounter. That said, those shots still reverberate for those who lost someone or for those wounded without warning or cause.
It was at that vigil that stories of students who attended the open air festival ran through a battle-field instead. And there were heroes to remember too.
Among those concert-goers was a U.S. Army veteran with deep roots in Utah. Robert Ledbetter is one of those who might go unnoticed. He was an eyewitness and knows the familiar sound of an AK-47. In past years, he served as a sniper in Iraq, but on that Sunday found himself a battle in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip.
“The echo sounded like it was coming from everywhere, so you (really) didn’t know which way to run,” said Ledbetter of his account. Thanks to a man who took a flannel shirt off his back, Ledbetter was able to fashion a tourniquet for one girl with a face wound – and stopped the bleeding of others with a bandana and medic how-to.
A mortgage broker and resident of Las Vegas, Ledbetter recalls that his own battlefield instincts and training “kicked in” quickly as bullets rained down. He and seven others in his group found cover in a VIP area, but not before his own brother was shot and injured.
“I’m (trying) to save people, (or do my best). But it got to the point, I saw people all over. Laying (wounded) where we used to be standing, and nobody getting to them — and I couldn’t get there,” said Ledbetter of the scene and a community left to ponder a chilling and baffling event.
On that Sunday, Heather Alvarado had attended the concert with her oldest daughter, who was not injured in the shooting. “Somebody said that Heather tried to shield her daughter from the attack,” Wood said of the friend who she remembers as” beautiful and kind.”
“So many of us have felt deeply the effect of the tragedy that occurred in Las Vegas,” said SUU President Scott L. Wyatt at the Oct. 4 vigil. “We’ve confirmed that several of our students were at the concert when the gunman unleashed his fury on the crowd…and at least one of our students was injured…”
While University officials were planning a blood drive, friends of the Warino-Alvarado family set up an online account at the State Bank of Southern Utah (SBSU). And, the Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary will sell cookbooks to help.
“I don’t know why this hit me so hard,” said Wood from her small kitchen in Cedar City, “We put a cross and some flowers in her yard under the Willow.”