When walking down through the Arts District of Las Vegas, I passed by a little community garden space that had a fence with musical notes. Wandering in to have a closer look, I realised it was dedicated to the victims of the mass shooting that had happened in Vegas on October 1 2017.

From the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Hotel, a 64-year-old man opened fire on the crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival at an open-air arena across the road. Using multiple rifles, the gunman fired aimlessly into the audience causing mass panic and leading the police to think there were several shooters. He also shot a security guard within the hotel, before turning a gun on himself. With fifty eight people dying and over 800 being injured in the aftermath, this became the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. It has been reported that he had meticulously prepared for the assault, bringing over 25 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition but a motive was never established for his horrendous actions.

Soon after the event, The Las Vegas community came together to build a healing garden as a memorial to those who were shot and killed. The idea initially came from two local landscapers, Jay Pleggenkuhle and Daniel Perez, who quickly sketched plans for the garden on a napkin as they sat and had a coffee. Hundreds of volunteers came forward to help with the build and it was completed within a week.

'Once again, a senseless act of violence shattered a community's heart. This time, we as a community, pushed back with a very deliberate act of compassion. People from across the city, country and the world came together on an empty piece of desert to plant the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden. Instead of retreating into fear, we as a community stepped forward. Together we planted a garden not only of trees and flowers, but we planted a garden of love, hope and compassion.'   

Las Vegas Community Healing Garden Memorial     

From the pavement, a winding path took me past a wall of remembrance, tributes, photos, poetry walls and colourful ornaments. A heart-shaped memorial contains rocks inscribed with the name of each person who was killed. Near this is a bundle of loose painted stones, also etched with each name, which the family members are encouraged to take as a remembrance of their loved one. Each person also has a tree planted in their memory, while flowers and shrubs encircle a beautiful central oak tree. In the centre of the garden there is a wall adorned with painted tiles that contain messages of love and hope, including the #vegasstrong message.

At the time of my visit, I was the only one there and spent about an hour looking at this communal outpouring of grief. The garden is next to a road but feels a million miles away from civilization and is a really peaceful place to spend some time. As I made my way toward the exit, I was left with a very big reminder of how fragile life is and how often we take it for granted. Crowds of unsuspecting music lovers flooded into the festival arena that night expecting to enjoy themselves and make happy memories. Instead, some of them never came out alive and the ones that did make it home have undoubtedly been left traumatised for life.

The architects of the healing garden said that their intent was to 'create something beautiful out of something horrific' and from what I could see, they certainly succeeded in that.

More info on the Las Vegas Healing Garden can be found here.