Latter-day Saints in the Las Vegas area recoiled in horror Sunday after learning their city had become the site of the most deadly shooting spree in U.S. history.
Their second response? Let’s get busy and help.
Just hours after the tragedy, Mormons across Nevada’s Clark County and beyond were mobilizing to do all they could to offer relief and a bit of hope to shooting victims, their families, first responders and hospital workers.
Members of the Church who spoke to the Church News were hesitant to draw attention to themselves. Their ongoing efforts, they said, are simply part of a much larger, unified relief effort that’s come to define Las Vegas in the hours and days following the shooting.
“There have been so many people stepping forward to help all across Las Vegas,” said Dee Moody.
On the morning after the shooting, Moody was perusing social media and found a request for non-perishable food items at the local Ronald McDonald House. The charitable organization was delivering sack lunches to shooting victims and their loved ones at area hospitals. They needed food immediately.
Utilizing texts, phone calls and her own social media channels, Moody began asking folks in her Mormon congregation to contribute to the Ronald McDonald House food effort.
“By 3 p.m., we had raised about $900,” she said.
One of the Relief Society sisters from her ward rushed to a nearby Sam’s Club with the donated cash and stocked up on food, filling her Suburban. A short time later, the donated goods were being unloaded at the Ronald McDonald House, ready for distribution at the hospitals.
“We have six wards in our stake, and I know each of those units were doing something,” she added.
Las Vegas resident Whitney Walker had trouble sleeping Sunday after hearing initial reports of the mass violence in her city. “I had gone to a concert on the Strip the night before with two of my children, so it really hit home.”
On Monday morning she learned there was a need for blood donations. She hustled to a blood bank operating in North Las Vegas. What she witnessed there offered a sliver of hope at an otherwise miserable moment.
“There were people lined up around buildings; they were all there just to try and save a life,” she said.
Walker is the Relief Society president of the Waterfall Ward in Las Vegas. She recognized several fellow Mormons waiting in the blood donation line standing along with people from many racial, religious and social backgrounds.
“There were all types of people, but we were together for the same purpose. We just wanted to try and help.”
To pass the time, people waiting in line took turns decorating lunch sacks with bright, hopeful images. The colorful customized sacks were used later that day for the Ronald McDonald House sack lunches.
By late afternoon Monday, the blood bank coordinators announced they had received all the blood they needed.
Several Mormons in the Las Vegas area, added Walker, are doctors, nurses and first responders. They’ve been working long, stressful hours since the shooting. So some wards have organized efforts to take them meals or spend a few hours with their kids so mom or dad can get a few hours of sleep before heading back to work.
Meanwhile, Relief Society members from the Green Valley Henderson Nevada Stake were gathering Tuesday night at a local chapel to make dozens of blankets.
“Everyone’s been asking how they can help,” said Henderson resident Nanda Brock. “So some people (from a local charitable organization) reached out to our stake Relief Society leaders and told them that they needed blankets at the hospitals to give to relatives of victims.”
Latter-day Saint relief efforts have stretched beyond Las Vegas. Members from the San Clemente California and Laguna Niguel California stakes and many of their friends have raised money to buy toiletry kits that are being delivered to hospitals in Las Vegas.
Other donations from the California stakes are helping to purchase gift cards and other needed items for a man who was injured in the shooting but still risked his life to shield a woman who had also been hit. An electrician by trade, the man will likely be out of work for about a year while he rehabilitates.
“His life has been changed forever,” said Jillian Coons, who helped organize the ongoing fundraising efforts in California.
Coons said she's not surprised by the generosity of the California Mormons and their neighbors.
“I think people sit at home and watch the news and feel so helpless,” he said. “They want to do something to make a difference.”
Meanwhile, the LDS-driven relief efforts across Las Vegas are expected to continue as long as there are needs.
Moody said people living outside Nevada sometimes think of Las Vegas as sketchy place. “But it’s really been amazing to see the way people have rallied and come together in our city.”