Feature

Portraits of the lives lost in Las Vegas

They came to Las Vegas from all over the country — Tennessee, California, Alaska — for three days of celebration and country music. Here are the stories of a handful of the dozens of people who perished.

They came to Las Vegas from all over the country — Tennessee, California, Alaska — for three days of celebration and country music. Here are the stories of a handful of the dozens of people who perished.

Adrian Murfitt, 35, had been working 16-hour days all summer as a commercial salmon fisherman in his home state of Alaska. It was time for a break.

He gathered up two of his childhood friends and booked tickets for a country music festival, just as he had done last year, according to his sister, Shannon Gothard.

"He had such a great time when he went before, and he wanted to treat himself for a successful fishing season," Gothard said from Anchorage.

Murfitt was an Alaskan to the core. Since he was a toddler, he loved playing hockey, she said; he could fix almost anything mechanical; he was devoted to his dog, Paxson, a West Siberian Laika.

Gothard said the family had pieced together her brother's last minutes from Brian MacKinnon, a friend who was with him at the concert Sunday night. "He was just having a good time, enjoying himself, and got shot in the neck," she said of her brother. A woman standing next to Murfitt was shot in the head, MacKinnon told the family. He watched as medics tried to resuscitate Murfitt, though the medics told MacKinnon to leave the scene for his own safety.

"Sadly, he died in my arms," MacKinnon wrote on Facebook. "I don't really know what else to say at this time. I'm really sorry."

When Sonny Melton and his wife, Heather Gulish Melton, heard the sound of gunshots in Las Vegas on Sunday night, he grabbed her and began to run.

"I felt him get shot in the back," Gulish Melton told WCYB, a television station in northeast Tennessee. "I want everyone to know what a kindhearted, loving man he was, but at this point, I can barely breathe."

Melton, 29, was described in Facebook tributes as a kind spirit, a registered nurse who worked for much of 2016 in the surgical unit at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital in Jackson, Tennessee.

"He was a very kind, compassionate, genuine person who lived life to the fullest, and he took great care of our patients," said Amy Garner, a spokeswoman for the hospital. Union University, a college in Jackson, said Melton was a 2015 graduate of the school and worked in the emergency department at Henry County Medical Center.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Melton and his wife had been married only a year and had traveled from Tennessee for the music festival.

"When the bullets began raining down from above, Sonny shielded her from danger, selflessly giving up his life to save hers," Sanders said Monday.

Angie Gomez, 20, traveled from Southern California to the concert with her high school sweetheart to toast a new job as a certified nursing assistant, family friend Tyler Smith confirmed.

"She was just celebrating the music she loved," Smith said. "She was a light to everyone in her life; she was just the best kind of person, she was what the world needs."

Gomez graduated from Riverside Polytechnic High in Riverside, California, in 2015, the school confirmed on Facebook. A member of the school's cheer and song team, Gomez was remembered by her squad on Facebook as "having a warm heart and a loving spirit."

In a statement to the news media, the Riverside Unified School District described Gomez as "always seen with a smile on her face whenever she was on campus." She was enrolled at Riverside Community College.

Gomez's mother, when reached Monday afternoon, was on her way back to Riverside from Las Vegas. She was too distraught to talk and said she and her family needed time to grieve.

Gomez was shot three times, Smith said, once in the shoulder and twice in the arm. Her boyfriend of five years tried to carry her out of the concert venue with the help of several strangers. But Smith said that the crowds and blocked-off streets made it impossible to get Gomez to a hospital in time to save her life.

"She had a lot going for her, young and in love, with a good family," Smith said. "It's just incredibly surreal."

Jordan McIldoon, a 23-year-old mechanic from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, was among the dead, a family member said. His parents described him to CBC News in Canada as outdoorsy, about to begin trade school, and on the trip to Las Vegas with his girlfriend. They were expecting him to return home Monday evening.

"We only had one child," they told CBC News. "We just don't know what to do."

Last year, Lisa Romero-Muniz's husband, Chris, forgot their wedding anniversary. This year he was determined to make it up to her.

So he made a grand gesture, planning a four-day weekend in Las Vegas and buying tickets to see her favorite country singer, Jason Aldean. Muniz, who worked long hours at a refinery, and Romero-Muniz, a high school secretary in Gallup, New Mexico, left Thursday for Las Vegas, more than a six-hour drive away.

"She was beyond excited," said Rosie Fernandez, her friend and supervisor at the high school where they worked. "For her husband to remember her anniversary and do all of that, this was a big thing for her."

Born and raised in the small city of Gallup, the 48-year-old was a mother of three grown children and a secretary at Miyamura High School, where she was responsible for disciplining students who got into trouble. Romero-Muniz had a warm personality and a big laugh, and was always teasing her co-workers, Fernandez said.

"We were known as the two loudmouths of the office," Fernandez said. "She knew 90 percent of the kids at this school. She would talk to them like she was talking to her own children. I'd hear her saying, 'I know you can do better than this.'"

John Phippen, 57, was a "lumberjack kind of a guy" who loved music, said his best friend. Still, it came as a surprise when the general contractor belted out Shania Twain's "Man! I Feel Like a Woman" while helping the friend renovate his bathroom.

"It was so wrong it was funny," said the friend, Thomas Polucki, a chiropractor who lives in the same Southern California town, in the Santa Clarita Valley, as Phippen.

Phippen attended the festival with his son, Travis.

Jake Diaz, 19, who with his mother is a friend of the Phippens, said family members told them that Phippen jumped on top of his son when the shooting started. "He saved his life," Diaz said.

Polucki said Travis worked as a medic and, even after being shot in the arm, treated more than a dozen of the injured.

Polucki said Phippen actually "looks like a teddy bear and acts like a sweetheart," with a calm demeanor no matter how tense a situation. Phippen took buggies out on the sand dunes, and ran a company called JP Specialties that advertises as an "all-purpose remodeling company" with painting, electrical, drywall, plumbing, and flooring. Polucki said that he first met Phippen about 10 years ago after he had bought a "money pit of a house."

He said Phippen helped him out. "He was the guy you wanted to have a beer with," the chiropractor said. "You wouldn't want to hang out with a celebrity or a politician. You'd want to hang out with John."

When Quinton Robbins, 20, first clutched his chest, his girlfriend thought something was wrong with his sugar levels, she told his grandmother. They were on a date at a Jason Aldean concert. They hadn't been together for very long, but she knew he had diabetes and thought he might need his insulin. She didn't yet realize that a bullet had torn through his body.

Robbins' grandmother Gaynor Wells said Monday that he will be remembered as "just a jewel." She recounted the story of his death as she heard it through his girlfriend, who was uninjured.

He was the oldest of three children, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, and a student at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, where he was considering going to dental school. An avid athlete, Robbins spent his time refereeing various recreation leagues in his hometown of Henderson, Nevada.

He enjoyed hunting, fishing, and country music, which is why he decided to drive to Las Vegas for the Sunday-night concert. His girlfriend would later tell his family about two strangers, who described themselves as a Marine and a nurse, who tried to carry Robbins to a vehicle so he could get medical attention, even as the gunman was still firing on the crowd. It would be hours before his family would find out for sure where he had been taken and that he hadn't survived.

In early April, on the last day of their 10-day vacation in New Zealand, Christopher Willemse and his girlfriend, Sandy Casey, walked down a steep hill to a lake. As she played by the water's edge, Willemse took a ring out of his pocket. When she turned around, he was down on one knee.

At the end of this month, they planned to tour the final wedding venue on their list.

Instead, after seven years as colleagues at Manhattan Beach Middle School in California, three years as a couple, and five months engaged, Willemse held Casey, 35, on Sunday night as she died of a gunshot to her lower back.

Willemse, 32, worked as a behavioral therapist in Casey's special-education classes. They bonded over their love of country music.

They were attending the festival with a few of Willemse's friends, huddled in front of the stage, when the gunshots rang out. They all dropped to the ground, but Casey said she'd been hit and couldn't feel her legs. Willemse stuck his finger in the wound to stop the bleeding and then carried her out, dodging the continuous gunfire.

When she stopped responding, he told her that he loved her and that she was amazing.

"She was just a kind soul and she was full of life and loved to live it," Willemse said. "She made everybody smile, she was an excellent teacher, and loved the kids she taught. Everyone who meets her never forgets her."

Casey, who also loved yoga and the outdoors, was originally from Vermont, where her family still lives. Willemse said he's arranging to get her body back to her parents. She wanted to be cremated, he said, so he'll be able to keep a part of her with him.

Excerpted from articles that originally appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times. Reprinted with permission.

Recommended

10 things you need to know today: December 3, 2022
People hold signs amidst continuing protests in China regarding COVID policies.
Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 3, 2022

Houston police arrest 2 in connection with killing of Migos rapper Takeoff
Migos rapper Takeoff memorial billboard
'an innocent bystander'

Houston police arrest 2 in connection with killing of Migos rapper Takeoff

White House affirms 'the Holocaust happened'
Ye, formerly known as Kanye West
History 101

White House affirms 'the Holocaust happened'

U.S. same-sex couple households surpass 1 million for the 1st time
same sex couple wedding cake toppers
Historic numbers

U.S. same-sex couple households surpass 1 million for the 1st time

Most Popular

Once-a-decade critics' poll names greatest film ever
Movie theater
we come to this place for magic

Once-a-decade critics' poll names greatest film ever

U.S. gas prices fall to pre–Ukraine invasion levels
Gas station
Gas Holiday

U.S. gas prices fall to pre–Ukraine invasion levels

Ye praises Hitler on Alex Jones' show
Kanye West on InfoWars
he admit it

Ye praises Hitler on Alex Jones' show