About 75 people gathered in Solvang Park on Thursday night for a candlelight vigil to honor and remember the victims of the shooting that took place Sunday at a country music festival outside a Las Vegas resort hotel.
The quiet, somber ceremony that drew at least half a dozen former and current Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies, both on duty and off, was organized by Candi Villard of Solvang.
After brief remarks by Villard, two volunteers read the names of the 58 people who were killed in what’s been described as the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Country music star Jason Aldean was performing for more than 22,000 people at the outdoor Route 91 Harvest Festival when, just after 10 a.m., the gunman opened fire from his room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino.
Bullets from a modified semiautomatic rifle spraying down on the festival grounds a quarter mile away sent the crowd into a panic.
When the shooter killed himself just 10 minutes after the first shot was fired, 58 people were dead or dying and another 489 were wounded.
“That day was just a fog,” Villard said before Thursday night’s vigil. “I remember being on a couch with the TV on. I wasn’t able to just walk away from it.”
But it wasn’t simply the horror of the shooting that kept her glued to the television. Like many others, she knew people who were there.
“One of my best friends was there at the concert when it happened,” she said, recalling the message they sent her that said, “We’re OK, we’re fine, neither one of us hurt.”
“When I saw that, I just broke down,” Villard said.
The very next morning she began organizing the vigil.
“I know how much love and support there is in this town,” she said, adding that when the vigil was held for the shooting victims at the Florida night club last year, “there was so much healing and community spirit.”
While organizing the vigil, mostly through social media, she found out the secretary at her grandson’s school in Simi Valley was among those shot and killed.
When sheriff’s Lt. Eddie Hsueh and his wife, Tina, saw Villard’s post on Facebook asking for volunteers to read the names of the victims, they immediately stepped up.
“I think a lot of people have been asking, ‘What can we do?’” Eddie said. “This is a terrible, tragic event.”
Thursday night, they took turns reading the names from the steps of the gazebo as the crowd stood in a semicircle below, faces glowing softly from the candles.
Eddie started and now runs the County Sheriff’s Office Crisis Intervention Team that includes volunteer police psychologists and deputies trained to respond to calls involving people with mental illness.
He said one of the team’s grief counselors is in Las Vegas now, working as a volunteer with that city’s police department to help victims and first responders come to terms with the tragedy.
“Local deputies reached out to me, asking what they could do,” Eddie said, adding a number of them were there Thursday night — Ray Gamboa, Shae Green, Brice Brenning and Dennis Thomas with Dougie, a retired narcotics dog who now works with the Crisis Intervention Team.
“I also see some retired officers, some off-duty officers,” he added.
Members of the Santa Barbara Response Network, which helps console victims and survivors, also attended.
After the names were read and following a prayer for peace, understanding and love, a moment of silence was held for the victims.
It was an emotional time for George and Liz Brumfield of Buellton.
“We have a friend who was there at the concert with his wife,” Liz said. “The gentleman standing next to him was killed.”
George added, “They were there until 2 o’clock in the morning helping the Las Vegas PD pull out wounded and dead.”
George said his friend Mark Lacey, who served as a security officer with in the Air Force, had his vehicle shot up but was unhurt.
“By the grace of God, they’re OK,” he said of his friends. “But they jumped right in and put themselves at risk to help others. That’s just the kind of people they are.”