Survivors of Las Vegas shooting gather at Ogden tattoo shop to celebrate life

Wednesday , October 25, 2017 - 5:15 AM

SARAH WELLIVER, Standard-Examiner Staff

Sitting inside Savage Tattoo in Ogden, Laura Farthing watched as tattoo artist Kira Teter circled a Route 91 symbol on her left wrist in orange ink.

The design resembled a poker chip with “10.1.17” written in thin letters above it. Her friends Shelley Burch, Lori Wilson and Alyssa Hodges stood shoulder to shoulder and watched.

Three weeks earlier, the group was together for a girls trip to Las Vegas at the Route 91 Harvest festival. The four women hadn’t been friends as a group for very long — Burch and Farthing met years ago, but Farthing met Wilson and her daughter, Hodges, less than a year before the trip. Burch lives in Layton, Farthing and Wilson live in the Salt Lake City area, and Hodges lives in Plain City.

Route 91 is now a tattoo that stands for more than a concert experience. They are among more than 500 people who bear memories and scars for being witness to the largest mass shooting in American history — 58 people were killed. But they all say they’re alive because of small decisions and fluke events.

The group spent their first two nights in Vegas at the front of the festival near the stage, sometimes in a VIP area. On the third night, the group planned to do the same.

But Farthing and Burch decided to stay toward the back of the general admission area, and Hodges and Wilson moved to a VIP tent just to the right of the stage.

Hodges was particularly stoked to see Aldean, jokingly referring to him as her boyfriend.

Moments into the country star’s fourth or fifth song, Farthing got a text from Wilson: They were leaving the VIP area and heading back to the hotel. Despite Hodges’ fandom for Aldean, she was not feeling well and needed to leave.

As their Uber drove off, Wilson and Hodges recalled hearing a rapid series of pops.

‘IT DIDN’T FEEL REAL’

Meanwhile, Farthing and Burch heard what sounded like fireworks from their spot at the back of the outdoor venue. Burch remembered feeling annoyed — a rude distraction from a great performance.

Then it happened again.

The third time, the panic started.

RELATED: Death toll rises to 59 in Las Vegas mass shooting, police say

“People screaming, ‘Get down’ or ‘I’ve been shot’ or ‘She’s been shot’ and we just, we got down ... it didn’t feel real,” Burch said.

Farthing looked toward the stage and watched as people ducked for cover. Some just crumpled where they stood.

Then Burch grabbed Farthing’s hand and told her to run.

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From the safety of their Uber, Wilson and Hodges couldn’t make sense of the popping noises until an out-of-breath Farthing called.

“Every time Alyssa and I looked at each other that night, we started crying,” Wilson said. “Three minutes would have made the difference between life and death.”

Farthing and Burch recalled the initial confusion — they didn’t know where gunfire was coming from or how many people were shooting at the crowd.

They ducked behind a makeshift bar, pressing themselves flat against the alcohol-soaked cement. Glass shattered around them and shrapnel hit Farthing in the leg.

“I pulled out this piece of bullet and I don’t know, I just got mad,” Farthing said. “Then I realized what direction the bullets were coming from.”

Farthing grabbed a long, thick plastic table and dropped it in front of Burch for cover.

Burch recalled feeling frozen in that moment. All she could think about was that she hadn’t talked to her two daughters in days. She wanted to tell them she loved them.

The women held onto one another, prayed and waited. The cycle of gunfire felt endless, Farthing said. Later, it was reported the shooting lasted about 11 minutes.

Eventually people started running. Farthing and Burch sprinted to the Tropicana Las Vegas Hotel, where they spent hours in a large conference room with others who’d survived the attack.

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Sometime after 4 a.m., Burch and Farthing left the Tropicana and got outside to find the entire strip shut down.

“Everything was quiet, it was hard to be outside,” Farthing said.

They reunited with Wilson and Hodges in their hotel room. Farthing realized she broke a tooth at some point during in the chaos. Burch had a black eye from two pieces of debris that hit just below her right eyebrow.

“It was mental trauma more than anything” Burch said. “If we had been in the front, we would have been dead. I started watching the news on TV and just broke down.”

REMEMBERING

Before they left Vegas, the four friends agreed to get tattoos.

Farthing saw an Instagram post by Savage Tattoo in Ogden offering free tattoos to anyone affected by the shooting. She reached out to the shop and shared their story.

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“I’ve dealt with loss in my own life. As tattoo artists, doing what we love ... it’s a way to give back,” said shop owner Dax McClellan.

Wilson went first, with the piece being done by tattoo artist Kira Teter. Then went Farthing. Both got the Route 91 logo and date of the shooting on the inside of their left wrists.

Hodges and Burch went next, with Hodges getting the same Route 91 tattoo and Burch a smaller, slightly different version, on their ankles.

Farthing said the experience tightly bound the group — if she needs any one of her friends, she’s confident they’d be there in a second.

“And they know I would do the same, hands down.”

Farthing doesn’t want to know anything about the shooter — not even his name.

They’ve heard the gun debates since the shooting. Burch grew up around guns and she’s a gun owner herself.

“I don’t know, I don’t know the answer,” she said. “I’m not against guns ... this man was purchasing a lot ... in such a short time. That should raise a red flag.”

All four women agree they would go back to Vegas in a second.

“The positivity, the singing and smiling and dancing ... people helping one another, protecting one another, that’s what I’ll remember,” Burch said.

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