Las Vegas shooting survivors memorialize event with tattoos

OGDEN, Utah — Four Utah women who survived a mass shooting at a Las Vegas country music festival are memorializing their experiences with matching tattoos.

Laura Farthing, Shelley Burch, Lori Wilson and Alyssa Hodges took a trip to Las Vegas to enjoy the Route 91 Harvest festival earlier this month. The four women wound up being witnesses and survivors of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

The Route 91 tattoo design they are wearing resembles a poker chip with “10.1.17” — the date of the shooting — written in thin letters above it.

The group hadn’t been friends for very long when they made the trip to the festival. 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, the Standard-Examiner reported .

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, Oct. 1, 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.

Moments into Jason Aldean’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.

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.

Farthing looked toward the stage and watched as people ducked for cover.

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

Wilson and Hodges couldn’t make sense of the popping noises from the safety of their Uber 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 ducked behind a 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.”

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.

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 during in the chaos. Burch had a black eye from two pieces of debris that hit just below her right eyebrow.

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

The group went to Savage Tattoo in Ogden. Farthing saw an Instagram post that the tattoo parlor was offering free tattoos to anyone affected by the shooting.

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

Farthing said the experience tightly bound the group. If she needs any one of her friends, she is confident they would be there in a second, she said.

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

Keith Jenkins