By Jennifer O’Shea
Signal Staff Writer
“He was right.”
That was her first thought when she hit the dirt.
As she ran through crowds of screaming people, she knew he was right. Not knowing if she was running away from or toward the bullets, she thought, “My dad was right.”
Lauren Dyer’s dad has always been protective of his only child, his only daughter. Even though he raised her dirt-biking in the dunes, her dad has never really approved of her going on any other types of adventures alone.
When she was in high school, he reluctantly let her go snowboarding with her friends. It was not easy for him to let her go off to Arizona for college.
A couple of years later, when she wanted to go to Las Vegas for the Route 91 Harvest music festival, he told her it was a bad idea.
And this time, he was right.
On Oct. 1, 2017, gunfire poured out of a window of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino while country star Jason Aldean was performing at the music festival.
“Out of all my friends I got down first. And my friends were just thinking I was crazy,” Lauren said. “But it’s because my dad has always thought that way.”
Don’t go there at night. Watch out for this type of guy. Don’t go there alone. Hold your keys in your hand when you walk to your car. Remember the sound of a gunshot.
All seven of her friends grabbed hands and tried to run. But it’s difficult to move through thousands of frantic people linked together. So Lauren ended up running with one friend.
They ran, for what felt like miles, not knowing where the shots were coming from. Once they made it to a tall brick wall, Lauren and her friend hurdled the wall and stopped.
She needed to call her dad.
“We’re in a mass shooting, a terrorist attack probably; we’re in a mass shooting.”
“What? I can’t hear you, slow down.”
“I’m running for my life.”
“Who are you with? Where are you running? Why are you running?”
Nothing made sense, but her father knew he had been right.
Lauren turned on her Find My Friends app and her dad was able to see where she was in real time. He watched her run: through hotels, across streets and in and out of restaurants. She finally made it to her hotel.
He was finally able to turn on the news and his worst fears were confirmed. His daughter was in the middle of what ended up being the deadliest mass shooting in the United States to date. He shared the details with Lauren: Mandalay Bay. Only one shooter was identified.
“Once I heard that,” she said, “I felt better.”
She reached out to all the people she had just been dancing and singing with only a few hours before. A group was stuck waiting in a bathroom. Some were in another hotel.
One friend is an EMT. He stayed to put bodies in trucks headed to the hospital. Fifty-eight lives were taken that night.
The drive back home to her dad felt like the longest in her life. His hugs revealed he felt the same way.
“He doesn’t hug people,” Lauren said. “He hugged us — me and Jaeger — and her parents. He was angry, but he said ‘I love you.’”
One year later, Lauren’s day-to-day life hasn’t changed since the shooting, but her heart has been affected. She has been learning to talk through her experience, and turn the pain into strength.
“Now my friends and I are working through anxiety. My mind is fine, but I feel this anxiety,” Lauren said. “On the (Facebook) survivor pages, I see that a lot of people are so angry. And it’s hard to read the comments because I’m not.”
Santa Clarita Valley friends and neighbors immediately stepped up to help Route 91 survivors. Local psychotherapist Shauna Hoffman organized a support group, and so many people responded, they needed to add more meetings and move it to the Valencia Hyatt’s Grand Ballroom.
Lauren’s small group counselor asked them each to share their version of what happened at the festival. The first person to share had been shot in the head. Lauren said the bullet is still in his head.
“He told us we can’t let that guy (the shooter) ruin our life,” Lauren said. “So right away, I was like, ‘Yup, OK I’m not going to let this ruin my life.’”
During the last year of her counseling sessions through the Spiritual Care program at Grace Baptist, Lauren says she has been encouraged to live for the people who lost their lives in the shooting.
“I’ve been following (Aldean) and his life,” Lauren said. “I see that they’re still doing their life: still going on tour, having kids. He’s not stopping.”
She continues to help people as a fitness coach. She spends her weekdays as a nanny to twin babies and a 6-year-old. In July, Lauren and her boyfriend went to the sold-out Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt concert at Dodger Stadium.
“It was good,” she said, “just a little too crowded.”
She’s trying to tackle the pain but move forward at the same time. Monday was the one-year anniversary of the tragedy that altered the course of thousands of people’s lives.
“That’s still what I think about every day,” Lauren said, “Every day I’m like, ‘This might be my last day so I’m gonna live.’ Really, truly, you literally have no clue when it’s your time.”
When Lauren has an argument with her dad or her boyfriend, she worries that she may not see them again. She makes it a point to talk it out and make sure they’re on good terms. It’s important for her to think about every decision now. She actually wants to talk about what happened a year ago. But not every person in her life remembers what she experienced.
“No one asks about it. It’s in the past,” she said. “The only people that talk about it are the people that were there. No one asks, ‘How are you?’”
“It bothers me that people don’t ask.”
Lauren went to the Jason Aldean concert on Saturday with the same group that celebrated and mourned together at the Route 91 festival. She says they feel like they need to finish what they started.
“We became so close from that,” she said. “When I see people with a hat or a sticker about Route 91, I feel connected. I think, ‘You know exactly how I feel.’”
Soon after the tragedy, Lauren noticed that a fellow survivor shared a tattoo on a Facebook page. A feather with a Bible scripture reference from Psalm 91:
“He will cover you with his feathers./ He will shelter you with his wings./ The Lord says, I will be with them in trouble./I will rescue and honor them.”
Lauren isn’t naive. She knows good and bad exist in the world, but she says that seeing the tattoo’s connection between Route 91 and Psalm 91 reminded her of the good.
“If something happens again, I’m not going to be shocked,” she said. “When bad things happen, there’s always this outpour and that’s Jesus’ biggest thing: just love people.”
Her dad’s voice is always in the front of her mind. It could seem like a bad thing, but Lauren takes what she learns from her dad, friends and counselors and makes them a part of her journey.
She is taking refuge in all of those things.