Families detail Las Vegas victims' lives: 'Nothing but good memories'
Two women embrace outside of a family assistance centre Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Las Vegas. The makeshift centre was set up to help families and others reconnect after the mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Jason Dearen and Kathleen Ronayne, The Associated Press
Published Monday, October 2, 2017 9:45PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 4, 2017 8:28AM EDT
A son remembered a mother's laugh. Elementary school employees wore red, white and blue to honour a beloved receptionist. A wife recalled her husband's ultimate devotion: losing his life to protect hers by diving over her while bullets flew.
Families and friends mourned -- and celebrated -- on Tuesday the lives of at least 59 people who died when a gunman opened fire on a concert in Las Vegas on Sunday night.
Across the United States and Canada, hundreds of people paid tribute to their loved ones in quiet private moments, at vigils, and through social media.
HUSBAND PROTECTED WIFE ON ANNIVERSARY
Laurie Beaton was at the festival with her husband Jack celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary when they heard what sounded like firecrackers. Like everyone around her, she was looking around to see who was lighting them when she felt something like air rush past her arm.
"I've never experienced gunshots but when I felt air go right past my arm I told my husband, 'I don't think that's fireworks,"' she said in a telephone interview from her home in Bakersfield, California.
"He told me, 'Get down, get down, get down,"' and put his own body on top of hers for protection, she said. "He told me, 'I love you, Laurie' and his arms were around me and his body just went heavy on me."
Suddenly, she knew her husband had been shot. "I screamed his name and he wasn't answering me, there was a lot of blood," she said.
Another man, someone who told her he was a nurse and an EMT, ran up and told her to put her husband on his side. Helping, she saw blood and heard her husband struggling to breathe.
As quickly as the shooting stopped it started again and now, with lights on, the man told one of the husband's friends who attended the festival with them to take the women to safety.
"So we ran," she said.
Later, friends told Laurie Beaton wasn't on the ground anymore. "He had been moved so we were optimistic that he'd received help,' she said.
Calls to hospitals in search of Jack Beaton turned up nothing. Eventually she called the coroner's office, which said her husband was among the dead.
On Tuesday morning she was back home, trying both to comfort a 20-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter who had just lost their father and be comforted by them.
Beaton said her husband, a 54-year-old construction worker, wouldn't want much said publicly about his death. But she wanted people to hear how he had protected her, just as he always had done.
"I knew every day that he would protect me and take care of me and love me unconditionally, and what he did is no surprise to me, and he is my hero," she said.
NEVADA OUTDOORSMAN: 'THE KID WAS LOVED BY EVERYONE'
Quinton Robbins was the big brother who coached his little brother's flag football team, the prom king who was nice to everyone regardless of their high school social standing, an outdoorsman who loved to fish and boat around the lake.
"The kid was loved by everyone," said his uncle, Mike Wells. "He was popular in high school, but would walk up to the kid who wasn't so popular and befriend him and make him feel good."
Robbins, 20, was among the people killed Sunday in Las Vegas. He died moments after a bullet struck his chest and exited through his lower back.
Robbins was up on his knees, looking for a spot to take his girlfriend for shelter, when he was hit, said Wells, recounting Robbins' girlfriend's account of the terrifying moments.
"I think I got shot," Robbins looked at her and said before collapsing.
"He died probably within seconds after the bullet hit him," Wells said.
His parents sat beside Robbins, who had already died, until about 5 or 6 in the morning, Wells said, before rushing home to make sure they could tell his 11-year-old brother the news themselves.
Robbins was an active member of the Mormon church and had hoped to go on a mission before he was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago, Wells said. He worked for the athletic department in his home city of Henderson, Nevada.
"The positive impact he had on everyone was huge," Wells said.
MOTHER-DAUGHTER CONCERT DATE ENDS IN TRAGEDY
Heather Warino Alvarado made the three-hour drive from her southern Utah home to Las Vegas to get away for the weekend and take her daughter to a country music festival.
Her daughter was unharmed in the Sunday night shooting, but the 35-year-old Warino Alvarado was one of at least 59 people killed when a gunman opened fire at the concert-goers.
Friends and family received confirmation she had died Monday night from Las Vegas police, according to a news release Tuesday from the Cedar City Fire Department, where her husband was a firefighter.
Warino Alvarado ran an in-home day care centre in Cedar City, Utah, and was a devoted wife and mother of three children who was always willing to help others, said longtime friend Megan Jackson Gadd.
"She has made huge impacts on those around her with even the smallest gestures," Jackson Gadd said in a Facebook messenger conversation. "A person like her will never be replaced or forgotten and will be missed dearly every day for the rest of our lives."
'I HAVE NOTHING BUT GOOD MEMORIES OF MY MOM'
As Jeff Rees thinks about his mom, Denise Cohen, one thing keeps repeating in his head: Her laugh.
"When she would take me to the movies as a kid, I was just waiting to hear her laugh because it would just crack me up," Rees said.
Cohen, 58, and her boyfriend Derrick "Bo" Taylor, 56, both died at the Las Vegas concert. Taylor was a lieutenant in the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. He worked as a commander at the Ventura Conservation Camp, which houses inmates that help California fight wildfires.
Rees met Taylor last year, when he travelled to California to visit his mother. The two had dated on and off for several years.
Cohen was a woman who lived life to the fullest and made everyone around her feel their best, Rees said.
"I feel sorry for all of the people in the world who never got a chance to meet her," he said.
'HE'S OUR ONLY SON': A WISCONSIN FATHER MOURNS
Steven Berger, of Shorewood, Minnesota, travelled to Las Vegas as he had many times before with his friends, but this time they would celebrate his 44th birthday.
A fan of country music, Berger and his roommate along with four others were enjoying the Jason Aldean show near the Las Vegas strip when the rain of bullets began from the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel.
Mary Berger, 72, of Brookfield, Wisconsin, said her son's roommate called hours later to tell them Steven had been hit by gunfire and collapsed to the ground.
"He tried to go to him but they were trying to get people out of the way," Berger said. He wasn't sure where Steven wound up, she added.
Steven's father, Richard Berger, said the family was notified by the coroner's office in Las Vegas on Tuesday afternoon that he had died.
"He's our only son," Berger said choking up. "It's terrible. At least now we know. Now we got busy things to do with three grandchildren."
Mary Berger described her son, a father of three, as fun-loving with a serious side and a hard worker. He played basketball in high school and college before he started his career as a financial adviser after graduating from St. Olaf College in 1995.
'THIS IS AS TRAGIC AS IT GETS'
Christiana Duarte, 22, had just taken her first job, working in marketing for the Los Angeles Kings after graduating from the University of Arizona.
"It's just so tragic that this evil, evil man would do this, would just destroy the life of this beautiful young woman," said Danette Myers, a coworker of Duarte's father, Michael, at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office who is acting as a family spokeswoman. "She would've given so much to this world, and now that's been cut short."
She was the only daughter in a well-known Los Angeles family. Her father, Michael Duarte, is a deputy district attorney, and her older brother, also Michael, is a prospect for the Chicago White Sox baseball team, Myers said.
Ariel Romero, the younger Michael's girlfriend who was with Christiana at the concert, is still in the hospital recovering from her own gunshot wounds and still doesn't know Christiana is dead, Myers said.
"This is as tragic as it gets," Myers said.
CALIFORNIA WOMAN REMEMBERED AS 'THE PERKY ONE'
A one-time high school cheerleader who loved country music, Bailey Schweitzer of Bakersfield, California, went to the Route 91 Harvest Festival to see some of her favourite acts.
A day after the 20-year-old's death, co-workers at the software company where she worked held a vigil. Friends and colleagues gazed at white candles lit in her memory Monday night.
"No one could possibly have a bad day when Bailey was around," said a statement by Fred Brakeman, chief executive officer of Infinity Communications and Consulting, Inc., where Schweitzer was a receptionist.
"If you have ever called or visited our office, she was the perky one that helped direct you to the staff member you needed," he said.
Schweitzer graduated in 2015 from Centennial High School, where she was a member of the cheerleading squad. On social media she often posted photos from Bakersfield Speedway, a dirt auto-racing track that her family owns.
'EVERYBODY STARTED RUNNING FOR COVER AND THE GUY KEPT SHOOTING'
Thomas Day Jr. was a big country music fan, so there was no doubt he'd go to the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas, and that he'd take his whole family with him.
Day, 54, of Corona, California, was one of 59 people killed by a gunman who sprayed the concert with bullets from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
"He was just a fun-loving boy, a great family man who loved to spend time with his family," said Thomas Day Sr. who spoke on the phone, surrounded by his son's four grown children at his Las Vegas area home.
The elder Day, who lives near Las Vegas, said he was at home Sunday night when he received a frantic telephone call from his grandson and a granddaughter.
"They were standing right there and they said he and another young man there both took a bullet in the head," said Day, 75. "Everybody started running for cover and the guy kept shooting."
Day said none of his grandchildren were struck by bullets, but his son was. A friend rushed Thomas Day Jr. to a hospital but there was nothing doctors could do.
Struggling to speak, Day said his son loved his three daughters and son and his two grandchildren. The whole group jumped at the chance to drive to Las Vegas for the show.
"We always had fun together," he said.
A GRUELING SEARCH FOR A MISSING WOMAN, AND THEN THE WORST
Stacee Etcheber of Novato, California, was listed as missing for hours before her family found got the worst possible news: The mother of two was dead.
At the concert, her husband told her to hide, then to run, as he helped a concertgoer next to him who had been shot, said Al Etcheber, her brother-in-law.
Her husband, Vincent Etcheber, is a San Francisco police officer, and his training kicked in immediately when shots rang out, Al Etcheber said.
He told Stacee and the couple's three friends to protect themselves behind a nearby barrier. Then he told them to run, just before the second round of shots rang out, Al Etcheber said.
He has not heard from Stacee since, and she was not carrying an ID.
"It's been a grueling 15 hours with no information," Al Etcheber said Monday. On Tuesday morning, he posted on Facebook that the worst fears had been realized -- she was dead.
Stacee, 50, worked as a hairdresser. Al Etcheber called her a loving wife and great mother who was "tough as nails and just the salt of the earth."
NEWS FELT 'LIKE AN ATOMIC BOMB WENT OFF IN MY HEART'
Jennifer Topaz Irvine, a 42-year-old San Diego lawyer, was "bright, brilliant and could talk to millennials," her publicist Jay Jones said.
When Jones heard that Irvine was among those killed at the Las Vegas concert, he said it was "like an atomic bomb went off in my heart. I just got punched dead in the gut."
Kyle Kraska, a sports director for the CBS affiliate KFMB-TV in San Diego, was a close friend of Irvine's and posted on Facebook that she was singing and dancing to country music when she was shot in the head. Kraska -- who survived after being shot multiple times outside his home in 2015 by a house painter -- wrote that Irvine's death felt like "I have now been victimized by gun violence twice."
"When does it stop?!" he wrote.
HUSBAND LOSES HIGH SCHOOL SWEETHEART
Bobby Parks' wife was planning to throw him a 40th birthday party next week before Jenny Parks was killed at the concert, friend, Jessica Maddin said.
The couple who were high school sweethearts have two children. Jenny Parks was a kindergarten teacher for the Lancaster School District in California. Bobby Parks was shot in the arm and hand, Maddin said.
Maddin met Parks while working at 24 Hour Fitness. Later Parks would help Maddin who started a group, Jessica's Hope Project, that provides care packages to troops.
"It breaks my heart," Maddin said. "People go to concerts to have a good time, connect with others and escape the tragedies of this world."
'I CAN HEAR HER LAUGH ... RIGHT NOW'
Neysa Tonks' employer remembered her as a "great mother, colleague and friend."
The 46-year-old mother of three boys worked for the Las Vegas office of Technologent Inc., which offers technology solutions to companies. She was killed in the shooting rampage at the concert.
"Neysa has brought so much joy, fun and laughter to Technologent -- she will be greatly missed by all!" said a statement posted by the California-based company.
The company has set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds to help her family.
Tonks grew up in Utah. Her brother, AJ Yerage, told the CBS affiliate in Salt Lake City that he felt "lucky" that Tonks was a part of his life and that she loved making jokes.
"I can hear her laugh, her voice in my head and my heart right now," Yerage told KUTV.
FAMILY HOPED HOSPITAL MADE A MISTAKE
Andrea Castilla was so happy to be in Las Vegas celebrating her 28th birthday. She was holding hands with her sister while watching the band when they heard yells to "duck!" and the sound of gunshots, her aunt, Marina Parker, wrote on a GoFundMe memorial page to raise money for the funeral expenses.
Her boyfriend, sister and friend tried carrying her to safety while dodging bullets and managed to get her over a fence and to a nearby highway, where they flagged down a passing driver, who took them to a hospital in the back of his truck.
After she was admitted, they were told hours later that she had died, Parker wrote, but the hospital system listed her still as alive because she was confused with another patient.
"It has been tragic for our family with her dad still hoping it was a mistake and she's still alive," Parker wrote.
After the family provided her ID and photos she was confirmed to be among the dead.
"Our entire family is heartbroken," Parker wrote on her Facebook page.
STUDENTS MOURN LOSS OF BELOVED TEACHER
Kelsey Meadows, 28, loved children so she returned to her small hometown of Taft, in the eastern part of California, to teach at her alma mater, Taft Union High School, after earning her degree. Meadows was a regular substitute teacher at the school.
"Kelsey was smart, compassionate and kind. She had a sweet spirit and a love for children," Taft Union High School principal, Mary Alice Finn, said in a statement. "Words cannot adequately capture the sorrow felt by her students, colleagues and friends in learning of her passing."
The school district said grief counsellors were being made available to students and staff to "assist in coping with the incomprehensible loss."
Her brother, Brad Meadows, posted on his Facebook page that his sister had not been heard from since going to the music festival in Las Vegas. The California firefighter thanked everyone for helping them try to find her.
"So it is with an absolutely shattered heart that I let everyone know that Kelsey did not survive this tragic event," Meadows posted Tuesday. "Please keep my family in your thoughts and prayers as we try and move past this horrible time."
CALIFORNIA WOMAN LEARNS OF FAMILY TRAGEDY ON FACEBOOK
Maribel Ramirez had 30 minutes to go on her shift as a receptionist in Fontana, California, and decided to log onto Facebook. That's how she learned that her 26-year-old cousin, Melissa Ramirez, had been at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas.
That was about 4:30 p.m. Monday. No one could find Melissa in the confusion and chaos that followed the shootings.
"Nothing was confirmed, and we still had hope that she was alive," Maribel Ramirez told The Associated Press Tuesday.
Melissa's parents and siblings hurried to Las Vegas from Littlerock, California, after getting word of the shootings.
"They searched Monday ... searched everywhere," said another cousin, Fabiola Farnetti, 34, of Palmdale, California.
Around 5 a.m. Tuesday, Melissa's parents positively identified her body.
Farnetti said Melissa had been posting photos from the festival on Instagram and Snapchat. The 2015 graduate of California State University, Bakersfield, Melissa Ramirez worked as a member specialist for an auto insurance company.
"I'm sure she liked country music. I know she was really into music, period," Farnetti said. "I never once saw her in a bad mood or upset about anything. She was always positive. Her smile would just brighten up everyone's day."
WRESTLING COACH SLAIN, TEAM HELPING RAISE MONEY FOR SURVIVORS
Members of the Shippensburg Greyhound Wrestling team in southern Pennsylvania are raising money to help the family of coach Bill Wolfe, who is among the dead in Las Vegas.
A page established to accept donations for Wolfe's family quickly exceeded its goal of $10,000 after being shared hundreds of times on social media, and team booster club said it also was accepting checks to help with family with unexpected expenses.
Wolfe initially was listed as missing Monday until his death later was confirmed.
As an engineer, Wolfe spent several years working on major projects for a central Pennsylvania engineering firm. There, a colleague remembered him as being personable, easy to work with and a devoted Christian. Company owner Carl Bert said Wolfe was a close friend and "a class act in every way."
The Chambersburg Public Opinion reported that Wolfe and his wife Robyn were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary in Las Vegas.
'CHEERFUL YOUNG LADY WITH A WARM HEART'
Angela "Angie" Gomez died in the Las Vegas shooting, according to a statement from the Riverside Unified School District in California.
Gomez graduated from Riverside Poly High School in 2015, where she was a cheerleader. School staff remembered her as a "fun-loving young lady with a great sense of humour."
Gomez participated in the Riverside Children's Theater and was involved in choir. The school district said Gomez was a hard worker who "always challenged herself academically."
Friend Lupe Avila wrote in a tribute to Gomez online that she was a "cheerful young lady with a warm heart and loving spirit."
ELEMENTARY STUDENTS REMEMBER 'THE HUB' OF THEIR SCHOOL
Vista Fundamental Elementary in Simi Valley, California, is large as schools go with 681 kindergarteners through sixth graders and receptionist Susan Smith was in the centre of it all.
"She's the hub," Simi Valley Unified School District spokeswoman Jake Finch told The Associated Press Tuesday. "She supported the principal, taking care of the many things that happen in the school. She was patient. She was kind, especially with the kids. Even when it was chaotic she would smile."
Smith also was very patriotic, Finch added.
"Today (Tuesday) everyone at the school is wearing red, white and blue in her honour," Finch said.
Smith, 53, of Simi Valley, was office manager at Vista Elementary for the past three years. She had been with the district since 2001.
"She was a big country music fan," said Finch.
'BEAUTIFUL LIFE' CUTE SHORT IN LAS VEGAS
Priscilla Champagne on Tuesday described 42-year-old Rhonda LeRocque to reporters as a kindhearted woman with a "beautiful life."
LeRocque had attended the concert Sunday with her husband and their 6-year-old daughter. LeRocque's daughter was taken back to their hotel before the shooting occurred.
Champagne, who is LeRocque's mother, says LeRocque's husband, Jason, was next to her when she fell. He had thought she was ducking but she did not get up.
Champagne says LeRocque loved cooking, music and her family. She worked at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, office of the design company IDEO.
LeRocque was from Tewksbury, Massachusetts, a town located about 24 miles northwest of Boston.
'BEAUTIFUL SOUL' AMONG FOUR CANADIANS KILLED
Tara Roe Smith, who was 34 and lived in Okotoks, Alberta, was in Las Vegas with her husband, Zach, for a weekend getaway.
Her aunt, Val Rodgers, says Roe Smith, a mother of two, died when a gunman open fire on the crowd from the window of a hotel on Sunday night.
"She was a beautiful soul. She was a wonderful mother and our family is going to miss her dearly," Rodgers said when contacted at her home in Brandon, Manitoba, on Tuesday.
Two other women from Alberta -- Calla Medig and Jessica Klymchuk of Valleyview-- also died.
Medig, 28, who grew up in Jasper, had taken time off from her job at Moxie's restaurant in west Edmonton to attend the Route 91 Music Festival in Las Vegas, said her boss, Scott Collingwood.
"This had started to become an annual thing for her. I believe it was her third trip," Collingwood said.
When news broke about the shooting Sunday, Collingwood said he immediately called Medig, It went right to voice mail, and she didn't answer texts or Facebook messages.
"She was kind of a rock and, as of Thursday, she would have been our newest manager," Collingwood said. "A lot of us around here have super heavy hearts and we already miss her."
Klymchuk, 28, was a mother of four who lived the northwestern Alberta town of Valleyview, where she worked as an educational assistant, librarian and bus driver at an area Catholic school.
St. Stephen's School was planning a candlelight vigil for her on Tuesday evening. A family friend has set up a crowdfunding page to support Klymchuk's children.
"Jessica was an amazing mother who worked to provide her children with as best a life as she could," Noella Marie wrote on the GoFundMe page, adding Klymchuk was engaged to the "love of her life", Brent Irla.
Jordan McIldoon, 23, from Maple Ridge, B.C., was also killed.
A relative said McIldoon would have turned 24 on Friday and was a month shy of completing a course to qualify as a heavy-duty mechanic.
VETERAN REMEMBERED AS JOVIAL, HARD WORKING
Christopher Roybal, 28, was described as jovial and fun-loving, despite experiencing intense combat during four tours in the Middle East.
"He is a guy that could always put a smile on your face ... after all the stuff he had been through," said David Harman, who founded a company that owns the Colorado gym where Roybal worked.
Roybal, 28, worked at Crunch Fitness in Corona and Riverside, California, before he moved at the beginning of the year to help open franchises in Colorado Springs.
"He was the guy who if your car broke down in the middle of the night, you could call him and he would come help you," Harman said. "He is that guy who would find solutions, not report on problems."
Harman said Roybal served in Afghanistan and was coping with the loss of a friend who was killed by an improvised explosive device. Roybal adopted his friend's bomb-sniffing dog, Bella, but was devastated when she died of old age.
Roybal mentioned the dog in a July 18 Facebook post that also included a lengthy description of his experience getting shot at in combat.
He ends the post: "What's it like to be shot at? It's a nightmare no amount of drugs, no amount of therapy and no amount of drunk talks with your war veteran buddies will ever be able to escape. Cheers boys."
Roybal's co-worker, Robert Alexander, said he fell asleep with the television on Sunday night and awoke to the sound of gunshots coming from the speaker. When he remembered that Roybal had gone to Las Vegas for his birthday, he immediately called him but no one answered.
He heard Monday morning that his friend had been killed.
"There's been several times I've had to just walk out of the club and have a good cry, go get in my car," Alexander said. "And I just drove down the street this morning, just go have a good cry 'cause it's tough."
Alexander described Roybal as a "goofball" who was full of energy and had an infectious smile.
"I just had such a fun time any time I was able to interact with him. ... Chris had that attraction power. He had the ability to make people want to hang around him," Alexander said.
OFF-DUTY OFFICER COACHED KIDS, WAS RESPECTED LEADER
Off-duty Las Vegas police officer and youth football coach Charleston Hartfield was among those killed, two of his friends said.
Hartfield, 34, was known as a selfless, respected leader who brought out the best in his players, said Stan King, whose son played football for Hartfield.
Troy Rhett, another friend of Hartfield's through football, said he knew from social media that Hartfield was attending the Sunday concert. When he heard about the shooting, he texted him, hoping to learn Hartfield was safe. He never heard back, and Rhett said he learned through another friend Monday morning that Hartfield had died.
Hartfield, who also went by "Chuck" or "Charles" or even "Chucky Hart," was also a military veteran and leaves behind a son and a daughter, Rhett said.
Hartfield is also listed at author of a book titled "Memoirs of Public Servant" about his time as a Las Vegas police officer.
Associated Press Writers Corey R. Williams in Detroit; Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City; Julie Watson in San Diego, California; Rob Gillies in Toronto; Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Crystal Hill in Boston; Jason Dearen in Gainesville, Florida; Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee and Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, California contributed to this report. Babwin reported from Chicago; Reeves reported from Birmingham, Alabama.