3 years later, answers to incomprehensible Route 91 massacre still elude us

Local News

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Today marks exactly three years since a lone gunman opened fire on a packed outdoor concert venue in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and wounding hundreds more.

Most of the people attending the Route 91 Festival were from California or Nevada and dozens of them were from Kern County. Four local people were killed that night.

And three years later, we still try to comprehend the literal and psychological enormity.

There’s something in our makeup that compels us to try to make sense of things.

There has to be a reason for the triumphs and especially the tragedies in our lives, some karmic logic beyond our understanding.

But some things just don’t make sense, as hard as we might try to analyze, as earnestly as we might pray. Life is not fair, and neither is death.

Bailey Schweitzer of Bakersfield didn’t deserve to die on Oct. 1, 2017, at the age of 20, one person in a crowd of more than 22,000. She deserved life and happiness and the chance to navigate the ups and downs of this world like the rest of us.

54-year-old Jack Beaton of Bakersfield died a hero, in the most literal sense of the word, physically shielding his wife from the gunfire. He didn’t deserve what happened to him that night.

Neither did 55-year-old loan processor Victor Link, a former resident of Shafter, or Taft school teacher Kelsey Meadows, just 28.

Their deaths, like all 58 of the deaths that night — two more died this year, most likely from the wounds they suffered that night — mock our need for justice and order and sense.

The survivors ask the why questions as fervently as the families of the lost. Those who escaped carry psychological wounds — post traumatic stress they may never recover from. Some still can’t talk about it. For others, talking helps. Because maybe, from those words, a kind of understanding might somehow emerge.

For Katie Williford, it is the vague notion that her group of eight’s beer can toast to her father, “Chief” Hacker, who died in 2008, kept them safe amid the carnage. She and her husband Steve Williford clutched each other under a table for 20 minutes as the chaos unfolded around them.

Oct. 1 was Katie’s father’s birthday. She and her friends celebrated his memory with a clink of cans — and minutes later the shooting began. Today she is even more determined to carry on without pause or regret.

“I just live my every day like I can, like it’s my last day,” she said. “That’s what I just do. Just go and don’t live in fear. Keep on truckin’ is what I tell myself.”

Looking back on those events of Oct. 1, 2017, serves little purpose now, though. Survivors survive best when they look ahead and, as best they can, replace guilt and despair with hope.

Three scholarships honoring three of the local people killed at the Route 91 concert continue to be awarded each year.

Centennial High School, Bailey Schweitzer’s alma mater, awards an annual $500 scholarship in her name to one student; Kern Valley High School, where Jack Beaton went to school, gives one student a $500 scholarship in his name, and Taft High School has been issuing an annual scholarship as a tribute to Taft native Kelsey Meadows, who worked as a substitute teacher at the school.

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