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Pint for Las Vegas: Donating blood was all she could do



On typical Sundays UO senior Kaity McLain wakes up early and goes to church. She does her laundry, eats dinner with friends and catches up on her homework before bed. But Sunday, Oct. 1, was far from typical.

Around 10:30 p.m. Kaity set down with her accounting textbook and climbed into her bed in Earl Hall, where she’s lived and worked as a resident assistant for the last two years. Still tired from the excitement of Saturday’s football game at Autzen Stadium, Kaity went to bed early. But she couldn’t quite fall asleep — anticipation for the second week of classes buzzed through her head — so she pulled out her smartphone and decided to give her social media accounts one last scroll.

Earlier that day she’d tweeted a photo of a kitten dressed as a bat. She’d retweeted a gif of students doing the wave at the game.

Normal things.

Then she saw it — the first warning, popping up on her Twitter feed in vague, surreal words.

“Hi everyone, there’s an active shooter on the Strip so just be careful if you’re in the area,” it read.

Kaity was terrified.

The 20-year-old accounting major is from Las Vegas, Nevada — more accurately, she’s from the nearby suburb of Henderson. It’s a 15-minute drive from the Vegas Strip, where a 64-year-old white male gunman opened fire from a window in a 32nd-floor Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino hotel room into a crowd of 22,000 concert-goers. Below the barrel of the semi-automatic rifle the shooter had modified to shoot like a machine gun, the Route 91 Harvest Festival was in full swing. Four-hundred and eighty-nine were injured; 58 lost their lives.

At least 20 of Kaity’s former high school classmates from the nearby Basic Academy of International Studies were in the crowd. Kaity’s older brother Ian works Mandalay Bay’s ticket booth – and he was on shift that night.

“I was frantic,” she said. “I continuously kept refreshing the feeds, trying to get more information and was all-around uncertain about what was happening.”

The effects of the Oct. 1 Las Vegas shooting weren’t just localized to the city’s inhabitants. Trauma and loss spreads, leaping states in a rapid echo of the gunfire. Communities in California, Alaska, Minnesota, West Virginia and even Canada lost loved ones – the crippling effects of violence reached as far as UO’s community.  It set off a domino effect of patterned reactions in the media –  leaving some questioning the normalization of mass shootings. And it’s had a lasting effect on one student as she searched for a way to connect with her home in a time of tragedy.

It felt like an attack on everyone, Kaity said.

Far from home

Kaity began texting and tweeting, furiously trying to get ahold of her family and friends. She wanted any insight into the violence unfolding in her hometown, while rumors unfurled on her social media feed.

Her brother checked in via text; he and the rest of her family were safe at home. Kaity slept.

“When I woke up the next morning all of those reactions came back tenfold as I was trying to catch up on what happened,” she said. She worried for the friends she knew were at the festival.

Glued to her phone in search of updates, Kaity went to morning classes.

“Doing that helped me kinda stay grounded,” Kaity said. “And being around so many people, I thought, would be beneficial since I had a friend in every class that day.”

On Monday afternoon Kaity saw the news she feared since the first tweet hit her feed — this time, it came from a Facebook post. Her high school classmate, 20-year-old Quinton Robbins, was fatally shot in the attack.

“I just broke down and I spent all of Monday crying,” said Kaity.

A college student too, Robbins was attending the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“He graduated with me. We were the exact same age. He was going to school,” said Kaity. “So it could have been anybody on this campus.”

Nine-hundred miles away and unable to fly home, Kaity did whatever she could to be present for her friends and family, even if just by phone. She tried to study while friends prepared for Robbins’ funeral, but couldn’t focus.

“It’s been very hard to be so separated,” she said.

Silence

Other than her close friends and the Earl Hall residents who knew Kaity’s hometown had been victimized, nobody approached Kaity to ask if her family and loved ones were OK. None of her professors spoke about it. The university didn’t contact her.

“I’ve felt that a lot of people know I’m from Vegas and nobody’s bringing it up.”

Among the everyday chatter of campus life, silence about the Las Vegas shooting hung around Kaity like a vacuum.

“This was a record-setting mass murder, and it’s been silent up here, which I find very interesting — that people don’t feel the need or the shock to bring it up,” said Kaity.

Single-shooter mass shootings have been a regular presence in America since 1966, when a sniper killed 13 people and injured 30, shooting from a clock tower at the University of Texas, Austin.

The Las Vegas shooting comes exactly two years after nine people were fatally shot at nearby Umpqua Community College in Roseburg on Oct. 1, 2015. In Kaity’s first weeks as a freshman, that tragedy shook UO’s campus. “Everybody’s been impacted by it in some capacity,” she said.

It’s something that could still be impacting the students on this campus, according to Lori Shontz, journalism instructor at the UO School of Journalism and Communications. In 2015 she partnered with journalism professor Nicole Dahmen to examine how local journalists covered the UCC shooting in the Reporting Roseburg Project.

As part of continued research, Shontz is returning to communities in Oregon where shootings occurred and speaking with community members about their experiences since.

She says people who have been affected by a shooting often experience a “recurring trauma” when another mass shooting occurs.

“There was a school shooting in Clackamas not that long ago. We have students on this campus who were at UCC when that shooting happened,” said Shontz.

As of last fall, 144 of the students at UO were Nevada residents — Kaity is not the only one who’s been impacted. But it’s not easy for a large university to address every tragedy that may befall small populations of its students when they occur around the world almost daily, said UO spokesman Tobin Klinger. Often, the university depends on direct connections between staff, faculty and students to give support.

When responding directly, the university takes a case-by-case basis approach, said Klinger; there’s no one-size-fits-all response to natural disaster or mass shootings.

“There’s certain things that are more tied to higher education and a university environment,” said Klinger.

The university sent a campus-wide email after violence between protesters and white supremacists erupted in Charlottesville near the University of Virginia this summer, resulting in one death and several people injured. Later, UO directly contacted students whose homes or families had possibly been affected by Hurricane Harvey, Klinger said.

The university considers how a national or local tragedy could affect the ability of students to make it to campus or continue their education when determining whether to formally respond, Klinger said.

“What your policy and procedures would really focus on are accommodations that would relate to a student dealing with traumatic situations,” he said.

ASUO took a different approach. Two days after the Las Vegas shooting, ASUO leaders released a campus-wide email detailing where support and counseling services are available and encouraging students to donate blood.

“We must never assume how an event like this could affect a fellow student,” ASUO’s email read.

Kaity wants to see an improved support system at UO — and not just counseling services. “It doesn’t always help to talk to professionals,” Kaity said. She’d prefer a space where she could converse and find support among her peers, even among everyday interactions on campus

“This is the best place of any to have this kind of conversation because we’re bringing people from all over the nation. We had Umpqua,” said Kaity. “I feel like we have enough people here to really build a support system that could be beneficial for everyone.”

But Shontz said not everyone may want to talk — some people find their safety in silence.

The collective campus silence has Kaity worried that mass shootings are becoming normalized — and the campus desensitized.

Program Manager Casey Zerbe discusses the donation process with UO senior Katy McLain at Lane Blood Center in Eugene, Ore. on Oct. 10, 2017. (Sarah Northrop/Emerald)

Routine & response

Kaity watched as the Las Vegas community poured into the local blood banks to donate. The lines were televised, just like after the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida, when 49 lives were lost. The rush to donate was predictable.

“There is a routine. And when something does become a routine it becomes normal so there’s absolutely some sort of level of that,” said Shontz, referring to the media coverage of shootings.

From 2013 through Dec. 2, 2015 — just two years — the Mass Shooting Tracker on the Washington Post’s website shows 1,052 shootings with at least four people shot (not necessarily killed) in a public space. While mass shootings can become normalized or go unnoticed, at the same time they can become sensationalized, Shontz said.

“Neither of those help public discourse and neither of those help keep us safer,” said Shontz. “The media needs to examine what we do and say ‘do we need to change things?’”

Mass shootings can incite further violence, and research evidence shows the media response is partly to blame.

“There is an element among these high profile mass shooters who want the attention and want perhaps to be the deadliest — want perhaps to get the media attention,” said Shontz.

The UCC shooter wrote online about the media fame bestowed on mass murderers.

“It’s especially fueled when every news organization tweets a picture of the perpetrator along with the news story, when the headline is everywhere, when it’s on television 24/7,” said Shontz.

Kaity watched as violent details were disseminated in news coverage. The Las Vegas shooter’s face was on every major news site or broadcast. Videos of concert-goers running from spraying gunfire were uploaded to social media and played repeatedly on national television.

“It’s been difficult — hearing the gunshots has been very real, because I’ve been to a concert at that venue. I walked that street at least once or twice a year, every year for my entire life,” said Kaity.

She searched the videos for faces she knew, afraid to find them. But what affected her most, she said, was her connection with the spaces where the shooting occurred.

“You see the videos but you don’t really know the area unless you’ve been there — and that’s my home. So I know, exactly.”

All she could do

Kaity McLain, senior, smiles after donating blood at Lane Blood Center in Eugene, Ore. on Oct. 10, 2017. (Sarah Northrop/Emerald)

Kaity wanted to do something. At home, her friends and family waited days for appointments to donate blood.

“It’s really cool to see how the entire community has come together,” she said.

Casey Zerbe, program manager for public engagement at local donation center Lane Bloodworks, says that spikes in donations are common after tragedies and disasters. It gives communities a sense of control and action — especially when disaster hits close to home.

Left with little recourse, donating was the only thing Kaity could do to help — and connect — with her community. On Oct. 11, she added her pint of blood to hundreds more given at Lane Bloodworks in the wake of the shooting.  

One of 12 donor centers in the northwest, Lane Bloodworks is part of a network that spans north to Bellingham, Washington. The centers require about 800 donations a day to supply 900 hospitals.

They’ve been standing by to send supplies to Las Vegas since Oct. 2 — and they’ve seen about a 50 percent increase in donations.

“There was a huge response from the community,” said Zerbe. “We normally see about 45 to 50 donors a day. After Las Vegas we were seeing about 80-plus a day.”

Because blood banks are regulated by the FDA, they can share resources — and often do. Lane Bloodworks shared supplies during Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. But donation centers like Lane Bloodworks always need blood — not just after a tragedy.

A blood bag on a donor scale rocks back and forth to prevent coagulation. UO senior Katy McLain donates blood for victims of the Las Vegas Strip shooting at Lane Blood Center in Eugene, Ore. on Oct. 10, 2017. (Sarah Northrop/Emerald)

“We never know when a tragedy is going to occur, right?” said Zerbe. “That’s part of the problem; it’s the blood that’s already on the shelves that saves the lives. So, if you were to donate blood right now, it would have to be tested and processed and it wouldn’t be ready to be transfused to a patient for at least 24 hours.”

And students — in high school and college — make up a lion’s share of blood donations.

Students are so vital to blood donation. I really can’t emphasize it enough,” said Zerbe.

So far, the extra blood hasn’t been needed in Las Vegas.

Kaity is a regular blood donor, and she says it’s the least she can do.

“You think, ‘oh, it would never happen to people I know. It’ll never hit home. It really sucks for those people but I’m fine. The people I know are fine,’” said Kaity. “And then you’re like, ‘it’s not fine, and things need to change.’”


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Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz

Emily is the Emerald's digital managing editor. Former Snowden reporting intern at the Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune. Former editor-in-chief at the Commuter. Follow her on Twitter or send a tip to @sharkasaurusX.