In a time when ‘it’s so dangerous to live,’ SUU memorializes victims of Las Vegas shooting

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Southern Utah University student, Hannah Moyer of Las Vegas (left), gets a hug from Josie Burgess of Las Vegas, (right) during a candle light vigil for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting, on the SUU campus in Cedar City, Wednesday, October 4, 2017.

Cedar City • “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

That’s the quote Johnny MacLean read to 350 students, faculty and staffers Wednesday evening at Southern Utah University in honor of the victims of the Las Vegas shooting and in support of their friends and family.

It’s difficult to fathom the violence of Sunday night, said MacLean, co-chairman of the campus Care and Support Team (CAST).

“We live in a time that can seem dark,” he said. “Let’s suspend the cursing right now and light a candle.”

A choir sang “America the Beautiful” along with those gathered on the school’s business quad as a bright blue sky faded with the day.

Omar Maravilla, a 19-year-old student, said three of his friends were wounded at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival as bullets strafed the crowd of 22,000 from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.

One of them, a longtime friend named Sam, died.

“It’s real. I lost a friend,” Maravilla said in an interview Wednesday. “You ask yourself why, but you can’t make sense of it.”

Maravilla found out Monday morning that three of his friends were missing. He worried all day and didn’t get word of Sam’s fate until that evening.

“I was angry,” he said. “The worry went away, and I was filled with anger.”

His other injured friends are recovering, he said.

A Cedar City mother of three, Heather Warino Alvardo, was fatally shot. Two SUU students, Chanel LaCroix and Liz Rinehart, were injured but are reportedly recovering.

Dani Lynch, 20, is from Las Vegas and has been a student at SUU for three years. Her brother was on the Strip at the time of the shooting but was not at the concert.

“My first thing was, Is my brother OK?” she said upon hearing the news of the mass shooting.

The notion that the most horrific shooting in recent U.S. history was in her hometown gave her pause.

“There are shootings all the time, but nothing compared to this,” she said. “It’s so dangerous to live these days.”

Curt Hill, the school’s director of counseling and psychological services, told the students that grief over losing a friend or loved one is a long process. He advised them to take the time necessary to heal and to make sure that they talk about their feelings with people they trust.

He also urged students to cut back on how much news they take in concerning the Las Vegas shooting and to concentrate on positive aspects of their lives.

“I’m pledging to find beauty in life,” he said. “I’m hoping you can all make the same pledge, too.”

In the vigil that included attendees singing “Stand By Me” (Oh, I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid/Just as long as you stand by me), Mindy Benson, an SUU vice president, urged the students to come together.

“We need dialogue, and we need to understand each other,” she said. “Take care of each other, and find out what grieving means to you.”

About 800 SUU students are from Nevada — many of them from the Las Vegas area, said Jayci Bash, co-chairwoman of CAST.

“This is a gathering of our community to show support to those who have been affected,” she said. “A lot of students are from that area. We all have friends and family in Las Vegas.”

SUU and Cedar City are one close-knit community, Bash explained. “We really have a commitment to each other,” she said. “It’s a community that cares in real active ways.”

But Bash said she was disturbed that the shooter, Stephen Paddock, lived in nearby Mesquite, Nev. No one in this country is immune from this kind of violence, she added.

“We had a vigil here for the Orlando shooting in hopes we wouldn’t be doing it again,” she said. “And here we are again, much closer to home.”