I visited Las Vegas earlier this year to try and photograph Spring Break, which coincided with St. Patrick’s Day. I found it enjoyable and was overwhelmed by the sense of joy that the town exhaled. Vegas felt warm and very alive to me.
Coming back on Oct. 2, the tone of the town had changed. Everything was still very raw. Fifty-eight people had been murdered less than 24 hours before and I felt it. From the airport onwards, every Uber driver I have traveled with had a story of who they picked up. One guy was driving passed the scene and had bullets rain down near his car. Other drivers were simply silent. Late on Oct. 4, I traveled in a taxi where the driver said nothing. He just listened to “A River Flows In You” by Robin Meloy Goldsby.” It was powerful and emotional music, perfect for mourning and keeping your thoughts to yourself.
From the Uber drivers to the hotel concierge to the people at the vigils, there has been a real sadness and a real sense of loss. People’s friends, partners, family members have died or been injured, physically and psychologically.
I have been staying at a hotel that overlooks the airport and the scene of the crime. It is attached to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Every day, I look out of the window at the glorious Vegas sunrise and then see the park with all the chairs and camping equipment still out on the grass. It is very eerie. All those people’s belongings, most of which I imagine will never be reclaimed.
Over the last day or two, I have felt a surge in energy—something that I felt very strongly in Manchester, where I covered the terrorist attack in May. Vegas is a proud town. It isn’t that big in size, but just like Manchester I feel it is big in heart.
I’m overwhelmed by the strength of character people have shown. It is inspiring to see how they have rallied as a community—from kids to grandparents, cops to bartenders. Although this is such a tragedy, the only positive that comes from it is that the community and friendships in Vegas will become even stronger than they already are. Everyone has come together to support and help heal each other.
Matt Stuart is a street photographer represented by Magnum Photos and based in London. Follow him on Instagram @mattu1.
Michelle Molloy, who edited this photo essay, is a senior photo editor at TIME.
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