'They deserve our help': In rampage's wake, Vegas comes together

Jesse Jorgensen, his wife Vonya and son Rhett and their friend Cassidy Ziegler outside Studio 21 Tattoos.

LAS  VEGAS – Around midafternoon Tuesday, Jesse Jorgensen and his wife, Vonya, came with their 2-month-old son and a friend, Cassidy Ziegler, into the tattoo shop a few miles from The Strip.

It had been a draining few days. The Jorgensens had a lot of close friends at the concert Sunday; some were injured in the shooting rampage. Ziegler said she finally broke down Monday night after reading a Facebook post from a police officer who had been at the scene.

Camera icon Aubrey Whelan / Staff
Austin Spencer, the owner of Studio 21 tattoos, who designed the charity tattoo.

The trio know their hometown’s reputation — the way it sometimes gets boiled down to casinos, and nothing else. There is a community here, they said, and it was coming together in every way it knew how. This visit was one way.

On Monday, Austin Spencer, the shop owner, had posted on Instagram a  new tattoo design, one he had been fiddling with in the hours after the shootings. An outline of the state of Nevada, with a heart where Las Vegas should be. His thought: selling them for charity — $50 apiece, with all proceeds going to the city victims’ fund.

In barely five hours, he had raised $1,100 — and now more customers were streaming through the door.

“The blood banks were backed up,” Ziegler said, “so we’re doing this.”

As investigators searched Tuesday for a motive behind Stephen Paddock’s rampage, and tried to identify the last of more than 500 killed or wounded, Las Vegas residents continued to pick up the pieces and try to find ways to restore — if not fortify — their community.

Scores waited to give blood, standing in lines for hours as volunteers plied them with donated pizzas and sticky buns.

“The injured, they came to our city to have fun,” said one donor, Lauren Stephens, 17, a Vegas native and freshman at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “And they deserve our help.”

Camera icon Aubrey Whelan / Staff
Tattooist Nick Bones with Jesse Jorgensen and the finished product.

Others poured money into a victims’ fund that swelled into the millions. And medical personnel like Syed Saquib continued to treat the wounded.

“It’s a testament to our community here, and the best of humanity,” said Saquib, a  trauma surgeon at Las Vegas’ University Medical Center.

He was on duty when the first of what would be 104 shooting victims came through the door Sunday night. On Tuesday morning, he sat in a featureless hospital waiting room, having slept only a few hours since the attack, trying not to dwell on the enormity of it.

“I am aware of the statistics; I’ve seen the video footage,” Saquib said as nurses and doctors padded through the halls and television crews clustered outside. “But I have to be focused on the moment. I have to put that aside.”

Spencer, the tattoo artist, didn’t plan his role in helping people cope. It happened Monday afternoon, when three people walked into his shop. They had been longtime clients of the family-owned parlor, Studio21 Tattoo, and their visits had become something of an October tradition: a weekend at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, and then a tattoo from Spencer.

But, like so many other things, those plans were scrambled by the gunman on the 32nd floor at Mandalay Bay. They had survived, they told Spencer, by hiding under the stage. They missed what had been their Monday morning appointment at his shop; he feared the worst. Then they showed up three hours late, dazed, looking as if they didn’t know where else to go.

They told him about their night; he showed them the design he drew.

“And they were like, Yeah, let’s just get that,” Spencer said.

He posted the tattoos on Instagram at 4 p.m. Monday and said that anyone who wanted one could come by. By 9 p.m., he had a few dozen takers.

Some were longtime friends; others he’d never seen before. Some had been at the concert; others had simply been devastated by the news and unsure what to do.  Sometimes, he said, the clients shared their stories.

Some stayed so quiet that the owner thought they must have been there.

“No one knows what to do,” said Spencer, whose family moved to Vegas from Houston when he was a boy, “so they are trying to do anything they know.”

He was supposed to be at the concert Sunday night, he said. He and his girlfriend had two tickets to the country-music festival, but decided at the last minute to travel out of town. She gave the tickets to a coworker and his girlfriend, who was pulled off a fence while trying to escape in the panicked moments after the shooting started, fell, and was impaled on a fence pole. She was released from the hospital Monday, he said.

Spencer had heard so many stories like that by Tuesday morning — from the client who’s a doctor in a local emergency room, from friends who’d been to the concert or knew someone who had, from coworkers and fellow small-business owners.

Camera icon Aubrey Whelan / Staff
Tattooist Nick Bones with Jesse Jorgensen.

On Tuesday, Jorgensen, who works at the Bally’s casino, went to get his Nevada tattoo first — behind his left ear. He shook hands with the tattooist, Nick Bones, who carefully measured out the ink.

“How are you?” Jorgensen asked.

“How are YOU?” Bones countered.

Jorgensen heaved a sigh. “I’m doing OK,” he replied.

And then he laid down to get his tattoo.