How I’m Going to Talk About the Vegas Shooting

Jason Aldean was wrapping up his set at the Vegas weekend show when the shots rang out. From the 32nd floor of the hotel across the street, a deranged sniper was raining down automatic fire on the concert goers. When the shooting was over, 58 people and the shooter were dead.

And no one knows why. Investigators can’t find a note, anything on a website, or anything from his past that can be pointed to as the thing that set him off. Even if we did find it, I’m not sure it would help. One of the things that makes senseless acts of violence so hard to understand is they are, well, senseless.

Now, we’re left with the aftermath. What do we say? How do we talk about this? Do we talk about how we always have to be on guard and know our surroundings? Do we talk about how there are bad people in the world, and we have to always be wary of those people around us?

Perhaps. I guess we’ll always have to teach our children not to trust strangers.

But that’s not how I choose to tell this story.

Sonny Melton was, for all we can tell, a good old Tennessee boy. He had grown up in a small town and loved his family and his friends. He had just gotten married last year and was in Vegas with his new bride. Then, he heard the shots. He saw people falling around him, wounded and dead. In that moment, he realized his wife was in danger, and he put his body between her and the bullets as they tried to get out. He was killed. She lived. Sonny died protecting his wife.

Sonny is a hero, and that’s the story I’ll tell. I’ll tell the story that in the moment that all hell broke loose, Sonny made the choice that his wife’s life was more important than his, and he did what every hero does. He stood up and took the lead. I’ll tell the story about Sonny and countless others who stopped and treated wounded strangers and the doctors and nurses who worked around the clock treating the victims as they were brought into the hospital. I’m going to talk about security guards who, even when they realized they were being targeted first, made sure people found their way to safety.

I’m going to tell the stories about people who, when the worst moment of their lives happened, found it within themselves to be brave and compassionate. They found a way to be human in an inhuman moment.

That’s the story I’ll tell. I’ll tell it over and over again to the point that when I’m ever caught in the worst moment ever, I’ll know what to do. I’ll know how to be human.

First Response

A few years ago, I was the chaplain for the Brentwood Police and Fire Departments. After riding with these officers and firefighters and having seen them in action up close, I have nothing but respect for the courage these men and women find to do these jobs every day. Did you know most arrests are made during a routine traffic stop? An officer will pull a driver over for speeding, then find themselves face to face with a wanted felon. (Now you know why police officers are so edgy when they approach your car.) As for firefighters, well, I used to the tell them, “Anyone who gets dressed up to run into a burning house, isn’t right…”

But if I was in trouble, I wouldn’t want anyone else coming.

That’s the thing—these first responders never know what’s next. They train a lot, and they train for every conceivable situation, but they never know, from one minute to the next, what kind of situation they’ll find themselves in. If something’s happening, and they’re the closest unit, they’ll get the call. The police officers and firefighters can be anywhere in the city in a matter of minutes, and sometimes, it’s the minutes that save lives.

This is another reason I love the local church. (Hang with me. This is going to make sense.) You see, it’s the patrol car or the fire station nearest the problem that gets the call to respond first. Other units may be required, but the first unit is the closest unit. Who can get there first and offer assistance?

One of the great things about the local church—and this is one of the geniuses of its design—is that a local church is closest to the pain. We’re the closest ones to the child struggling with identity, closest to a young marriage trying to figure it out, and closest to family dealing with a tough diagnosis; we’re the closest ones to the situation. We can get there fast and offer any aid that might be needed. Christ has placed His people right in the middle of all of the pain in the world so that, if needed, we would get the call and get there first.

That means we need a lot of training in the church (we call this discipleship) to prepare for any and all scenarios. We need to be ready to get there in minutes because, well, as we know, minutes save lives.