SURREY — Kevin Sears found the strength to return to the scene of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The Surrey resident last week flew back to Las Vegas, where he was struck by a gunman’s bullet during the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival last October, and walked the concert grounds again.
He brought along a custom-made “Vegas Strong” hockey jersey he bought here, to wear to the Golden Knights’ hockey game against the Vancouver Canucks last Friday (Feb. 23).
Not long before the puck was dropped that night, Sears was invited by the home team to be honoured on the T-Mobile Arena’s big screen as the “Vegas Strong Hero of the Game,” with his wife, Colleen, by his side.
The crowd stood and cheered loudly after Sears was introduced.
“It was a little bit emotional, pretty crazy,” he told the Now-Leader on Wednesday.
“It went well,” Sears added. “You know what, it was kind of a deer-in-headlights moment for me, because I couldn’t see the crowd with all the cameras on me, the bright lights. All I could hear was the stadium erupting when they introduced me, all the cheering, but I couldn’t see anything.”
Even before the mass shooting on Oct. 1, Sears said he wanted to visit Vegas to see a game during the NHL team’s inaugural season.
“That was on my list of things to do this year, so I was able to do that,” he said.
Sears’ Golden Knights jersey includes the words “Never Forget” and is also decorated with the number 58 – the number of people killed by a shooter who fired at concert-goers from a 32nd-floor hotel room at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Sears, his wife and another couple were enjoying the music of country musician Jason Aldean when all hell broke loose.
“I dove on top of my wife and another lady nearby, and took a bullet,” he recalled. “It probably would have hit either Colleen or the other lady.”
Sears, among nearly 500 people injured that night, said a bullet “went from approximately three inches below my shoulder blade and then six inches out underneath my arm,” he told the Now-Leader soon after the incident.
Sears, a plumbing and heating contractor who lives in the Fraser Heights area, returned to work on Jan. 15.
“I’m doing OK now,” he explained.
After the shooting, Sears kept in touch with the nurse who treated him at a Vegas-area hospital, and had dinner with her and her husband the night before the hockey game.
“Colleen and I wanted to go have dinner with her and thank her for all she did for me that night,” he noted.
“It was her husband, who writes for a golf magazine, who contacted the Golden Knights and told them about me being in town for the game, and then the Knights contacted me. I was down there already.
“I had to think about it for a little bit, but then decided it wouldn’t be too overwhelming or anything like that,” Sears said when asked if he hesitated about being so honoured during the game. “We just went up to the castle there (in the stands) for a little chat and I was their ‘Vegas Strong’ hero of the night…. I think they do that every so often during the games there.”
Last Sunday, Sears attended a “survivors meet and greet photo shoot” in the Nevada desert.
“It was emotional talking to a few of the other survivors, and there was only one other lady there I talked to who was actually shot,” he said.
Last fall, Sears made a decision to never again return to Vegas, but plans changed.
“It was something we talked about a few months ago, when we said we weren’t ever going to go back there, but Colleen said we need to go back, so we went back with another couple who were with us back in October, at the concert,” Sears explained.
“That was some good support and we did some healing, at the healing garden there, and went to the venue and walked around that area to retrace our steps that night, from where the other three escaped from the concert. Just flying into the airport, seeing the Strip and seeing the Mandalay Bay hotel where the shooter was, that was pretty tense.”