LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Healing from the trauma of the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting took an interesting turn for Tommy and Michelle Delgado. Call it a journey of growth and gratitude.
The Henderson couple attended every day of the 2017 festival, when on Oct. 1 a gunman killed 60 people and wounded more than 400 more.
“The whole weekend. We never missed a day,” Michelle Delgado recalls.
She and husband Tommy were celebrating their fourth year of marriage, and the festival was an annual stop for their anniversary.
“We would stay for the weekend, meet up with friends, and then Sunday,” Michelle remembers.
Says Tommy: “That year, [Jason] Aldean was there on Sunday.”
The 2017 festival, Michelle says, was turning out to be special, especially Sunday. “That was probably, honestly, one of the best Sundays of Route 91.”
Until it wasn’t. Shots rang out.
“I knew instantly, before Jason Aldean was even rushed off the stage,. that it sounded like shots fired,” Michelle says.
Tommy and Michelle Delgado dropped to the ground. Around them chaos. Then they stood. Then they ran.
Michelle remembers thinking, “If this is gonna happen, something bad is going to happen, I’m gonna die trying to get home to my kids.”
They found themselves in the middle of the deadliest mass shooting by an individual in United States history.
But for Tommy and Michelle, the story isn’t about the shooting; it’s more about every day since the shooting.
“I’m very happy and fortunate I was given a second chance, and I’ve tried to make the most since I’ve had it,” Tommy Delgado says.
Michelle echoes the sentiment. They feel a survivors’ obligation, and they didn’t just survive. They have thrived, appreciating each day, seeking growth and living as fully as they can, appreciating their path to a second chance.
For Michelle, surviving means continually asking herself, “Why am I here? Why do I keep getting out of these situations? And, for me, I always look at it like God has something planned for me on this earth and I need to make the best of it.”
Psychologists call it post-traumatic growth — positive, even transformative change, after trauma.
“Therapy and counseling really does help, especially in those traumatic situations,” Michelle says.
But they found they needed to act, too, to give back to help them heal.
It meant tangible steps, like first thanking police who saved so many that deadly October night.
Tommy, a former police officer, and Michelle went to the Strip in the days after the shooting to pass out water and food to officers working overtime.
“Thanked them for everything they did,” Tommy says. “For me, law enforcement means a lot, I have a past in law enforcement, so doing that I was able to give back … that helped me kind of past it.”
Another event they participated in was a 5K run fundraiser for Oct. 1 shooting survivors.
“One thing that was really great, that we did after the fact, was the 5K for Oct. 1,” Michelle says, “and we were each give a name and I ran for Hannah and I still remember that.”
Fitness provided both with a cathartic outlet.
Says Tommy: “I never really looked at it as a fitness thing. For me, it was more of a mental thing.”
Each Oct. 1, the two stay on the fitness path.
“We do an Oct. 1 workout every year, and it’s humbling, it’s hard for me, it’s emotional,” Michelle says. “It means a lot.”
Their growth has seen Michelle expand her surgical sales career and Tommy branch out into teaching. It also has been relishing their roles as parents to their two daughters. Being mom and dad might be the most important aspect of their growth and gratitude.
“I’m here, I’m here with my family,” Tommy says. “And I think about the 58 families that lost a loved one, and all the others hundred of people that were injured.
“For me, it just became about the girls, about our daughters, just being there, and doing everything I could to make their lives better.”
Michelle Delgado says now she turns all her “have tos” into “get tos.” It’s a change in mentality that reflects the appreciation that she and Tommy have for the past five years and beyond.