Survivors of Concert Violence Speak Out3 de abril, 2018
Note: This article contains descriptions of violence and trauma that some readers may find disturbing.
People go to concerts in order to live. We trek to nightclubs to absorb waves of rhythm that wash away the week’s worries. We spend entire paychecks on festival passes to stand in a massive crowd of strangers and feel bigger than ourselves. If only for a moment, there’s simply the music, and an enveloping sense of community. Perhaps it is this inherent vulnerability—and the joy that comes with it—that has led terrorists to target such gatherings across the last three years. Beyond destroying innocent lives, these attacks intend to dismantle the very idea of music as a safe haven.
Since November 2015, four music events around the world have been transformed into massacres. First, there was the city-wide terrorist attack in Paris that reached its bullet-strewn denouement at an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the famed Bataclan theater. Seven months later, a gay club in Orlando, Florida called Pulse became a nightmare when a shooter opened fire during a Latin night celebration. On May 22, 2017, a suicide bomber turned an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England into a site of chaos and horror. Then, last October, a lone gunman concealed high in the Las Vegas sky took aim at attendees of the Route 91 Harvest country music festival. Across all four events, a total of 219 lives were lost, and those who made it out alive were suddenly faced with a horrifying new reality in which unspeakable violence is possible anywhere.
Lives are altered in countless ways after these tragedies, including how survivors interact with and think about music itself. Because ultimately, music united these people of various ages, races, and backgrounds, and the significance of that cannot be overlooked. In their own words, seven individuals who attended these events consider how their relationship with music has changed.
A friend gifted photographer David Fritz Goeppinger, 26, tickets to the November 2015 Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan. As reported in The New York Times, Goeppinger and a dozen or so others were held hostage by terrorists for more than two hours on the venue’s second floor balcony.
The first music I was able to listen to after the attack was jazz. A few months later, I could listen to Eagles of Death Metal. It was very painful to hear, all rock music is. But Eagles of Death Metal is worse. All my memories are with the tracks. Jazz music is cathartic. There’s nothing violent about jazz for me.
After the attack, I took a two month break from concerts. For the first month, I was still stressed-out, with a lot of PTSD. In the second month, I was full of anger. That first time I went to a concert again was very complicated because of the anxiety. We saw [Swedish metal band] Ghost. When we got to the security guy who checks your bag, I said, “I was at the Bataclan two months ago, you can search anything on me.”
When I entered the venue, I looked for the map of the place to find everything in my field of view. It’s not one thing that triggers me. The whole experience was a trigger. It’s like everyone can be a threat. Even though I was taking Atarax [an anxiety medicine], it was so stressful because I did not know all the people around me. I was with my fiancée and some friends, but I felt alone. When the show started, it was like jumping in a cold pool, because [on the surface] it was similar to the Bataclan attack: We drink some beer before, we wait for the show, we talk—it’s all the same. But after that, I was like, “OK, nothing happened.” So I went to another one, and another one, and so on.
Today, I am more confident, but I never go to concerts alone. I’m always with my fiancée or some friends, even friends who were taken hostage with me at the Bataclan attack. I didn’t know my friend Stéphane before the attack, but since that night we are like brothers, and we go to all sorts of concerts together: rap, metal, rock, everything. Just never alone.
I had been to many concerts before the Bataclan, maybe 100, but I don’t love concerts the same way anymore. I still like music, but it’s not the same. Recently, I went to this concert by the French rock band Indochine at Paris’ AccorHotels Arena. At one point during the show, the singer sang, “Quand je suis cerné/Je rêve d’un été français,” or, “When I’m surrounded/I dream of French summer.” When I was taken hostage at the Bataclan, my first thoughts were of the French sea. When I heard that lyric I began to cry, because it was so powerful to hear something so in agreement with my thoughts. It’s more cathartic that I had to wait two and a half years to have this wonderful sensation that I am in communion with the sound.
During the Bataclan attack, Fred Dewilde found himself playing dead on the bloodied floor of the concert hall, clutching the hand of a wounded young stranger. A graphic designer by day and a rock’n’roll fan by night, he published Mon Bataclan: Vivre encore, a graphic novel about his experience during the terrorist attack, in 2016.
I liked to be surprised at concerts before, but that is not my favorite thing now. Knowing the music of the person who is playing is a good thing for my mind, because I know that’s how the show is going to be. And going to a place I know is better; I can’t imagine being at a show in a place that I absolutely don’t know. It took me a year to go back to a concert again.
The attack changed my way of being, so it changed my way of loving music. My problem with music now is that I can’t stand to concentrate enough. I’ve lost the capacity to sit by myself and listen to music like I did before. I do put music on at home and I feel really at ease there, or inside friends’ homes, but outside it’s always a problem.
And when I’m at a show, I can’t stay in the same place for the entire concert. Sitting in a chair at a concert is impossible for me. Normally I am at ease everywhere, but now I know fright that I didn’t know before. The state I’m in now is worse than immediately after the Bataclan because, for more than two years now, I’ve got to carry this every day. It’s in my mind, in my head, in my dreams. I do not sleep normally often, and I’m exhausted.
I spent two hours in hell, covered in the blood of a man I don’t know, and it saved my life. I was covered by the pieces of the man who exploded himself in the room. How can you deal with that and look at life like you did before? To be pleased by looking at a small bird in a tree? It’s what I’m trying to find. The razorblade I’m on is a line, and I know I can fall on each side.
I am a survivor and I am alive, so I’ve got to take this second chance. But what is my future? Every day I am fighting to live a normal life. I’ve got three children, a wife, they keep me alive. Many times I have thought I’d rather be dead this night than be alive with all this the rest of my life. I’m too young to die, but I’m also too young to live with this all the time.
I live in a small, seaside town in the Northeast of England called Cleethorpes, and going to concerts is my favorite thing to do. You grow up idolizing these people on the internet, and then they are actually there in front of you. I’ve loved Ariana Grande since I was 11, and when I got tickets to see her for the first time, in 2015, I cried my eyes out I was so excited.
For last year’s show, I went on my own because I love her so much, and my friends were like, “I can’t afford it right now.” Manchester is just over two hours away from us, so my mum drove me. I took the day off college, and I was so excited to just chill out and have some fun. I remember Ariana did “Moonlight,” and it made me cry because it was so good. At that moment I remember thinking, “I can’t wait to get in the car and tell my mom how much I enjoyed that song.” I never did.
As the show ended, Ariana went offstage—she actually went offstage two minutes late, which I think made all the difference—and I was in my seat ready to go, and that’s when it all happened. The lights came on and [the bomb] went off. You knew instantly what had happened.
I saw Little Mix at the Sheffield Arena a few months later, and that was very difficult. The security was insane. My bag didn’t even get searched at the original Ariana show, but at Little Mix you couldn’t even get onto arena grounds without being searched. It’s definitely reassuring. I don’t have any worries during the shows now, it’s just the leaving, when the lights come on.
On June 12, 2016, Brandon Wolf, 29, was at Pulse nightclub in Orlando Florida. His friends, Christopher Andrew Leinonen and Juan Ramon Guerrero, were among the 49 people who lost their lives that night. Wolf is the vice president of the Dru Project, a non-profit founded in the wake of Pulse that advocates for LGBTQIA education and equality.
I had a little group of friends, and we almost were like “90210”—we all lived in the same apartment complex and ate and traveled and did everything together. We had a regular routine where, one or two nights a week, we would go out and grab drinks. It was typically pretty low key, and we usually left before everybody else did. Going to the club was our release from work, just a few hours to unwind and get our minds off life.
Pulse was a place where I could do all of those things and also be myself and feel safe. It’s not like that at just any nightclub. There’s lot of options in Orlando, but Pulse was one we felt comfortable at. Often the vibe was almost celebratory. We’re always celebrating pride, because it’s a small community, so whenever we get to be around each other it’s lots of fun.
I have been back to clubs many times since Pulse. The first time that I went back, after about a week, I didn’t really know what to feel. I felt afraid, I felt sad. I went through a range of emotions, all based on things around Pulse, like missing my friends and wondering what it would be like if they were there with me, worrying that something like that could happen again. And then there was a feeling of defiance knowing that somebody wants me to be afraid and to stay inside and suffer from PTSD and survivor’s guilt. So to be able to go out and do my usual thing felt liberating.
Since I was a kid I have always had little things that I do to keep myself calm while getting ready to go out, so I can save up my energy, because social experiences drain me a bit. That has continued since Pulse, but the change is that once I’m there, I’m more vigilant and more attuned to what is happening around me. Subconsciously, I probably look for exits first. I feel a need to have an escape route. I’m comfortable with a crowd, I just need to be on the edges. Also, I don’t get out-of-control anymore. If there’s drinking involved, I’m always the one monitoring what I’m doing. If I start to have two drinks, I’m like, “I better slow down.” I need to feel like I’m the one who can handle it if something goes wrong.
There are changes that have taken place at clubs. For instance, Southern Nights, another gay and lesbian nightclub, put security guards with wands outside, which they did not have before. But I have not seen an increase in police presence or security inside of clubs, which is a cause for concern. I’ve never heard anybody question or complain about having security at the club, especially after Pulse. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Those clubs that have chosen not to expand security usually don’t get a great response from the community.
There’s a lot of music that I can’t listen to anymore, because it makes me think of the brothers I lost, and then it transports me back, and I’m thinking about my piece in all of it. This journalist once asked me if I ever feel at fault for my friends being at Pulse, and my honest answer was yes. And that’s why music and dancing and going out are sometimes painful, because I still carry that feeling that they wouldn’t have been there if not for me. That part has never gotten easier.
But I have this obligation to show the world that we are bigger than that hatred, that we can rise above it. As survivors, it’s important that we set a tone of positivity. In the face of it all, we still have to be strong and courageous and live our lives to the fullest.
Patience Carter, 21, was on vacation in Orlando with her friends Tiara Parker and Akyra Murray when the three women decided to go dancing at Pulse. Carter and Murray initially escaped, before returning to save Parker. The trio found themselvesin the club’s bathroom, where Carter was shot in both legs, Parker was shot in the stomach, and 18-year-old Murray was killed.
I was excited about going to Pulse because it was my first time in a gay nightclub. I wanted to see all the drag queens, the makeup, the hair, the energy. That’s what I was going for, so I did my hair and makeup extra. When I walked into Pulse, it was everything that I was picturing times 10. In the back of my head, I was like, “Man, I can’t wait to come back here again and again.”
Since Pulse, I have definitely been back to clubs, but I have to fight the fear that something’s going to happen again. It’s this internal conflict I’m always having with myself: I want to be 21 years old, I want to live life, I can’t let the fear win. A lot of times we complicate things by wondering, “How am I going to do this?” You just have to do it. I am just powering through my fear.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to feel as happy as I was in the beginning of the night at Pulse. I let myself have so much fun to the point where I was oblivious to everything going on. I let myself be super vulnerable. Whenever I go places now, I do not want to stay till the end. At Pulse, I was having a great time, enjoying the entire night, and the worst thing happened when I was most vulnerable and wanted to go home.
When it comes to the music itself, no matter if I’m listening in the house or at a club, if something comes on that sounds similar to a gunshot, my heart stops. It shocks my body, my whole sense of security. I don’t ever think that this will be something that I can fully overcome. When that happens, I’m not like, “Oh my god, stop the music!” I’ve learned to suppress those outbursts and just have a moment with myself where I’m basically just reaffirming my safety. I don’t want to ruin everybody’s fun. And if I let myself become overwhelmed, I’m never going to live the life that I feel was destined for me.
Being in a space where there’s other people, in the back of my head I’m always wondering, “What if somebody just decides to open fire?” It wasn’t even so much Pulse that made me never want to go to concerts and public events anymore, it was the Las Vegas shooting. After that, I don’t want to do any outdoor events. If you’re indoors, there may be a chance that somebody at the door is doing their job and that the area is secure. But when you’re outside, there’s so many other factors that can happen. When you think about possible bombs, or somebody in a window that’s 30 feet away that wants to make a statement about America—when you’re outside, the world can literally be against you.
Every year, 42-year-old Steve Munoz, his wife Teresa, and a group of friends travel to Las Vegas from their home in Renton, Washington for a pre-season NHL game. In 2017, the group decided to attend the Vegas country music festival Route 91 Harvest instead. Munoz now works closely with #LOVEWINS, an organization that raises money for the victims and families of those affected by the Route 91 attack.
The Thursday after the concert, I dropped my son off at hockey practice and got back into my car and “When She Says Baby” by Jason Aldean started to play on the radio. The first bullets came out at the end of his song, “Any Ol’ Barstool,” but the main spray, when he ran off the stage, was during “When She Says Baby.” It completely froze me. I was numb. I lost it, just started bawling. That song brought back the gunshots and the screaming and the people running. I had to turn it off right away. It took me about a month to be able to listen to it.
My best friend’s wife told me that she had no problem listening to that song because she didn’t want to let the [shooter] take control of her anymore. I thought about that for a while and one day I went into my car, plugged my phone in, and put the song on. I forced myself to listen to the whole thing. It was very, very hard; I wanted to just shut it off. But I had my friend’s words in my head: Don’t let him control you.
The first time we went to another concert was the Friday after Route 91. It was Imagine Dragons at the Key Arena in Seattle, and we had bought our kids tickets for the concert as a birthday present earlier in the summer. They both knew what had happened, but they were still young enough to not say, “I don’t want to go to a concert because that’s where you were at when you almost died.” They never brought that up. We considered asking some friends to see if they would take our two kids to the concert, but the more we talked about it, the more we thought that we needed to do it.
Being inside an arena, we knew it was going to be tough. As we got to our seats, it hit home that I had to pull my two kids to the side and tell them, “Listen. Here’s where we go in. Here’s the section where our seats are. If for whatever reason there’s a fire, an earthquake, any emergency…” I didn’t mention a shooting. But the fact that I had to explain an escape route to my 11 and 12-year-old sucked, and I really had to compose myself. But that was our new life. That was something that we had experienced, and now that’s something that I hope to instill in them, because you never know when you’re going to need that information.
Imagine Dragons, being a Las Vegas band, brought up the shooting. They said, “A few days ago, there was this horrific event in Las Vegas.” My wife and I were looking at each other and trying not to get choked up. Then they sang Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and dedicated it to everybody at the concert, those lives that were lost and everybody who survived. As soon as they sung that song, my wife and I completely lost it. It was a very touching moment, but everything kind of rushed back through us from the festival. It was hard to be there and to let the emotions go with both of our kids watching. We just told them that it hit home.
We’ve definitely healed from Route 91, and going to concerts has helped. Before that weekend, I’d never been to a music festival before, but I’m definitely more obsessed with going to concerts now. Listening to country music was a big part of it. I have all kinds of tastes when it comes to music, but ever since Route 91, I’ve only really listened to country. I felt like if did not listen to music, I was giving that guy control because I would be associating all the evil that had happened with the music of that night. We all heal and deal with things differently, but for me, the music was what helped me get past the darkness of that night.
When she attended Route 91, Steve’s wife Teresa Munoz,38, was a reluctant concert goer. But, like her husband, she is now dedicated to live music. Her 2018 calendar is filled with shows.
Immediately after Route 91, I didn’t want to hear a single country song. That was a little bit of a challenge, because Steve was finding comfort in hearing it, and it took me longer to get there. As I became a little more comfortable with the experience and handling the emotions around it, I was able to listen. Then I became kind of obsessed with hearing all the different artists that had been at the festival.
Since Route 91, I’ve paid so much more attention to lyrics, instead of just the melody. The meaning of a song is now something that I’m connecting with and finding to be more enjoyable than I had in the past. A couple of weeks after the festival, I was in the car, and a Cole Swindell song called “Middle of a Memory” came on. I just completely broke down. I was picturing the people that had been killed, and how they were in the middle of making these great memories, and how they left in the middle of that. We have tickets to go see Cole Swindell next month, and I have already decided that I’m gonna go on a beer run during that song. But that is the only song that I really can’t hear now.
Soon after Route 91, I was at a work conference in Las Vegas, and part of it involved a Train concert. I was with my friend, who had also been at the festival, and I was struggling the whole time. At one point I got very uncomfortable and started to shake a little bit. I was like, “I can do this.” I was really trying to mentally get past it. Then they started to flash the stage lights on and off. It took me right back to the festival, because at the time that the shooting was going on, they turned the stage lights on and illuminated the crowd. So when those lights came back on at the Train concert, I instantly felt like I was transported back to that moment. I was shaking uncontrollably, and I started to cry. I didn’t want to leave the event, so we went outside for a few moments. When we came back in, we went to the higher up seats that were completely blocking the stage lights, so I wasn’t able to see them anymore. But I couldn’t get into the concert at all, and we ended up leaving early.
In the past, I was never a huge concert person, because I really love the radio version that you learn to know, so I get disappointed when I’m at an event and they sing it differently. But all of our concerts this year are going to be country concerts. I was in a little bit of a decline on country music when the festival came around, but I feel this draw to it now. It’s a part of us because of the experience that we went through. I also want to make more positive memories as a way to stack against the negative ones. We were very, very, very lucky in the worst situation, and I don’t want to ever forget that. Now I want to see as many of those people [who played at Route 91] as possible, because it shows us they’re OK, and we’re OK.