Vegas victims shared love of country music, zest for life
By COREY WILLIAMS AND JULIE WATSON, Associated Press
Pati Mestas was a firecracker. Victor Link a gentle spirit. Hannah Ahlers her family’s sunshine.
As told by the people who knew them best, the 58 victims in Sunday’s mass shooting at a Las Vegas country concert lived their lives with passion and a love of country music.
Some families took comfort knowing their loved ones spent their last hours dancing to their favorite songs. Others grappled with the harrowing memories of escaping the terror while their loved ones did not make it.
Friends of all 58 are pledging to keep alive the spirits of memories of those who died.
‘OUR FIRECRACKER IS GONE’
The first time Alexis Magana drove over to her friend Brandon Mestas’ house, she asked how to find it.
“Oh, you’ll know,” he told her. “It’s the one blasting country.”
It was Brandon’s mom, Pati Mestas, who was the household’s country music fanatic. Pati Mestas, 67, of California, died in Las Vegas while listening to that favorite music. Magana remembered her as someone who was “fearless and bold” and always welcoming, from that very first day they met.
“She really was a firecracker,” Magana wrote to The Associated Press in a Facebook message. “I just never dreamed she’d be taken from us in an instant. Our firecracker is gone and now it’s just dark.”
Brandon Mestas, 33, wrote on his Facebook page that his mother surely enjoyed herself in her final moments.
“She left this world surrounded by friends, singing and dancing with thousands of people. If I had to write the script myself, I could not have done a better job,” he wrote.
LIFE OF ‘GENTLE SPIRIT’ REVOLVED AROUND MUSIC
Victor Link was doing one of the things he most enjoyed with the person he most enjoyed — his fiancee, Lynne Gonzales — when automatic gunfire peppered the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
Link, 55, Gonzales, and two of their close friends were there to hear country music when he was shot.
A “gentle spirit” was lost with Link’s death, said his older brother, Craig Link, 58.
“He was somebody that everybody loved,” Craig Link told The Associated Press on Thursday. “Victor had a gentle spirit, a loving spirit. He was a giver. He was always there for any of his friends or family. If he could, he would help out wherever he could. He was a good man.
“He was my younger brother, but I always aspired to be him.”
The brothers grew up northwest of Bakersfield in Shafter, California. As teens, much of their lives revolved around music, going to concerts and cars.
Victor Link and Gonzales, who wasn’t hurt in Sunday’s shooting, had been to several country music concerts over the last several years. Going to concerts “was their favorite thing to do,” Craig Link said.
“He was so blessed to have Lynne in his life,” Craig Link said. “Those two had an amazing love that very, very few people are blessed to understand and enjoy.”
DISNEY WORKERS AMONG VICTIMS IN SHOOTING
Carrie Barnette, 34, was a Disneyland food service worker who never lost her sense of wonder for things like hummingbirds, according to her friends and family.
Barnette, of Riverside, California, was part of the culinary team at Disney California Adventure for 10 years.
Disney Chairman and CEO Robert Iger said in a statement that she was “beloved by her friends and colleagues.”
“We are especially heartbroken over the loss of one of our own to this unconscionable and senseless act,” Iger said. Another Disney cast member, Jessica Milam, was seriously injured in the concert shooting.
Joey Castillo, who is married to Barnette’s younger sister, told the Orange County Register that Barnette loved hummingbirds because she saw them as a sign that her deceased grandparents were watching over them.
“She was always happy and loved her grandparents with who she’s now with up in heaven,” he said. “She will be greatly missed.”
MOM WAS ‘BEAUTIFUL INSIDE AND OUT’
Hannah Ahlers, a mother of three, was with her husband of 17 years when she was killed at the concert, according to the newspaper in Redlands, California, where she grew up.
Her father-in-law, Dave Ahlers, told the Redlands Daily Facts that she was a “great mom and family person.”
Ahlers lived in Beaumont with her husband, Brian Ahlers, and three children, ages 3, 11 and 14. She was a stay-at-home mom and “was amazing at it,” Brian Ahlers said in a statement sent to the newspaper.
“She wasn’t too good for anybody; Beautiful inside and out,” he said.
Her brother, Lance Miller, agreed.
“She was our sunshine,” Miller told the newspaper.
The Ahlers family closed down their shop, Redlands Jewelers, in downtown Redlands on Monday, in observance of Sunday’s shooting and to honor her memory, according to the newspaper.
‘FRAMILY’ GROUP MISSING A MEMBER
Nicol Kimura, 38, went to the festival with a group of seven men and women who call themselves “framily” — friends who are like family. She was killed seconds after the gunfire began, said Ryan Miller, a businessman and pastor who is part of the group.
Kimura, a Southern California native living in Placentia, was single and didn’t have any children, but she was treated like family by the kids of group members, Miller said.
“She was a mom to all of our kids; they called her ‘auntie,'” he said. “I have two kids myself, and they were just absolutely devastated that they will not be able to see her again.”
Kimura, who is also survived by her parents and a sister, worked in a tax office for Orange County and spent most weekends with her friends. No one else in the group was shot.
“She was just such an amazing woman and she was just such a light,” he said.
SEATTLE WOMAN LOVED COUNTRY MUSIC
Carrie Parsons was a huge fan of country singer Eric Church.
“Night made!” she posted early Saturday on Facebook after seeing the singer at the Las Vegas country festival.
Parsons, of Seattle, Washington, was one of the nearly 60 people who died when shots rang out at the Jason Aldean concert Sunday night.
“I feel peace knowing she was living life until her last moments,” her friend Carolyn Farmer wrote in a post sharing Parson’s comments about the Church show on the singer’s Facebook page.
Parsons was a staffing manager at the recruiting company Ajilon in Seattle, according to her LinkedIn page.
Mary Beth Waddill, a LinkedIn spokeswoman, said the company is respecting the family’s privacy but may release a statement on Parsons’ death.
‘THE DEFINITION OF AMERICAN’
Brian Fraser, a father of four, was moving toward the stage in anticipation of Jason Aldean playing his favorite song, “Dirt Road Anthem,” when gunshots rang out.
While others around him ducked for safety, Fraser looked around to try to spot where the shots were coming from so that he could shield his wife. He died doing just that, said his son, Nick Arellano.
Fraser’s friend ushered their wives and friends to safety before rushing back to perform CPR on Fraser. A doctor and several nurses in the crowd came to help, eventually loading Fraser into a wheelbarrow and taking him to paramedics.
Arellano recounted the story as told to him by his wife, his mother and family friends. Arellano had been at the concert with them for the prior two days but chose to head home early, just missing the harrowing scene.
Arellano described Fraser, 39, as “the definition of American,” a man who boated, hunted, fished and snowboarded. Fraser married his wife, Stephanie, 11 years ago, adopting Arellano and one of her other children.
The couple had two more children together, now ages 4 and 10. The family lives in La Palma, California.
“He taught me what it meant to be an honest, motivated, driven, loving man to not only family and friends, but even to just strangers or anyone he came in contact with — just to be a human being to everyone on this planet,” Arellano said.
MOM WAS ENJOYING WEEKEND AWAY WITH GIRLFRIENDS
A few hours before the shooting, Lisa Patterson called her husband to tell him what a great time she was having with her girlfriends. It was one of the rare weekends she was not coaching one of her kids’ softball teams or volunteering at a school or church event.
Bob Patterson told his wife to enjoy herself and stay for the last band, assuring her he could get their kids off to school the next morning.
It was the last time he spoke to her. After news broke of the shooting, he spent the night calling hospitals trying to find her. By 6 a.m. Monday, he and his 16-year-old son, Robert, jumped in the car and drove three hours from their suburban Los Angeles home to Las Vegas to find her. His 19-year-old daughter, Amber, drove over from Arizona.
They spent 10 hours searching. Late Monday, Bob Patterson was approached by an official at the Las Vegas convention center, where the coroner’s office set up operations to have more space where families could come to identify the dead.
“My children, who had been waiting 100 feet outside the room, knew when I came back out that she had died by the look on my face,” he said. “My oldest daughter instantly broke down and fell on the ground crying.”
After he and his children headed home to Lomita, he told his 8-year-old daughter, Brooke, that “mommy passed away.”
The couple, married for 21 years, were always together, he said, whether it was running their hardware flooring store business, helping at their church, volunteering at school or coaching the many sports their kids did.
“My wife loved life, loved helping and there is nothing she would not do to help someone,” he said.
FRIENDS DIED AT CONCERT TOGETHER
Austin Davis, 29, and his parents had a bond “unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed,” Davis’ friend Katelyn Hood wrote in an online fundraising post.
He was their only son. As soon as news came that he may have been shot, they headed straight from their home in Riverside, California, to Las Vegas. They waited for 20 hours before learning that he had been killed, Hood wrote.
“They raised the best son,” Hood wrote. “He worked so very hard and took the most pride in that and anything he did.”
Through Hood, Davis’ parents declined to be interviewed.
Davis also leaves behind his girlfriend of nine years, whom he met in high school. He was at the concert with a family friend, Thomas Day Jr., who also died.
A SEARCH FOR MOM, AND THEN HORROR
Laura Shipp raised her son Corey by herself, then moved to Las Vegas from Thousand Oaks, California, a few years ago to be closer to him. Both were country music fans, and they went to the Route 91 Harvest Festival together, said Laura Shipp’s mother, Joyce Shipp.
They were together until just before a gunman opened fire Sunday night.
“We really don’t know what happened, just that she went to the bathroom and nobody saw her after that,” Joyce Shipp said of her 50-year-old daughter, a dispatcher at an air conditioner company.
After Corey, a Marine Corps reservist, spent more than a day trying to find out what had happened to his mother, he was notified she was dead.
“He’s not doing great,” Joyce Shipp said. “He’s just trying to get his arms around all this, but he’s surrounded by his friends and family. We don’t want to leave him alone at this time.”
MAN DIED IN BOYFRIEND’S ARMS
Cameron Robinson, 28, had been looking forward to attending the festival with his boyfriend for days, said friend and colleague Brad Jerbic.
Robinson was a records specialist for the city of Las Vegas, and his infectious personality made him the heart of the office, Jerbic said Tuesday. Robinson had moved to southern Utah about a year ago to be with boyfriend Bobby Eardley, and he commuted two hours each way to work every day.
“He was just so happy — you could see it in his face,” Jerbic said. “If he was alive, he would say this is the best time of his life.”
The couple was together when Robinson was shot in the neck and bled to death, Jerbic said. Eardley was also struck by shrapnel and suffered minor injuries.
“(Eardley) actually held him. He was with him when he died. He tried to stop the bleeding. There was so much chaos,” Jerbic said.
YOUNGEST OF FOUR WANTED TO HELP OTHERS
Victim Michelle Vo, 32, was the youngest of four siblings in a family from the San Francisco Bay area.
She worked hard at her job at New York Life insurance group in Pasadena, California, loved to cheer for the Golden State Warriors and was a pretty good golfer, said sister Cathy Vo Warren.
Warren remembered her sister as someone who always wanted to do good for those around her. “You’d need a poet to tell you everything,” said Cathy’s husband, Paul Warren.
Born in Southern California, Vo was attending the Las Vegas concert by herself and befriended Kody Robertson. The two were together when Vo was shot. Robertson later helped relatives find her.
“We’re very thankful that we met Kody,” Warren said. “We’re very thankful for him to be there with Michelle so that she wasn’t alone in her last moments.”
FESTIVAL GUARD DIED HELPING OTHERS
Erick Silva, 21, was working as a private security guard at the music festival when he was killed while trying to help people escape.
His close friend, Martin Adrian Marin Jr., said he was not surprised Silva died helping others. “He would give the shirt off his back to comfort anyone,” Marin said. “He was such a courageous man.”
Marin has saved the last text message Silva sent to him that Sunday morning before going to work at the festival.
“I want to wish you a lovely and productive day,” Silva texted. “Just know that I am always here.”
Silva would send text messages like that almost daily, Marin said.
“He was always so sweet and generous and caring,” he said. “It was not hard to fall in love with his personality.”
FATHER OF SIX KNOWN FOR BIG HEART, PERSONALITY
John Phippen was a father of six who was always willing to lend an ear — or a cold beer — to a friend in need.
“He had a heart that was larger than life and a personality to match,” neighbor Leah Nagyivanyi wrote on an online fundraising page. “You felt like you knew him for years the first time you met him.”
Nagyivanyi is raising money through GoFundMe to help Phippen’s children pay for his funeral.
Phippen, 56, lived in Santa Clarita, California. The youngest of his six children, a daughter, is 14.
SPORTS FAN DIED SHIELDING FRIEND’S WIFE
Chris Hazencomb, 44, of Camarillo, California, was a big sports fan. His mother, Maryanne Hazencomb, told the Ventura County Star she had him taken off a ventilator late Monday morning.
Hazencomb was struck in the head while shielding his best friend’s wife from bullets, his mother said.
He loved watching professional wrestling on TV every Monday night “even though it’s phony,” Maryanne Hazencomb told the newspaper. He also loved football and followed the Los Angeles Rams.
Hazencomb was a graduate of Thousand Oaks High School.
Associated Press writers Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Don Babwin in Chicago; Julie Watson in San Diego, California; Jason Dearen in Gainesville, Florida; Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City; Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, California; and researchers Jennifer Farrar, Rhonda Shafner, Randy Herschaft and Monika Mathur contributed to this report.
For complete coverage of the Las Vegas shooting, click here: https://apnews.com/tag/LasVegasmassshooting