Orlando team that helped city heal after Pulse massacre brings lessons to Vegas

Pair open family assistance center in both cities

ORLANDO, Fla. – A pair of Orlando co-workers who helped the city heal after the Pulse mass shooting packed their bags the day after tragedy struck Las Vegas and headed there to pass along the lessons they learned just more than a year ago.

Until last week, Orlando was home of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history after a gunman opened fire at Pulse nightclub June 12, 2016, killing 49 and injuring dozens of others.

Kathy DeVault, director of strategic assistance for the city of Orlando, and Craig Borkon, the venues assistant director for the city, were two of the people who helped the community of Orlando heal when by setting up the family assistance center in the days after the massacre.

DeVault said their tasks were difficult after Pulse because, unlike Red Cross personnel and other responders who train for crises like the kind the city faced, Orlando’s community leaders were not prepared. She said her team, under the direction of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, had to learn “the hard way,” which made it difficult for them to move forward.

That’s why as soon as the pair heard the news the morning of Oct. 1 that Las Vegas had just suffered an even worse mass shooting when a man fired several hundred rounds from his hotel room into a crowd of 22,000 country concert fans 32 floors below him, killing 58 of them and wounding nearly 500 others, they didn’t hesitate to offer the broken city’s leaders a helping hand.

"We did not necessarily want another community to have to go through what we did learning the hard way and neither did Mayor Dyer, so immediately following the incident, he called out to the leaders in Las Vegas and said, 'We've been there. What resources can we send to help you as you begin to recover?'” DeVault said. 

DeVault said one of the resources Las Vegas city officials took Dyer up on his offer was for the family assistance center.

So the pair headed to Vegas, where they spent six days reviewing their notes from the healing process following the Orlando nightclub attack and implementing the lessons learned to help another devastated city.

The team was faced with several tasks while setting up the center during their short trip, including making sure they created an environment that was safe and private for families to receive the help they needed to deal with the emotional pain without hearing laughter or much of what was going on around them.

DeVault said the most important lesson they left with the city’s leaders, though, was to remember to take time for themselves to process what happened and remember that they also need to heal from the tragedy as they help others within the community.

The team said that instead of opening old wounds, it helped them continue to heal from their own tragedy at home. 

"The fact that we're helping others and giving them comfort in places that we didn’t have that for ourselves really made it a lot easier on us this time around," Borkon said.

Borkon said Orlando and Las Vegas are similar cities because they’re both known as tourist-heavy areas. But when faced with tragedies like these, they show that they are actually a community, full of people who hurt when their neighbors are attacked.

"We all know how we responded. We showed the world how Orlando responded after Pulse, as is Las Vegas now showing that they are a community as well and showing the world how they're responding,” Borkon said. “We're proud of the folks out in Las Vegas."

The pair returned home earlier this week, but they said that other members of their team have offered assistance to the people of Las Vegas even over the phone.

DeVault said it was still difficult for her to process the fact that another city was already home to the title that no one wanted to have – home to the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

"Many of us hoped it would be decades that someone would steal that title from us -- if ever," DeVault said.

She said her heart was broken for the people of Las Vegas, as she knows all too well how long the road ahead of them will be, but it shows the need to prepare city leaders across the country for tragedies like these.

Borkon and DeVault both said they hope a mass shooting like this will never happen again, but if it does, the people of Orlando will be there to help. 

“As long as Mayor Dyer is willing to send us, our city of Orlando family will be willing to go,” Borkon said.

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