For Dean Larsen, the past year has been marked by excruciating moments of darkness.
By returning to Las Vegas this weekend for a private reunion on the one-year anniversary of the massacre, he's slowly seeing his way out.
“We don’t let him win,” Larsen said. “That’s our motto. We keep moving forward. We’re strong. We're family and he's not going to shut us down.”
Larsen was with his daughter, Caitlin, and friends at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, an outdoor music festival on the Las Vegas strip, last October when a lone gunman opened fire from a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel on the crowd of country music fans, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds of others.
KIRO 7 first met the Larsens at Sea-Tac Airport the day after the shooting.
“I jumped over two fences to get out and I kept running,” Caitlin Larsen said at the time.
They were separated for six hours.
Her father was hiding with a friend, still haunted by what he witnessed that night.
“Then they turned on the lights, and the guy started letting loose with just rounds, hundreds, and you could see everything going on. That was the scariest part. Didn’t seem like it was ever going to end,” Dean Larsen recounted.
He also helped tend to the wounded.
Though he made it back home, in some ways, it was just the beginning for him.
“I was lost for a couple of months after I got back, so I didn’t recognize what was going on,” Dean Larsen said.
Going to therapy and connecting with other survivors has helped him move on.
“I feel every time I talk about it, I get a little more closure. And so I hope one day I'll never talk about it and it will be something in the past,” Dean Larsen said.
As a music lover, he's also not shying away from concerts and crowds.
“I've been to more country music shows this year than I ever have,” Dean Larsen said.
He admits there has been panic, his eyes constantly looking for exit routes, but he never wants to give in to the fear.
This weekend marks Dean Larsen’s third visit to Las Vegas over the past year. Each visit is a little more healing.
Though his daughter was with him for the six-month anniversary, she's not with him now. He's certainly not alone, though. He's surrounded by newfound family members brought together by fate, helping him to see the light.
Dean Larsen wants to make sure people remember what happened. He said there will be a moment of silence on the anniversary at 10:05 p.m. where the survivors are gathering in Las Vegas. He encourages everyone else to pause and reflect then, too.
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