Las Vegas builds memorial garden for healing in record time

LAS VEGAS - Melissa Hawkes was born and raised in Las Vegas. Her husband is a first responder. And although neither one of them was at the Route 91 music festival when a gunman opened fire Sunday night, she says her family—like so many around the world—weren’t “emotionally prepared” for what happened.

“This was an attack on our city,” Hawkes says. “It was just shocking. Then I had to tell my young kids. Their best friend could have lost a parent, so [we] tried to have that conversation.”

“These people mean something. Every single one of them. They had lives to live. They were all so young. “Many of them--most of them were all my age. So, I felt like I had to go out and do something. I couldn’t donate anymore. They were overwhelmed with donations, and this was a lasting thing that I could be a part of.”

So here she stands—wearing gardeners gloves and holding a shovel.

She’s one of hundreds of volunteers who have come out since Wednesday to assist in construction of Las Vegas’s newest attraction just north of the Strip. Organizers call it a healing garden.

“The healing component of the tress and the nature area is what this is about,” said volunteer coordinator and horticulturist Shirl McMayon. “It’s to memorialize those that were victims, so there’s a tree for each one of them.”

“But it’s also a place for survivors that need a place to just come and sit and think about it. That’s what this space is for.”

Organizers say the response has been overwhelming.

"I put something out on Facebook, and I got more than I could manage,” McMayon said. “I had to assign it to somebody to help me because I couldn’t respond to the requests for people that wanted to help.”

The centerpiece of the garden is a tree donated by Vegas legends Siegfried and Roy. Other landscape companies donated greenery, brick pavers, or just their time. Some even took the day off work to be a part of it.

The city gave an unofficial "okay" for the park earlier in the week and organizers say the volunteers who’ve come out to help are the reason construction will be completed in time for an official ribbon cutting, all in less than one full week since the attack.

“Now it’s a matter of ‘we’ve got to go on, we can’t let evil win,’” volunteer Melissa Hawkes added. “Good Wins. Good always wins. Good has to win. So I’m glad to see the community pulling together.”

Just prior to picking up her shovel and loading dirt into a wheelbarrow, she added one final thought.

“The victims will not be forgotten.”

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