Brookfield parents after losing son in Vegas shooting: 'I feel empty now'

Posted at 7:34 PM, Oct 04, 2017

Two Brookfield parents are doing something they never imagined; making funeral arrangements for their son. 

"You got to pinch yourself and say, did this really happen?" Dick Berger said.

Dick and Mary Berger are in their 70s now, both have been retired for almost a quarter century each. The news Sunday morning that their only son, Steve Berger, was shot in Las Vegas took the wind out of them.

"I picked up the phone at 4:00 a.m. and Josh said, I'm sorry to tell you, your son was shot," Dick Berger said.

Josh is one of Steve's best friends. The Berger's say he was a few rows behind Steve when gunfire rained down on the more than 20,000 people at the Route 91 Country Music festival in Las Vegas. 

"Josh said when they left, they were running," Dick said. "They were trying to get out of there and bodies are everywhere. Just terrible. Absolute carnage."

"It had to be so hard for [Josh] to see his best friend shot and fall and die," Mary said. "He didn't know he was dead at that time. They shooed people out of there and you can see why. Josh was yelling, help my friend. He's dying."

It was the unknown that troubled everyone who knew Steve. His friends at the concert knew he was hit, but weren't sure how bad. His parents only had information they got from Steve's friends. But the two parents, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in January, had two different ways to cope with the unknown.

Dick hoped his son had lost his phone in the commotion. With his phone, he kept his identification. So Dick thought, maybe he couldn't get in touch with them and they couldn't identify him since he didn't have anything with him. Mary on the other hand was hoping for the best but prepared for the worst. 

"Nobody would call us back," Mary said. "I think that's the worst part of the whole thing. Where is my son? Waiting, waiting, waiting."

It was impossible for the parents to avoid any news coverage of the incident. Every news outlet had wall to wall coverage of the largest mass shooting in American history. But they eventually had to say, enough is enough. 

"All they're playing is the 'pop, pop, pop, pop," Dick said of news outlets replaying cell phone videos from the shooting. "It just brought, where is my son? The first time [watching the videos] was enough. To think our son was down on the ground with a bullet hole."

The family had called every number they could think of to just find out if Steve had made it or not. Tuesday afternoon, they got the call.

Steve was dead. Just hours after his parents sang him happy birthday over the phone in Las Vegas. They talked about the birthday card they got him and how Dick never ended up signing it. 

"It was a nice card," Mary said. "It said, 'Love, mom and...' nothing. I had given it to him and he never signed it. Steve [texted], 'What about dad? lol."

The family shared a good laugh about the story. It was a very simple mistake by Dick but the interaction was a microcosm of the family's relationship. 

It was also the last time they spoke to him on the phone. 

"I feel empty now," Mary said. "I got up this morning and I just felt numb all over. You always think the kids are going to bury you. But that's the thing. We have to bury our son."

Why? It's a question everyone in the country wants to know. Why did Stephen Paddock fire hundreds of rounds down from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino? It's an answer no one has and an answer Mary Berger doesn't think matters.

"It wouldn't matter," Mary Berger said. "The why. It's done. It's over with. We have to go on with our lives. We have three kids to take care of and they're still young."

Those three kids are Steve Berger's children who are without a parent to take care of them. As a single father, Steve was the sole caregiver for his kids. It's something his father couldn't understand how he had the time to be a successful financial advisor and a great dad. 

But now, with Steve dead and their mother unable to care for them because of a medical condition, the grandparents will have to figure out a way. Not only will they have to help raise the children, ages 15, 11 and eight years old, but they'll have to explain what happened to their father. 

"Why is there evil out there?" Mary said. "You think you live in the United States America. We can be safe anywhere. I walk the streets of Milwaukee. I'm not afraid. That's how you should be."

But they hope to keep their son's memory alive in his kids. They want to share about how hardworking and compassionate he was. 

They say Steve was an easy going, humble guy everyone liked. 

His mother says his smile lit up a room. Now, the number of people reaching out to them who feel their pain because of this loss is helping them grieve. 

"We've got so many calls from so many friends," Mary said. "They relay [stories] here and there. It does make it easier."