What happens now? Chicago reacts to Las Vegas shooting

Reports show Las Vegas shooter Steven Paddock had two rooms booked at the Blackstone during Lollapalooza’s 2017 festival weekend

By Jackie Murray

To senior art and art history major Sophie Peterson, what she witnessed in Las Vegas was like something out of a movie she wished she never had to experience. 

Shots from a 32nd floor Mandalay Bay hotel room rained down on a crowd of 22,000 at the Oct. 2 Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas at 10:05 p.m. Shooter Steven Paddock killed 59 people, including himself, and 500 others were wounded from gunshots and stampede injuries. 

Peterson and her boyfriend were in a cab about 10:15 p.m. that night, heading to McCarran International Airport—a block away from Mandalay Bay—when they saw a flood of people running in their direction, trying to flee the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. 

“[We kept hearing] so many sirens, [and] people were yelling and screaming,” Peterson said. “Then on the police scanner that was in the cab, we kept hearing the words ‘active shooter.’” 

A week after the attack, Chicagoans learned that Paddock had two rooms booked at the Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan Ave., during Lollapalooza weekend, Aug. 3–6. The hotel overlooks Grant Park, which hosts the music festival. 

“The day before the story broke, I was thinking about it and said, ‘Why didn’t he target Lollapalooza?’” said Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy. 

O’Neill added that Paddock definitely would have looked at Lollapalooza as a target because it is the biggest urban rock festival, unlike Bonnaroo and Coachella, which are set in rural areas.

“When you have an evacuation of Lollapalooza, [the] Balbo Drive bridge over the railroad tracks is literally wall-to-wall people,” O’Neill said. “So the tragedy would’ve been far worse because he would’ve been kitty-corner from that [area] at the Blackstone Hotel.” 

He explained that for next year’s festival, there will be increased  security and hotels will be on much higher alert, adding that increases in safety start immediately after these kinds of incidents. 

The Blackstone increased security “throughout the day and night” during the Chicago Marathon Oct. 8, said Emmy Carragher, senior account supervisor for Wagstaff Worldwide—Blackstone’s public relations group in an Oct. 12 email to The Chronicle. City officials also responded with increasing security at the marathon, which starts in Grant Park.

“We are aware of the media reports and have been in communication with our federal partners,” CPD News Affairs said in an Oct. 10 email to The Chronicle. “The city conducts extensive public safety planning and training around major events, in close coordination with our law enforcement partners, to ensure public safety.”

Hannah O’Brien, freshman business and entrepreneurship major, has attended Lollapalooza for the last two years. When entering the festival, she explained, each person has their bags checked and is patted down. While the long lines can be tedious, she said the festival has great security. 

“Once inside, you feel safe and  know nothing horrible is going to happen,” O’Brien said. 

She was shocked to learn Paddock had a room booked at the Blackstone  but said she still wants to attend future Lollapalooza festivals and hopes security will be expanded to the festival’s surrounding area. 

“Especially hotel security. That’s not a thing that I’ve ever been worried about, but now it is,” she said, “especially [for] the [hotels] that are on Michigan Avenue that are so close to [Grant] Park.” 

In light of the shooting, Illinois lawmakers are taking initiative to prevent similar tragedies by proposing stricter gun regulations. State Rep. Scott Drury, D-58, introduced House Bill 4112 Oct. 11, which bans the sale, manufacture, possession, transfer or importation of bump stock devices—equipment that allows a semi-automatic firearm to function as a fully automatic weapon, according to state legislative records. 

The device allows a shooter to increase firing rates from 45–60 rounds per minute up to 800 rounds per minutes, according to an Oct. 11 press release from Drury’s office. During the shooting, Paddock used 12 bump stock devices on his rifles. 

Although she feels safe in Chicago now, Peterson said there needs to be federal action on gun control—more than what is currently being done—for her to continue to feel more safe. 

“[It] is something that can happen anywhere based on the level of access people have at this point to guns,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what state it happened in—if it was Nevada or Illinois—it seems like nobody is exempt from the threat of gun violence and mass shootings.”