In defiance of a day when fifty-eight people lost their lives and hundreds more were wounded, including the groom, 1 October survivors and Tahiti Village guests Todd Wienke and Oshia Collins-Waters are marrying this Monday in Las Vegas, on the first anniversary of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, also in Las Vegas. The reception occurs in the evening at Tahiti Village in the intimate Kahiko Room. Step onto the patio and in the distance, shrouded by palm trees, you can see the towers of Mandalay Bay, where a gunman on the 32nd floor reigned down automatic weapon fire for approximately eight minutes on a crowd of concertgoers across the street.
The proximity isn’t lost on Todd and Oshia, but it holds no power over them, never once made them consider a different location.
“In April,” Oshia said, offering insight into their resolute mindset, “we saw Kid Rock at Mandalay Bay. It was my way of saying, `You’re not winning. You’re not taking this away from me’.”
Now, a year later, following an interval marked by group therapy sessions, doctor visits for Todd and emotional ups and downs highlighted by a marriage proposal, they find themselves reconciling the darkest day of their lives with one of the happiest.
“It was very important to both of us (to marry on October 1),” Oshia said. “When Todd proposed, we both knew the day it would be on.”
“We are turning the memory of this day from a negative to a positive in the hopes that all survivors do the same,” said Todd, who was shot three times. “Together we will heal with each other’s help and prove that love will always prevail.”
SHOT THREE TIMES
Country music fans from California City, Calif., Todd and Oshia were staying at Tahiti Village for the Route 91 Harvest festival less than three miles away. Todd was shot once in the left lower back shielding Oshia as they lay on the ground; once under the left arm as they fled their location near the stage; and once more on the left side during their desperate dash for cover.
Oshia survived without a physical scratch but Todd has shrapnel imbedded, perhaps permanently, on his left side from the shoulder to lower back. The pain he endures is a constant reminder of the senseless tragedy that changed their lives forever but also brought them closer together.
CHANGE OF PLANS
Weeks prior to the concert Todd had planned to propose on Dec. 12, 2017, the fifth anniversary of the day he met Oshia. But if the 1 October tragedy taught him anything, it’s that another day is never guaranteed. Back home in California after the shooting, Todd proposed 12 days later on Oct. 13, 2017 (a Friday the 13th).
“We survived this tragedy together and I never wanted us to be apart,” he said. “For twelve days following the concert I had many thoughts, feelings, and concerns. None of those changed the fact that I wanted to marry her. On Friday, October 13, we went to dinner with the person who drove to pick Oshia up after the shooting and her husband.
“During that meal with those friends I asked her to marry me. I had not planned to do it then; in fact I still was planning to ask her on December 12, but in that spontaneous moment I knew in my heart that it was the right time and place. I had not even purchased a ring yet. She said yes and by the next evening we were both sure we wanted to get married in Las Vegas on October 1st, and we were sure that we wanted our reception to be at Tahiti Village.”
Todd, a State of California Department of Corrections sergeant, describes Tahiti Village as his go-to place in Las Vegas. He recuperated here for three days after he was discharged from the hospital the morning after the shooting, the doctors determining his injuries were not severe enough to warrant a longer stay. Oshia is a front and back office medical assistant for Aventura Health in California City.
VEGAS VISITORS AGAIN AND AGAIN
Their wedding weekend marks the fifth time the couple has visited Las Vegas since the tragedy.
“We’ve been to the (shooting) site each time we’ve come back and even taken people with us,” Oshia said. “They’re curious about the path we took to get out of the venue, the distance we traveled, just to get a feel for where we were and where we exited. The first time we went, we retraced our steps to see if we had the same recollections of that night.”
That initial return visit, over Thanksgiving, was the most difficult.
“The grass was still there, the stage was still up,” she said. “The last time we were here we looked through the fence and could see that everything was down. It gets easier each time.”
“We had hoped to see the crosses at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, but they had already taken them down,” Todd said, recalling their first visit. They have also visited the memorial and remembrance garden in downtown Las Vegas.
RETURN TO NORMALCY
Neither Todd nor Oshia are experiencing any existential dread over the looming anniversary, but acknowledge the ceremony will undoubtedly carry more emotional weight than it would have otherwise “just because we’ve been given the opportunity.”
Between family, friends and approximately 15 survivors who are making their first visit to Las Vegas since the shooting, the couple is expecting more than 90 guests for the wedding. For those who can’t make the Monday wedding because of conflicting work schedules, Todd and Oshia are holding a special Sunday pre-reception just for them.
In the year since the shooting, life has begun to slowly find its natural rhythm, and the couple has once again settled into a familiar routine.
“We’re just normal people,” Todd said. “We get up, go to work, come home, pay our bills, see family and friends as much as we can. It hasn’t stopped us from our daily living. It doesn’t mean you don’t have bad days where you don’t want to get out of bed.”
He added: “Before October 1, 2017, I was not a big proponent of group therapy. Now I see the value in sharing things with people who have experienced similarly traumatic things.”
A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE AFTER THE FACT
Certain triggers can still elicit an emotional response that take them right back to 1 October. For Oshia, it is sudden loud noises and fireworks. For Todd, it was the occasion of his Medal of Valor ceremony at the California Department of Corrections, a portion of which included video of Jason Aldean singing at the Route 91 Harvest festival. The footage shows Aldean finishing his set opener, “Any Ol’ Barstool,” just as the first burst of gunfire sounds. No one paid it much attention, Todd said, thinking it was fireworks or an isolated incident on the Strip. When a second volley of gunfire goes off as Aldean starts his second song, “When She Says Baby,” there is no doubt what is happening.
“Basically you get desensitized over time to seeing video footage of everyone running during the shooting,” he said. “But to see the video moments prior to the shooting was something I wasn’t expecting. It hit me in a way it hadn’t in quite a while. It put me in a place where I knew what the future was.”
For Todd, that future included three bullet wounds and a run for his and Oshia’s life as he ushered her and two wounded women out of the venue to safety.
“I’ve played back every scenario and thought, `What could I have done differently?’ And I would have made the same decisions in exchange for the same outcome. We feel very lucky.”
“You’re never going to forget,” he continued, “but you are going to move on and it’s just a memory. I have many positive memories up to and including the shooting. I saw hundreds of examples of selflessness by untrained people risking their own safety to help others. When you see those things you can’t help but be absolutely inspired.”
We at Tahiti Village are honored that Todd and Oshia are holding their reception with us, and we wish them many years of happiness as they make new and joyful memories in their life together.