Ellen Davis captioned her TikTok, “sorry if this is too niche,” but, unfortunately, it wasn’t at all.
The 24-year-old wedding photographer from Southern California has a scar on her leg from crawling over broken glass as she fled the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas in October 2017. In her TikTok, she captured just one of the ways her traumatic experience comes up in everyday life. The video shows her getting a pedicure; overlaid text describes how the pedicurist asked if the scar was from a car accident.
The comment section on the TikTok, which has been viewed more than 4 million times, was filled with others who were there or people who know a survivor or victim; about 22,000 people attended the festival. “I was shot through my hand.. so I can REALLY relate to this,” one comment reads. “fellow route survivor. i got a tattoo for the event and the look on people face when they ask,” another comment reads.
“That experience indirectly altered the course of my life,” Davis told BuzzFeed News. “I was going to school for political science and prelaw. Now I’m on a completely different career path, I didn’t finish school, and also just the way that the PTSD from that alters your brain, your memory, your personality.”
It’s been a little over five years since a shooter opened fire during Jason Aldean’s set at the festival, killing 60 people and wounding at least 413. Davis isn’t counted among the wounded, because she wasn’t directly hit by a bullet. Instead, she’s one of 867 people who were injured in the ensuing panic as people ran for their lives. It was the deadliest mass shooting in US history, and, of course, it wasn’t the last.
Davis had traveled to Las Vegas for the festival with a group of friends. They were spending the last day of the festival with a group of guys they had met. During Aldean’s set, most of them went to get drinks at the bar, but Davis and another man stayed back. That’s when they heard the gunshots.
“I don’t think I was really thinking for a little while there,” Davis said. “I don’t remember really thinking. Your body just kind of does.”
Having so many people who were also there that night comment on her TikTok wasn’t that surprising to Davis, because she said she runs into survivors all the time.
Morgan Lowitz, a 26-year-old teacher in California, was also at the festival that day and commented on Davis’s TikTok. Lowitz said while social media can divide people, it’s also helped bring her closer to people like Davis.
“Day to day, it can feel very isolating to have gone through this, where 99% of the world hasn’t,” Lowitz told BuzzFeed News. “When I saw the TikTok, it was a reminder that I’m not alone.”
She has never counted how many scars she has from that night. Like Davis, she wasn’t shot, but she was injured jumping over a fence and crawling under a soundstage to get away from the gunfire. The bullets came close: A man standing behind her was shot, and Lowitz watched him bleed out. Today, Morgan has been diagnosed with severe PTSD and anxiety. As a teacher, she knows it might not be her last mass shooting.
“I know that in my profession, it is 1,000% probable,” she said. “It’s becoming more and more common at schools. So much so sometimes I think, as much as I love it, do I still want to do it?”
It took her two years to listen to Aldean’s music again (it’s a goal of hers to go to one of his concerts again), but she still has a hard time with things like unexpected fireworks and even going to the grocery store alone.
Lowitz said she still keeps in contact with a couple who took care of her after the shooting until her parents showed up to take her home. She’s also found support in social media groups for mass shooting survivors.
“While I don’t know everyone,” she said, “we’re a family.”