Las Vegas Victims' Fund Organizer Talks Raising $8M in Two Days, Plans for the Money

Las Vegas Memorial
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Mourners pay tribute at a makeshift memorial on the Las Vegas Strip for the victims of a mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 2, 2017.

"We will get back together and Las Vegas will come back stronger than it was," Steve Sisolak, chairman of Clark County Commission.

When terror struck Las Vegas on Sunday night, Steve Sisolak, chairman of the Clark County Commission, which oversees the area of Vegas known as The Strip, was on the ground assessing the scene and strategizing with Las Vegas Sheriff Joe Lombardo on how best to reassure and mobilize the community. In response to the horrific shooting that killed 59 and injured over 500 more, around 1 a.m. on Monday he concieved a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign to give people everywhere a place to donate money to help the victims of the largest mass shooting in American history. Before sunrise that morning, the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund was live and has since raised over $8.2 million via donations from more than 64,000 people around the world. 

Billboard spoke with Sisolak about the fund and what’s next for the healing process in Las Vegas. 

What it’s like on the ground there for you? 

Steve Sisolak: It’s hard to even put it into words what’s going on. I spent the last 36 hours from the hospital to the Metro to the crime scene to the interfaith memorial services, talking to victims and survivors. It’s just been an unbelievable situation. It was a war zone that we went through, in terms of the crime scene. I saw things that I’d never thought I’d see in my life and certainly never want to see again. But Las Vegas is strong and we’ll get through this.

How did you come up with the idea for The Las Vegas Victims’ Fund that you’ve set up?

When we got word of the situation, I met the sheriff at our headquarters. We talked about the immediate need, which was blood, because we had 59 deceased -- and they weren’t all deceased at the time -- but 59 deceased and 537 being treated. There were so many surgeries handled; they were doing two in a room. We needed blood desperately. So we put in a call for blood to the community and we have been inundated. There was a 10-hour wait last night; to make an appointment is two weeks out and this is something that we’ve never had the benefit of in Las Vegas, frankly, to fill the blood bank up. So then it was, “Okay, what else can we do?” I said “Sheriff, there’s going to be a lot of expenses -- people are going to have to have for funerals, there are medical expenses, a lot of these people are going to have families fly in from out of town and stay in hotels and whatnot, so maybe we could help out with that.” He said “well, what do you think we could do?” and I said “Let’s start an account.”

I am not an IT-savvy kinda guy, frankly, my children are. But I said, “Look, I’ll donate the first $10,000 to set up this account.” Realistically, I thought we’d raise 25 or 50 thousand dollars. They made the goal on this account $500,000 and after about an hour it was up to $100,000 and then a friend of mine, Stephen Cloobeck, a former hotel owner, called me and said, “I’ll finish out your fund. I’ll donate $400,000.” 

Then, as my kids said, it started trending and going viral and over 48,000 donations at this point and over $3 million have been raised as a result of this. So this is going to help an awful lot of medical expenses, funeral expenses and transport expenses for these people. We are blessed to have such a giving community and a giving country that has stepped up. The donations go from $5 to $50,000. People are giving what they can and a little bit more and it’s really heartwarming. 

Can you tell me a little bit more about where these funds are going to, and how you’ll determine which organizations the funds will go to?

This all happened so fast. But we’re setting up a bank account for some of the larger corporations that wanted to make donations that can’t be handled on this account because they’re too big. So we set up a bank account that should be open as of 9 o’clock this morning and I’m just handling raising the money and we’ve got some accounting folks that are working with us that analyze, we’re gonna I guess look at each request individually. We’ve already started getting some requests for funds. And try to get these people help as quickly as we possibly can in order of priority: medical and burial, and those expenses first, before we get to lost property, but we’re gonna try to help everybody that we can.

And these are requests that are coming from individual citizens, not from groups helping them?

Right. Individual citizens that were at the event have already began calling asking for help. They either have an injury or lost things or need to get out of town, those sorts of things. We’re going to be handling those on a case-by-case basis starting this afternoon. 

Beyond individual people who need the help, are organizations being funded with this as well?

No, right now we’re just funding individual people. I am the Chair of the Clark County Commission, so we’re dealing with our Family Grieving Center -- that’s a county function that was set up at Metro in the convention center. Families are coming from out of town to look for their loved ones or remains or visit people that are having surgery, so it’s all coordinated through the county and our Metro and convention center so we have the firsthand touch with all of these individuals to make them aware that we have some resources available to help out.

Recently there’s been a lot of mistrust in some charities. How you will maintain the integrity of what you’re doing in light of this mistrust.

This is a grassroots effort. This isn’t a big corporation or anything; we’re not paying anybody. This is volunteers trying to raise money to help our fellow citizens, so there’s not all the expenses that go with this. I understand there’s an expense to donate the money when you donate it, they take a couple percent for the credit card processing, but this isn’t going to be burdened with expenses and people taking advantages of our donors’ generosity. I’m committed to making sure that that doesn’t happen.

What comes next for this city that you love so much. How will Las Vegas heal?

We’ll pull together, there’s been one interfaith service last night that a lot of our religious leaders did and was extremely well attended. The church was packed. I’m sure there’ll be a lot more of that. There’ll be a lot of outreach. The amount of people that were from restaurants that have called me and are donating a percentage of their profits, or percentage of their sales to our fund and they’re providing food where you go to the victims’ center and our first responders -- people are bringing donuts, pizza, sandwiches and soda and water and all those sorts of things that really makes it possible for everybody to keep going.

What will your role be in this healing process?

I will just try to maintain what I’ve been doing so far, which is to have a presence, to make sure that we remain calm, that we remain focused on what we have to do to encourage and thank everybody that’s helping us, including our first responders, our workers. I mean, everybody stepped up; everybody’s working double shifts and overtime in order to get through. The other hotels are pitching in. This is just the kind of community that comes together and I want to stress that Las Vegas is the safest community that you’re going to find. This is not a safety issue, this is one deranged individual who just decided to take it upon himself and perpetrate these acts of violence.

Music events are part of your purview as a chairman of the Clark County Commission. Will there be new regulations around safety? Do you have anything to say about gun laws in terms of safety?

I don’t anticipate that right now. Right now, as the chair of the Commission, this isn’t the time that I’m going to choose to discuss new regulations and gun laws. We have laws in place. No law could’ve prevented what happened yesterday. It just wouldn’t have happened. And that time will come in the future where we can talk about these sort of things, these gatherings, but right now we just need to keep a firm hand that encourages people to go about their lives. We can’t let an individual ruin our life, and the community that we’ve built.

What do you think will have to change to give consumers assurances so they feel safe to participate in an event in the entertainment capital of the world?

The folks that I talk to -- and I talked to a lot of people that were attendees at the concert -- they understand that it wasn’t a safety issue. If it weren’t for the heroic efforts of the security staff at MGM and Metro Police Department, we would’ve lost a lot more lives. The community was prepared to handle an enormous amount of injured and surgeries and deceased and we’re ready to move forward. We will heal. We will get back together and Las Vegas will come back stronger than it was.

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