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True death toll of Las Vegas’ mass shooting may never be known

Monique Grindler Tagliaferri survived the Las Vegas shooting five years ago, but the panic attacks that followed proved to be deadly for her.

On Aug. 18, the 51-year-old California woman was sitting around the kitchen counter at a friend’s house in Iowa when she passed out. Twenty minutes later, a paramedic said she had died from cardiac arrest.

“I know for a fact it was related to the panic attacks,” her boyfriend of four years, Robert Patterson, said in a recent interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “She had small health issues, like stomach problems, but no heart problems at all.”

Patterson met Tagliaferri in a Facebook group for survivors of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Patterson’s wife of 21 years, Lisa Patterson, was among the 60 people who died as a result of injuries they suffered in the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting on Oct. 1, 2017.

Tennille Pereira, director of the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center, said the center is aware of several people who suffered fatal heart problems from panic attacks following the shooting. But since no formal record was kept of the 22,000 concertgoers, or the first responders who arrived in the aftermath of the shooting, Pereira said there is no way to track how many died from related causes.

The resiliency center was created to serve as a resource and referral center for residents, visitors and responders affected by the Route 91 shooting.

“We also know of individuals that have died by suicide that were at the event,” Pereira said. “Suicide is very complicated. There’s generally pre-existing things or trauma in their history, but it’s hard to argue that there isn’t a link.”

Seven weeks after the shooting, survivor Roy McClellan laid down in the right lane of Highway 160 near Homestead Road in Pahrump and was run over by a Chevrolet Camaro that sped off, police said. The death was ruled a suicide. 

McClellan’s wife suspected he had been depressed and she said he had been attending counseling since the shooting.

Patterson said Tagliaferri was constantly checking on him and his children through Facebook messages in the months after the shooting. He persuaded her to leave an abusive relationship and get an apartment closer to him, and last year he moved her into his home in Los Angeles.

“I’m sad I didn’t marry Monique, to be honest with you,” he said. “We’re going to have a memorial that should be my name on it instead of her ex-husband’s name.”

Patterson is upset when he hears remembrances for the first 58 shooting victims who died from their injuries. He argued that no one will ever know the real death toll because of people like Tagliaferri. He said she suffered from episodes of hyperventilation about every three months that would leave her heaving in a fetal position for several minutes.

“There’s so many people that were so traumatized from this, the worst trauma you could ever imagine on a person,” Patterson said. “I still talk to Lisa’s friends who she was there with. They’re not the same, either. It’s changed people’s lives completely.”

Therapist Nikki Napolitano said panic attacks can lead to a racing heart, labored breathing and long-term emotional numbing. The symptoms can last forever if the panic attacks are not treated with therapy or medication.

“You feel like, ‘Wow, no one understands where I’m coming from. No one quite gets my story,’” Napolitano said. “Even trying to hide some of those symptoms of PTSD allows for isolation to grow and build into anxiety, depression and jumpiness.”

Pereira encouraged those suffering from trauma to reach out to the resiliency center, which offers support groups virtually and in person, coping tips and a video library of educational resources.

“There are thousands that have found their healing path,” Pereira said. “For anyone struggling, please don’t go through this alone. If you tried one thing and it didn’t work, let’s try another thing until we get it right. There are too many people going through it alone.”

If you’re thinking about suicide, or are worried about a friend or loved one, help is available 24/7 by calling or texting the Lifeline network at 988. Live chat is available at 988lifeline.org.

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.

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