| This is the 563rd story of Our Life Logs® |
I couldn’t move.
I was ready to die.
I am originally from Steubenville, Ohio, but on May 24, 1976, I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, with my parents and two sisters. Since then, I’ve been a resident of Nevada.
All my life, my father and I were very close, and he always took me places with him. He was a medic in the war, so he always told the most interesting stories. We walked the same, talked the same, and everybody said I had his demeanor. He was the ultimate cool guy to me and one of my best friends.
My senior picture.
As I got older, my father and I grew even closer, swapping stories about our own lives. I had become a casino manager, food and beverage director, and even an executive slot host in Las Vegas, so I had my share of stories to laugh about. When I lost him in November 2016, I was devastated. But I now think he went up to heaven to make sure I stayed on earth.
October 17, 2017.
It all started on a night like any other. I was planning on relaxing at home that night, but one of my buddies insisted that I go to a country music festival with him. I didn’t truly feel like it, but I decided to go. Although, as I got dressed, I felt off. There was a bad vibe I couldn’t shake.
Off we went to the middle of the Las Vegas Strip at the Mandalay Bay. The place was so packed it took us half an hour to find parking. The Harvest Music Festival had a great lineup, and we were lucky to get decent seats. As we settled in and grabbed a couple beers, I looked around at the crowd. Everyone around was in a festive, happy mood. Some of the crowd began to sing “God Bless America,” and we joined in, feeling the euphoria of the festival.
As we reached the crescendo, I felt a burning in my legs, followed by a sharp, unbearable sting in my groin. I screamed. What was happening to me? As I writhed in pain, I heard the rounds of gunfire echo around me. Ra-tat-tat-tat. It was then that I realized that I’d been shot. Horrified screams of innocent bystanders ripped through the air. It sounded like a war zone, and for a moment, I wondered if I was going to die.
I laid there, ready to be shot again. The pain had me paralyzed. Everybody was running and yelling while gunfire filled the air like fireworks. All I could do was yell as the massive stampede of panicked people threatened my existence.
Luckily, my friends that I came with went into action. They pulled me under a vendor’s table so I would not get trampled. The pain was unimaginable. I remember shaking in pain just from the three feet they moved me. I went limp from pain and it took my breath away. Then they tied a tourniquet around my raw open flesh. They could see blood pouring from my entry and exit wounds, so they took the shirts off their backs and tied it around my legs. Then, they rushed me to the nearest hospital.
• • •
On that night, October 1, 2017, at 10:05 PM, Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old man from Mesquite, Texas, opened fire on the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. I was one of over 800 wounded victims of a shooting massacre. There were 58 people who didn’t survive.
It was said that Paddock had gone mad and wanted to kill people. That was the reason. That was the reason. That was all.
I remember the panic on the nurses’ faces as I was rushed in. The ER was full of bloody, wounded victims, some arriving in an ambulance, some arriving in body bags. Wives screamed. Husbands cried. It was chaos.
This is when I knew my father’s presence was with me. When it was finally my turn to be seen by a nurse, I told the nurse to cauterize the wound and help the other people who had more serious injuries. In all the pain I was in, the words came out so effortlessly.
To this day I still have no idea how I knew to say that. At the time, I don’t even think I knew what “cauterize” meant. It was as if my father’s soul, with all his medical knowledge, jumped in my mouth and spoke for me, like out of a Ghostbusters movie. The wound was tended to right away because they thought I was a medical professional with the way I spoke. They got me out of there in five minutes. I sometimes wonder if my dad also redirected the bullet to my legs instead of my head. I wonder a lot of things. But who’s to say?
My life had been spared, but sadly, my legs could not be. Nerves in my legs were severed from the gunshot, rendering me paralyzed from the waist down.
Even after the blessing of being alive, I struggled with my new reality. Everything I used to do with ease was now so hard. I needed help going to the bathroom, taking a shower, and even getting dressed. I used to be the life of the party, and now people were uncomfortable around me. I couldn’t work in the casino anymore because it was too hard to do so in a wheelchair. The hospitality industry is not an area where desk jobs are readily available. I felt like I had lost my identity.
I received disability, but no amount of money could substitute my legs. I felt incomplete and angry. Every day I woke up irritable. Whenever we look for things to complain about, won’t we always find them? And now I had a lot going south for me. Eventually, the anger turned into depression.
While I was fighting depression, I was also grappling with severe PTSD. I now hated crowds and became hypersensitive to loud noise. I started having vivid flashbacks of being shot and nightmares of dying. I experienced panic attacks, and the smallest disagreement would send me into a full blown, anxiety-driven fit. I thought it would be best if I moved in with my mother since she was still grieving the loss of my father.
There’s some context I should give about my mother. After the death of my father in 2016, my mother became an alcoholic. She never was a drinker until he died. My PTSD and mood swings did not mix well with her lifestyle. I had been staying with her after the shooting so I would not feel alone, but I felt more alone than ever. She was no help at all. When I tried to stop her from drinking, she had me arrested under false pretenses that I punched her in the stomach. I had only been there about six months when she did that, and although the charges were dropped, so was my respect for her.
I could not sit around and watch her down shots of vodka anymore. I could not stay there and fade into the background of her anger and addiction. I decided that it was best for me to move out, even if I had no place to go. My sisters did not have the energy to stand up to our mother, so they sided with her out of convenience. And so, I was alone.
Since I left, I have been—what I like to call— “on the road.” I don’t like the term “homeless” because I didn’t truly lose a home, and “on the streets” sounds dangerous, so I say, “on the road.” It’s also a bit of a pride thing to make it sound like I’m just passing through places. When I started out, the places I chose to roam were full of homeless men and women; half of them came from drugs and the other half came from bad situations.
Being a wanderer came with risks. Add being in a wheelchair to the mix, and I became an easy target. I was attacked multiple times by thugs and random homeless people on the streets. I was dumped on the ground and stomped on. I was beaten and bruised. And, after months of trying to live my life, I was done.
One day, I was brutally attacked by a woman, and everyone just stopped to watch. Some people took out their cell phones and recorded it. After I was left bruised and bleeding, I decided I wanted to check out. End it. I’d had enough of this new life. I bought some ice cream and rat poison, and I was on my way to the top of a nearby hill to eat a bowl of death.
Out of nowhere, a couple drove by and said the Lord told them to stop me. I was stunned. All the exhaustion I had felt left my body for a moment. I felt as calm as I had on that fateful day in the ER when I told the nurse to cauterize my legs. I knew this was a sign from my father. I cried like a baby, but I lived another day.
I never tried to kill myself again.
I had another wake-up call a few days later. After the encounter with the strangers, I decided to take the bus to an old friend’s house to talk about how I’ve been feeling. But before I got there, I met a woman—no older than 40—on the bus with tangled hair and a sorrowful look. It looked like life had been mean to her spirit. She did not raise her eyes as she slouched into her seat.
Something told me to call my friend. When she picked up, I decided not to tell her I was on my way, but instead, I told her about what had happened to me. I told her that I almost killed myself and somebody had stopped me. While I was telling my story, I made eye contact with the woman. It wasn’t ordinary contact, though. The intensity of her gaze felt like it was piercing my soul. The look was so alarming that I hung up the phone.
Before I could speak, she said to me, “I was on my way home to kill myself.” This woman had heard my story, and now she was opening up to me about her own. As she got off the bus, I could tell she wasn’t going to go through with it anymore. That’s when I had an epiphany. All that had happened to me did have a purpose. It truly did. I should be out saving the lives of others.
I got in contact with some local resources here in Nevada and explained my interest in helping with suicide prevention. Given my story and background, it was easy for me to get involved. I started going to high schools to talk about my story. After so many nights of feeling invisible, I now had a voice to share.
I hope my story has helped save other lives like the woman on the bus. I have found a new purpose and reason for living and that is to help others live. I keep being showed over and over that I am meant to be here and that I have a purpose. I have had many difficulties in life, but I still have a passion to live. I choose to be a source of love so I can watch it create a ripple effect around me.
This is the story of Brent Barker Jr.
Brent prided himself on living a life of service to others by being in the casino business. His life was drastically changed when he was made disabled from the October mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017. The massacre left him paralyzed from the waist down, but after his own suicidal attempt, he has found a new meaning and purpose in life. He now spends his days helping with suicide prevention by telling how he believes he has an angel watching over him.
This story first touched our hearts on December 17, 2020
Writer: Melodie Harris | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker