The mass shooting last week that killed 12 people at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, Cal., came as a painful shock to survivors of America’s worst mass shooting who were trying heal their emotional wounds on a cruise together in Europe.
Word of the latest carnage reached 40 survivors of last year’s Las Vegas shooting as they sat gathered for a lunch in Heidelberg, Germany.
Stephen Paddock, 64, fired more than 1,1000 rounds from his 32nd floor suite at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas on October. 1, 2017, killing 58 people and wounding 851 others attending a music festival on the Vegas strip.
Debby Allen, whose son Christopher Roybal, a Navy combat veteran who had served multiple tours in Afghanistan, was one of those killed in the shooting, was describing to the group what it felt like to lose her son.
"It's the worst moment of your life to look at your lifeless son," she said.
As she was speaking, the group’s cell phones started lighting up with messages about the California shootings from family and friends in the U.S.
At that moment and for the next several hours, the group of survivors provided comfort for one another, offering hugs and praying for a new group of families whose lives have been shattered, including Telemachus Orfanos, a survivor of the Las Vegas massacre who was shot and killed in Thousand Oaks.
Vantage Deluxe World Travel, a Boston firm, has been providing healing cruises for survivors of tragedies since the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. The cruises through Germany allows survivors to bond by sharing painful experiences while also celebrating life in quaint Bavarian towns.
Jimmy Weinberger, a young bartender who escaped the Las Vegas shooting with a shirt covered in someone else's blood, arrived on the riverboat hoping to identify concert revelers with a short video he captured just moments before the gunfire erupted.
"I didn't know who these people were but they were having the best time of their lives so I stopped serving drinks for a moment and took out my cell phone to share their joy," Weinberger said.
He showed the video to Brian Ahlers, a father of three who lost his wife Hannah Ahlers in the shooting. Ahlers studied the video and recognized a familiar face.
"That's Chris (Roybal)," he told Weinberger.
Roybal's mother Debby had joined the cruise hoping to find new memories of her son in photos and video in an effort to stitch together his last joyous moments on earth.
Weinberger handed Allen his cell phone and together they watched and wept.
"I was hoping this trip would bring me closer to my Christopher," she said. "At every church I visited on this trip, I said a prayer that my son would give me a sign that he was with me. This video was the sign that I've been waiting for."
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