LAS VEGAS >> A group of former Hawaii residents who now make their homes in Las Vegas on Saturday joined others who still live in the islands to bring the city’s people a special lei braided with leaves from a sacred plant in a gesture they hope will bring peace and healing after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
The largest of the three ceremonies took place outside the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. Several women in the group wept openly as they stood silently in a row, holding the long, whip-like lei of ti leaves draped on their right shoulders. The lei made by hundreds of volunteers did not include flowers, just the leaves.
Ron Panzo, one of the lead organizers from Kihei on the island of Maui, said the group had also delivered similar leis to Paris and Orlando, Florida, after shootings in those cities.
“There can be a small closure after we bring a lei like this,” said Panzo, a restaurant owner. “This is a way to honor those lives that were lost, to make sure they are not forgotten.”
Kawika Sabado, who also is from Kihei, said Hawaiians are naturally empathetic and believe all people must strive to retain their connection to human kind.
“Hawaiians feel very strongly when something like this happens,” said Sabado, who wore a kind of white loincloth and a crown of braided leaves.
“I think that with all of this technology people have forgotten to connect with one another. We all need to care for and love one another,” he added.
The group’s largest gathering was the first one it held at the sign, which over nearly two weeks has been transformed into a public homage to the 58 people who lost their lives when a gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel onto an outdoor country music festival below. White wooden crosses built by a Chicago carpenter are now covered with photographs of the victims, written notes, American flags and other items. The crosses will be given a permanent home in Las Vegas’ Clark County Museum next month.
Lehua Kekahuna, who teaches hula on Maui, performed a native ceremony designed to promote healing, chanting in the original language of her forefathers.
Pieces of the lei were strung between two palm trees and twisted around their trunks, adding to the collection of remembrances at the entrance to the city.
Later, the group traveled to the nearby Mandalay Bay Hotel, where they held a private gathering with employees, then continued on to the makeshift Healing Park, which was erected beginning the day after the Oct. 1 shooting on a city-owned empty lot that had been used for parking.
The ground was leveled, cement poured, a flower garden and trees planted and a remembrance wall erected. The wooden wall is to be replaced by a more permanent one eventually, neighbors of the park said.
At Healing Park, the Hawaiians brought some more pieces of the lei to leave behind. Several stood before the wall to take in the photos and messages, then stopped to hug one another.
“This lei was put together by a lot of people back home,” said Raymond Donato, who was visiting a niece in Las Vegas when the shooting occurred. She’s among thousands of Hawaiians who have settled in the Nevada city over the past two decades.
“There is a whole lot of healing in this lei,” he said.