IRVINE (CNS) - Almost exactly a year after a gunman killed 58 and injured hundreds more at the Route 91 Harvest music festival, country music star Jason Aldean -- who was performing in Los Vegas when the shooting started - - is taking the stage tonight in Irvine, where the audience will likely include some survivors.
Although he won't be attending this evening's concert, Orange County sheriff's Deputy Joe Owen, who was injured in last year's massacre, celebrated his 30th birthday at Aldean's Sept. 22 show at the Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino. He called it a healing moment, and he encouraged other survivors to use this weekend's event to gain some closure.
The Harbor Patrol deputy said he felt “a little nervousness about going to another event that was so big with that headliner,” but his sister and her husband -- who also are Vegas shooting survivors -- purchased tickets for them all last week, and he's glad they did.
“It was a great time,” Owen said. “There were definitely moments when he started playing some of the songs at the time of the shooting and before and it was definitely an emotional moment for all of us. But we were happy it went off without a hitch.”
During some of the more rowdy songs in his set the fans felt more somber than usual, Owen said.
“It was almost unfinished business,” he said. “We finally got to finish the concert we started last year.”
He met a lot of other survivors, too, he said.
“It was good to be around a group of us,” the Marine Corps veteran said.
Owen, who did two tours of duty, was injured by an IED in Afghanistan in 2010, so he was no stranger to the horrors of war. But nothing prepared him for Stephen Paddock's rampage on Oct. 1 of last year.
He recounted how he, like many others, initially thought the loud popping of Paddock's weapon was fireworks.
Owen helped usher his wife and friends to safety, but then, to the chagrin of his wife, he ran back into the line of fire to help others. He quickly realized, with another police officer on scene, that though they could tell the gunfire was coming from a building they could do nothing to stop that and could only help the victims.
Owen was pulling one survivor to safety when he realized he was shot.
“As I'm pulling him it was like I was on fire -- there was a burning sensation in my stomach,” Owen said.
Then he felt a sharp pain in his right leg and his jeans were covered in blood.
Someone helped him hobble to safety and then pushed him over a wall, where two Air Force nurses helped put pressure on his wounds to stop the bleeding before he was taken to a hospital.
It took months and multiple surgeries, but he managed to get back to his job. He has shrapnel in his legs that is too risky to remove so he lives with that, and he said the bullets pain him at times, a constant reminder of the shooting.
Another reminder -- this one, good -- is his infant daughter. For years, he and his wife tried to have another child and found out during his recuperation that his wife had finally gotten pregnant, Owen said. They did the math and they believe she was conceived the weekend of the music festival.
“Out of all that terrible stuff from Vegas that was the most heartwarming, uplifting story for us,” Owen said. “She gave birth to our second daughter in June of this year.”
He said he believes seeing Aldean finish a show can be therapeutic for survivors such as himself, and he encouraged others to attend the 7:30 p.m. event at FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine.
The performance is part of Aldean's High Noon Neon 2018 Tour, and fans can likely expect to hear songs from the artist's newest album “Rearview Town” and his new single “Girl Like You.” For tickets or more about upcoming concert dates, visit JasonAldean.com.
Photo: Getty Images