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Vegas shooting survivors attend benefit concert

Last Updated Oct 20, 2017 at 3:40 am EST

Photos and notes adorn a wall at the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, in Las Vegas. The garden was built as a memorial for the victims of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Some survivors of the Las Vegas mass shooting said they were ready for closure, though they confessed feeling engulfed by anxiety and security fears while gathering in a large group for the first time since the attack.

Theresa Almada, 49, drove Thursday evening from San Diego back to Las Vegas to attend a country music concert benefiting victims of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Fifty-eight people were killed and hundreds more were wounded Oct. 1 at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on the Las Vegas Strip. Gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino-hotel tower, unleashing more than 1,000 bullets into the crowd.

Almada was physically unharmed and was able to run back to her hotel, but she said she feels immense anxiety that comes in waves. She gathered at the Thursday night benefit concert with fellow survivors wearing matching orange t-shirts and bracelets. Almada said she hopes she’ll feel some sense of closure and can begin to heal from the traumatic experience.

“I don’t know if there’s a copy-cat person out there but I’m not going to let him do what he did to every single day of my life,” Almada said of Paddock.

Susan Pudiwitr, 56, of Las Vegas, who suffered a bullet graze wound on her hip, said she finds comfort being among other survivors but being in a big crowd again makes her think about who’s out there, where they are and how she would save herself and her friends if the worst happened again.

“It’s been hard. I don’t sleep. I have trouble eating,” Pudiwitr said.

Security was also on the mind of John Rich of the American country music duo Big & Rich, which headlined the benefit concert along with Rascal Flatts. Thursday’s concert at the indoor Orleans Arena was expected to attract 8,000 people, including 2,000 police and other emergency workers.

“It’s definitely going to be on your mind. You’re going to look at your surroundings through a different lens,” Rich said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. “I mean, how could you not?”

Big & Rich had performed at the festival about 90 minutes before Paddock opened fire for about 10 minutes with country music star Jason Aldean on stage at the time.

Big & Rich, whose hits include “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” and “Lost In This Moment,” had left the festival grounds after their performance the night of the shooting but have taken the tragedy personally.

“Those are our people. That’s who we identify with. That’s who we make music for, so to see them suffering like that, it’s really painful to watch,” Rich said.

The tickets for the concert were free and all were taken. Organizers accepted donations and profit from food and beverage sales will go toward the primary victims’ fund. To date, more than $11 million have been raised by the county to help with medical bills and other expenses.

“We ain’t staying down. We’re going to go out. We’re going to do the things we do as Americans,” said Joe Don Rooney of Rascal Flatts. “We’re going to love life.”

During the show, Fox host Sean Hannity compared the Vegas shooting to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. There were also video messages from Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and musicians Garth Brooks and Kid Rock. And President Donald Trump tweeted his support of the concert, using the hashtag #VegasStrong.

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Follow Sally Ho at https://twitter.com/_sallyho .

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For complete coverage of the Las Vegas shooting, click here: https://apnews.com/tag/LasVegasmassshooting.