Country star Jason Aldean had gotten through only the first two lines of “When She Says Baby” when bullets began raining down on the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas.
Megan O’Donnell Clements was there with friends on that warm night in 2017 – an evening that began with singalongs and ended in disaster as Aldean sang these downhearted lines, “Somedays it’s tough just gettin’ up/Throwin’ on these boots and makin’ that climb.”
That’s when Clements and the rest of the 22,000 in attendance began running for their lives, trying to avoid being one of the casualities. When the shooting stopped, 60 people were dead and more than 1,000 were injured in the nearly 10-minute attack from a nearby hotel. More than 1,000 rifle rounds were fired.
“It took me eight minutes to go from taking everything in life for granted to literally nothing for granted,” Clements said.
Clements’ only physical wound came when she fell and cut her knee while running to escape. She said she burst into tears at nearby McCarran International Airport where hundreds fled to safety.
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When she came home to her husband, Ron, and twin girls, Carmela and Rylee, she said it was clear she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, although she was never officially diagnosed.
And then a weird thing happened.
Instead of the shooting taking her down, it somehow lifted her up to fight.
Now a ‘happy hippie’
Within a few months of the shooting, Clements decided to turn her world inside out. Life, she realized, was more important than the rat race she had been living. Chasing status and promotions at work suddenly seemed hollow.
“I was overdoing things just to do them,” Clements said at her kitchen table last week, wearing a shirt with her new motto, “Live love, love life.” “I didn’t want to waste time anymore because I felt like I was given some sort of second chance. So many other people were not.”
She quit her job as an operations manager at Capital One, where she worked up to 60 hours a week, and launched her own brand called The Loved Life (thelovedlife.com).
Clements, 36, is now a certified personal trainer and practitioner of both Yin yoga and reiki, dedicating herself to guiding clients toward finding mindfulness.
She does it for the same simple reason she also works at Practice Without Pressure in Pike Creek, a medical, dental and personal care office for people with disabilities: Helping others makes her feel good.
After living through the deadliest mass shooting in American history, this self-described “happy hippie” can use all the good vibes she can find.
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‘When words fail, music speaks’
One of her clients is Rachel Vinson, a property manager with a stressful job overseeing 300 units. As a life coach of sorts, Clements pushes Vinson to work out and learn stress relievers.
“She can even tell from texts if I’m stressed out and sends me tips,” said Vinson, who is aware of Clements’ background. “Her personal testimony about how she deals with stress and knowing what she’s been through, I listen. I have stressful moments, but I’ve never been shot at.”
Clements started her blog just three months after the shooting, driven to “put some good out into the world” after witnessing such darkness firsthand.
Investigators never found a clear motive for the shooting. And since no one could tell her why it happened, Clements then wanted to know every detail about what occurred. In retrospect, she feels she was reclaiming control. In the process, she realized how close she came to being struck down.
Her research included a map that showed where the victims were shot on the grounds located along the Vegas Strip. There were clusters of dead surrounding the area where she had been.
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“It’s crazy to know how close I was to not being here talking to you today or seeing my kids again,” Clements said. “It gives you a very different perspective.”
A permanent reminder of that day can be found on her right knee, where a small scar remains. She added another one a month after the shooting in the form of an arm tattoo bearing the name of the music festival. It includes a Hans Christian Andersen quote, “Where words fail, music speaks.”
Taking the moment back with Jason Aldean
Over the years, Andie Caputo, a friend of Clements who was with her in Las Vegas, has found herself leaning on her friend when she needs help. She saw Clements transform from someone who got the help she needed to someone who needed to help.
“It flipped a switch in her,” Caputo said. “She didn’t have to just care for herself, she had to do it for others, too.”
Clements’ husband has even used some of his wife’s tips. He heard the gunshots in the background as his wife talked to him on the phone, running for cover.
“Her phone died as we were talking. I didn’t know what was happening,” he said.
It was 10 months after the ambush when Clements and Caputo decided to see Aldean in concert again for closure.
They went to his August 2018 show at BB&T Pavilion in Camden, New Jersey, and just like in Las Vegas, the song “When She Says Baby” came early in the set.
This time, they heard more than just the song’s downcast opening verse, instead also getting to the warm, uplifting chorus.
“That look in her eyes got me comin’ alive/And drivin’ me a good kind a crazy,” Aldean sang.
That’s when the tears came again. But they weren’t the tears of sadness or suffering that had washed over her nearly a year earlier. They were tears of relief for Clements.
“We took this moment back.”