Recent TCU graduate Elle Gargano is in critical condition and fighting for her life in Las Vegas, where she was wounded in the massacre that killed 59 people this week.
The 23-year-old is in intensive care at a hospital where her parents, sister and boyfriend wait, hoping for good news.
Back home, and across the country, Gargano’s friends are praying for her recovery and trying to raise money to help defray medical and recovery costs.
“The best way to describe her is that she’s a light, the brightest light I know,” said Alix Skelpsa, a friend and big sister to Gargano in the Gamma Phi Beta Sorority at TCU. “She’s so sweet, so genuine.
“She’s one of those people that when you meet her, she touches your heart.”
Gargano, 23, graduated from TCU last year with a degree in strategic communication and moved back home to California to become a marketing assistant at Zumasys.
She was in Las Vegas over the weekend and attended the country music festival, soon becoming one of more than 500 injured when a gunman with Texas ties began firing into the crowd of more than 20,000 concert-goers.
Police identified Stephen Paddock — a retired accountant who lived and worked in North Texas as recently as 2010 — as the gunman in the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. He was found dead in his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino when police broke into his hotel room on the 32nd floor.
Some North Texans who attended the concert and escaped without injury described hearing a series of “popping” noises.
Many thought it was firecrackers until they saw Jason Aldean, who headlined the concert that night, leave the stage and realized bullets were flying through the crowd.
Aldean on Tuesday said his “heart aches” and he’s praying for the victims of the shooting.
“I am so sorry for the hurt and pain everyone is feeling right now and there are no words I can say to take that pain away,” he posted on Instagram. “Just know u all are in my heart and my prayers as we all go through this together.”
Calling for prayers, donations
Friends of Gargano and others say they’re focusing not on the shooter, but the victims.
Many were stunned when they heard she was among the injured.
“You never think that it’s going to be one of your friends, or someone you know,” said Skelpsa, who graduated from TCU in 2015 and now is a headhunter in New York. “It’s ultimate crazy shock.”
A gofundme.com account has been set up for Gargano, and friends are asking for donations and well wishes.
“Asking for prayers for a very special friend Elle Gargano who is fighting hard after having been shot in Las Vegas last night and needs all of the love and support we can give as she is in critical condition,” longtime friend Nicole Long posted on Facebook. “I can’t wait to talk to you Elle.
“I know you’re not only silly and kind and smart, you’re also strong.”
The Go Fund Me account notes that “these donations will go towards her medical expenses and recovery. Her road to recovery is long, but anything helps, including prayers.”
Early Tuesday, more than $50,000 had been raised.
“Without a doubt the sweetest, nicest, and friendliest person in the world,” Rachel Steiker described Gargano on Facebook. “All of my prayers are with you and you family sweet girl, stay strong!❤️”