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Ducks Honor Vegas Tragedy Victims and First Responders

'They went out of their way to reach out, not just to myself but to the others who are here,' says Jonathan Smith, a gunshot victim and hero that night

by Adam Brady @AdamJBrady / AnaheimDucks.com

Jonathan Smith could still feel the pain in his bandaged neck as he watched the Ducks play the Islanders from a Honda Center suite Wednesday night. For now at least, there is a bullet still lodged in there, the result of a horrific night in which Smith was among the almost 500 injured when a lone gunman opened fire on the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas.

Smith took two bullets that night - one in the arm and one in the neck - and while his doctors are still determining if that bullet can be removed someday, the memories of that night will never go away.

"I'm glad to be alive," Smith said during the first period of the Ducks-Islanders game, where the Buena Park native was among several Southern California victims and those who acted heroically during the tragedy in Las Vegas. "Unfortunately, I still have the pain going on right now. My doctors are trying to see if there is a way to remove it. But other than the pain, I'm just grateful and thankful to be alive right now."

It's in great part to Smith's heroism there aren't more than the 58 reported dead from that night. The 30-year-old father of three who attended the event with several other family members sprang into action when the shots rang out. He ushered at least 30 people to safety before being treated for his own life-threatening injuries by an off-duty policy offer.

See more of Smith's story here.

"It's still a reality shock, and I'm starting the process of putting it behind me," Smith said at Honda Center, his arm in a sling and a noticeable bandage near his collarbone. "To this day, it's still hard to believe that actually happened."

Smith had never attended a Ducks game before he and several other victims and first responders were invited to be guests of the team Wednesday night. But he says he has always been a fan, despite growing up in a household of Kings supporters.

"I'm probably not supposed to say this, but I've been a Ducks fan since they were the Mighty Ducks," Smith says. "This is my team. Just to be here at this moment, it's a true blessing.

"It's a great honor, honestly. I've had a lot of people reach out to me, but for the Anaheim Ducks to do this, it truly means a lot. They went out of their way to reach out, not just to myself but to the others who are here. I'm truly blessed."

Young couple Mykenzie Lane and Brandon Helmick, on the other hand, have been to more than their share of Ducks games. In fact, the passionate fans only missed three games last season and planned to go to games last week before they were involved in the shooting in Vegas. Though Brandon shielded her during the first round of firing, Mykenzie took a bullet in the ankle after they attempted to flee when the shots had momentarily stopped.

"We heard the first round of shots, and I told her to get down and I got on top of her," Helmick said. "That round stopped and I told her to get up to go. We hopped fences and found cover. It was a lot of adrenaline and a lot of sheer, 'We need to get somewhere safe.'"

During the third round of shots, the two attempted to dive under storage containers converted into portable suites for the event. "As soon as he pulled me, my left ankle dragged behind me," Lane said. "That was the last limb that got under, and it got shot."

She recounted the horror while wearing a cast on her left ankle and a Cam Fowler Ducks jersey, with Brandon - clad in a Paul Kariya vintage Mighty Ducks sweater - holding his arm around her. It was clear that at Honda Center they were back in their comfort zone.

"It feels really good to be back, it feels really good to be in jerseys, it feels really good to see sports again," Lane said. "It's awesome and it's amazing how sweet everyone is being."

Added Helmick, "We're very dedicated fans, so it's really special for the team to reach out to us, to have us here. It really means a lot to us."

Along with taking their minds off the tragedy, the game gave those like Jonathan, Mykenzie and Brandon a chance to bond with others involved in the shooting. A group of about 20 and their guests were able to watch the Ducks beat the Islanders 3-2 from two different Honda Center suites. They gathered together in one of them to be recognized during the first timeout of the second period to a standing ovation from the crowd.

Video: Ducks honor victims and heroes from the Vegas tragedy

Also among the group of victims and first responders honored at Honda Center were:

- Joe Owen, an Orange County Sheriff's Department Deputy who was off-duty and shot in the abdomen and thigh after he went back in to the line of fire to help save victims and get people to safety.

- Mark Seamans, an off-duty Orange County Sheriff's Department Deputy who also sustained injuries while helping others to safety.

- Jesse Heyer of Valencia, an EMT who ran back to the concert as shots were still being fired to help those who were shot. Jesse's girlfriend Kellie Kleszcz is a Honda Center employee who was able to flee without being injured that night.

- Colby Jackson of Mission Viejo (nephew of Ducks usher Debbie Cooper-Mahoney) and his girlfriend, Shannon Muttram. Colby and Shannon, who were both wounded, together provided medical assistance to others in the treatment area until they were transported to a local hospital themselves. They are both EMTs and Colby has worked for CARE Ambulance Service in the Zamboni tunnel at Honda Center.  

- Garrett Hilseth of North Tustin, who plays on an Anaheim Police hockey team and was grazed in the head by a bullet.

- Tiffany Katsaris of Huntington Beach, who suffered shrapnel wounds to her back and thigh and is still undergoing treatment.

- Rob Long, an investigator for the Orange County District Attorney's Office helped people to safety during the tragedy.

- Mike Gracia, an Ontario police officer who was critically injured by a shot to the head, is still recovering and is planning to attend the October 20 game, which is Law Enforcement Night at Honda Center.

Throughout the night, numbers were exchanged and plans were made among the group of victims and heroes, most of whom had never met each other before. They share the memories of that awful night as well as the chance to get away from it for just a few hours.  

"It's really important to be together at this time," Helmick said. "And there are people we recognize because [Mykenzie] was in the ER with them when we were going through all this, just being together supporting each other. It's really awesome to see people who've been through this be just as strong being together."

After the game, the group had a meet-and-greet with several Ducks players, taking photos and sharing their stories.

"It's a sigh of relief because I know I wasn't alone," Smith said. "Just to meet other people who know what I have gone through, it's sort of like I have someone I can actually talk to about it. The only thing we can honestly say to each other is we're thankful to be here and thankful to be alive."

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