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Exclusive: Two Women Share How They Survived the Country's Largest Massacre

Culture

"I just cannot get the image of the terror on the woman's face out of my mind," Lyft moonlighter and local agency Project Manager, Wendy Burney said in relation to one of the victim reactions during the country's largest shooting to date. I have never seen such a look of terror."


A Las Vegas resident since 2003, Wendy Burney echoed the sentiment of so many following this week's unimaginable massacre at Mandalay Bay and the Harvest 91 Festival.

Having just dropped passengers off near the 22,000-person event, the mother of three shared that she was initially more confused than scared when the first shots rang out.

"It took me a while to realize it was gun fire, just like everyone else."

T-shirts turned tourniquets for bullet holes in the McDonald's parking lot across from Mandalay Bay as Wendy Burney was detained with other attendees by SWAT until approximately 3 AM.

"The police, SWAT, military and early responders were absolutely incredible," she adds. "In a time of so much unrest, not one single public officer was anything but compassionate, calm, skilled and respectful. There were no condescending or apathetic tones. We were all just humans."

Photo Courtesy of Katie Berney

Meanwhile, fellow Lyft Driver, Katie Berney, (no relation) was experiencing a very different set of events unfold around her. Also dropping passengers at Mandalay Bay, she tried her best to flee the scene as she too realized that the "fireworks" were actually gunfire, and she was right in the middle of it all.

"I was already nervous, shaking and in shock and I wanted to leave. A police officer stopped me and said: 'back up, back up!'" says Burney who made a U-turn to accommodate the officer and four bloody women jumped into her van. Despite there only being one wound on the ladies they were soaked with the blood of other attendees. "I felt bad for the wounded, and the family for the wounded, but the women with me were afraid and begged me not to stop any more (for anyone else), and so I did not and we just focused on escaping." Says Berne, "Honestly its a bad nightmare for me, when I close my eyes and I see a (certain) guy asking me for a ride. It is like a movie and it's really happening and I am so sorry (for not stopping)."

Katie, also a mother, says she needs a sleeping aide to even attempt sleep at this point and is anxious to talk to anyone associated with the event in hopes of finding peace or serenity, and a way to move forward with her life. The sounds of screams, the shots (including a nine-minute straight round) and the chaos seem to be some of the hardest portions of the massacre to forget.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Jones

"I can still hear it all in my ears, and in my mind," Burney concludes. "There are so many who have lived much more tragic versions of this event and night, you almost feel guilty even feeling the trauma if you were not one of the fathers laying on top of his children to shield them, or a surgeon up for over 24 straight hours dealing with the 515 hospitalized and wounded. And yet, this happened to all of us, everyone has been affected in some way by this really delusional man, and it is haunting. How do we all move on?"

In a city known for celebrity chefs, smokey casinos and bright lights, it is easy to forget that Las Vegas is a community filled with 2.1 million residents. 2.1 million teachers, kids, employees, companies, churches and more.

So many things went right on a night filled with so much wrong. The emotional intelligence of officers and police on the scene was just incredible. Their calm demeanors and quick reactions fostered a sense of organized response amongst the chaos of blood, death and confusion.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Jones

It wasn't just police officers there to mitigate stress. The Shell station on Las Vegas Blvd. and Mandalay Bay Drive handed out free waters to all who entered, strangers helping strangers in the most intimate of ways. Random drivers took the wounded, children and visitors to local hospitals.

Uber offered free rides, and Lyft offered bonuses to all of the Las Vegas drivers who worked this week despite the fact that tourism came to a screeching halt. The Clark County School District Superintendent excused absences from schools, calling parents to offer support while Evel Pie supplied free pizzas to officers and first responders working round the clock to make our city safe again. Blood bank donation lines started at 3 AM on the morning of the shooting, with Las Vegas residents ready to offer whatever they could to help those in need. And for those affected psychologically, MGM Resorts is offering free therapy to those who attended and were affected by the shooting.

The stage and stage lights at the Harvest 91 Festival remain untouched and fully assembled. A silent reminder that we will remain #VegasStrong.

While we may not understand the motivations of the shooter Stephen Paddock and why he reaped so much havoc on Americas glittering city. It is important we have more than just prayers during this time and that we work to initiate change to stop tragedies like this from happening.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Jones

Culture

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.


Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.