SPOTLIGHT: UNLV honors the unsung heroes of Dec. 6

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In roughly two weeks, UNLV will cross the fifth month anniversary of the Dec. 6 shooting that tragically took the lives of three Lee Business School professors and wounded one other. In the months that followed the events, students were widely isolated from campus as administration and other ruling authorities evaluated how to safely return to campus while a group of unsung heroes quietly rebuilt an emotionally and physically broken community: the UNLV Student Union custodians. 

In the hours following the attack, both University Police and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department evacuated the entire campus, with individual inspections of each building on campus. In the Student Union, officers physically breached doors and broke windows and other areas of the building to gain access to certain areas. Resultantly, the Student Union building sustained varying levels of damage, including shattered glass, broken door locks and damaged equipment. In an effort to reduce the impact of the damages, Student Union custodians worked from Dec. 7 until the start of the spring semester, cleaning and maintaining all areas of the building.

In the days following the tragedy, custodians Guz Gomez, Paul Castillo, Chris McIntosh, Marquis Jackson, Nelson Tayong, Shane Crump, Sam Stevenson III, Brian Preston and Eric Ealbreath were instrumental in not only coordinating the clean up effort but also removing the immeasurable amount of shattered glass, bullet casings and other structural damage.

It is by the valiant efforts of the aforementioned custodial team that the Student Union was able to return to service in time for the spring semester. However, the cleanup effort was not easy and required the custodial team to not only brave their personal emotions but also balance their professional work.

Two custodians present the day of the event, Paul Castillo and Gus Gomez, who have served in custodial staff at the Student Union for 15 and 21 years, recount the raw emotions from that time. “We were going outside and then we saw all the students over there running across the street,” Castillo recounted. “We heard the announcements over our radios and we didn’t know if it was real or not, and we just kind of looked at each other, and we checked out the dining area and saw everybody running and leaving the building. So we were like, ‘we got to go too’ … We left our food on the table, everything we had and, it was kind of like this. We just walked off and I peeked out the door first, maybe because I didn’t want to run out to something, maybe the gunman was outside.”

Gomez reflected on the state of the university following the shooting, “The whole university to me became slower. A lot of students didn’t want to come in, they wanted to take their classes online.”

Castillo recalls the timing of the December 6th shooting coinciding with a personal tragedy. “I didn’t come in the next day when they asked for volunteers to come and clean up because my girlfriend’s grandfather died the same day, and I didn’t feel like leaving her at home while she’s going through that, ” Castillo expanded. “When I did come back, it was certainly an odd feeling, we ended up cleaning a lot of broken glass upstairs, and all the doors were banged out.”  

Fernando Estanislao, a custodial swing supervisor, vividly recalls being on campus during the days following the attack. “It wasn’t hard on our side, we’re used to not having anybody here where we’re cleaning,” Estanislao explained. “But when you saw the people that were here, you could tell they didn’t want to be here after that shooting. This was right before the holidays came up, a lot of people were taking off already.” Estanislao went on to further elaborate, having to kick out various individuals who would enter the building to seek souvenirs like bullet casing and other items. 

Jay Schneider, a custodial day supervisor in the Student Union, recounts her experience during the period after Dec. 6. “I wish I hadn’t come because seeing the aftermath, the bullet shells, the casing, the doors,” said Schneider. “Just seeing the glass everywhere … then to look and see Fernando and a couple of other staff members dedicated to working through that, slowly putting the building back together. That meant a lot.”

Schneider went on to describe the mental aptitude of the experience. Although Schneider was not present in the building the day of the attack, she recalls the communications held by custodial staff on that day, along with constantly checking in her fellow staff members throughout the day. “This guy Fernando, he reached out to me. He saw the news. He saw the chats. He reached out immediately,” Schneider elaborated. “I’m even thankful that I wasn’t here to hear those. Those gunshots because a few of our staff members weren’t able to get out of the building, and they’re still affected by it. They were sheltered in place and the closet in the kitchen, in their office.”

Almost five months after that fateful December morning, the contributions of the Student Union custodial staff was integral to rebuilding the building and allowing a seamless transition into the spring semester. Braving through personal commitments, each custodian brought forth an excellent level of commitment and service to the UNLV community. It is because of their dedication to their community that we enjoy a repaired building and renewed image of campus strength.

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