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Tim Benz: Shootings shake up Steelers tight end, Las Vegas native Xavier Grimble

| Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, 7:39 p.m.
Steelers tight end Xavier Grimble Aug. 2017 at Latrobe High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers tight end Xavier Grimble Aug. 2017 at Latrobe High School.

Someone has to drive the cabs up and down the Strip. A chef needs to make your food at those fancy restaurants. And those blackjack cards don't deal themselves.

Yeah. Regular people really do live in Las Vegas.

“It's a pretty big city beyond the strip,” Vegas native and Steelers tight end Xavier Grimble said. “I can see it. From the people to new development. Parts of the city that were completely desert are now completely developed. New schools are popping up. There's just so much growth.”

And those regular people who live in Las Vegas do regular-people things. Such as entertain themselves from time to time. Maybe even take in the occasional outdoor concert.

Like the Route 91 Harvest music festival last Sunday, where gunman Stephen Paddock killed 59 people and wounded approximately 500 more.

Among his reported victims , a Nevada Army guardsman (Charleston Hartfield), a records specialist for the city (Cameron Robinson), a Vegas native and father of two (Michael Anderson). Just to name a few.

Luckily for Grimble, those he knew were among the fortunate who escaped unharmed from a hail of gunfire shot at them from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel.

“I had some friends from high school who were there. The mother of my child, her brothers were on the strip that night. She actually had tickets to the concert with some of her friends,” recalled Grimble. “I saw on Twitter, (a reporter) McKenna (Keil), she used to cover the team at USC when I was there. It looked like she had blood on her shirt from helping somebody. It really hit close to home.”

Grimble didn't know this until after the incident. He didn't know it was happening at all until 3 a.m.

He happened to wake up to the news.

“I was dumbfounded. I paid attention from 3 to 6 a.m. And the number jumped from two dead, 24 injured. To 20 dead and 200 injured. So from 4 to 5 a.m., I just started calling as many people as I knew.”

Thankfully, no one had to call Grimble with any tragic news about the mother of his daughter. How do you explain that to a young girl? Grimble admitted that thought crept into his mind.

“Not only that, but I think about it every day,” Grimble said. “I'm going to have to raise my daughter in this world with everything that's going on. And increasingly it's getting a little different, a little worse.”

Beyond the personal relationships, Grimble found himself fretting for the city itself at a time where it feels like so much is going in the right direction.

“The hockey team (the NHL's Golden Knights) is coming,” Grimble said. “The Raiders are coming. There's a ton of people moving to the city.

“It's a destination to bring people together for a lot of different reasons. I just hope this doesn't make people shy away from it.”

Think about it. Replace “Mandalay Bay” with “Pittsburgh Marriott City Center.” Or replace “The Strip” with “The Strip District.” Picture images of Pittsburgh splayed across the news channels associated with nothing but sorrow and death at a time when it's enjoying growth, as well.

Or remember what it was like around here after three police officers were killed in Stanton Heights eight years ago.

“It's the largest mass shooting in U.S. history,” Grimble said. “And it happened in my backyard. I've stayed at Mandalay Bay plenty of times. My bowl game was there. I've been on that strip in large crowds so many times ...” Grimble's voice trailed off. “I just want to find out ... why. What reason?”

Me, too.

I also want to know why the country has spent so much energy the past two weeks fuming over how to best honor the flag, yet we seem numb to the reason why it was flying at half-staff this week.

Grimble will never forget the Vegas shooting. I lived much of my life in Connecticut. I'll never forget Sandy Hook. But outside of Orlando, have any of us thought about Pulse nightclub since June 2016?

Does anyone under 25 years old really grasp what the word “Columbine” meant in 1999?

Are Pearl and Fort Hood and Blacksburg still “lessons?”

Or just footnotes?

Because if they are lessons, we're flunking.

“The times we are living in, there's nowhere to hide,” Grimble sighed.

Grimble is 6-foot-4 and 261 pounds of muscle. He shouldn't have to feel like he needs to hide anywhere.

Least of all in his hometown. And neither should the many others who really do live there.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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