Oct. 1 (UPI) -- In times of darkness and tragedy, people are often drawn to creative pursuits as a way to work through their emotions or honor a loved one.
The death of a family member could prompt an artist to pick up a paintbrush. A natural disaster halfway across the globe could inspire a musical composition. After 58 people were killed at a country music festival in Las Vegas one year ago, dozens of mostly strangers came together to create a one-of-a-kind project to memorialize each of those who died.
One of the artists, Amanda Roth, a high school art teacher from Redondo Beach, Calif., and a survivor of the attack, told UPI she became involved in the Las Vegas Portraits Project after a co-worker read about it on Facebook.
By then, it had been several months since the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting at the outdoor Route 91 Harvest music festival near the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, and Roth had mostly "shut it out."
"People asked if I was OK," she said. "I just needed things to go back to normal. I would say the first six months or so I turned it all off. I wouldn't read about it.
"As soon as I started painting Jordan McIldoon," she said of one of the shooting victims, "I replayed it all in my mind."
Roth attended the three-day country music festival with friends, having driven to Las Vegas from Southern California. They got to the venue early to make sure they had a spot near the right side of the stage and since they kept to the same area each day of the festival, they struck up friendships with other concertgoers. One made room for her and her friends closer to the stage when singer Jason Aldean performed.
"When Jason Aldean started singing, we heard the gunshots go off," Roth said, adding that most of her group thought the loud cracks were fireworks.
Roth said she realized something was wrong when she saw a woman with blood on her face.
"And then people started to run," she said.
Roth and her friends helped others climb a fence near the stage, but she ended up crouching on the ground until they stopped hearing gunfire.
"By the time we got up, almost everyone was gone," she said.
Only those helping the wounded and the bodies of the dead were left among countless personal items on the ground, like cellphones and money.
Roth and her friends ran for the exit and and their hotel room at the nearby Luxor. By then, the hotel was in lockdown mode. She called her parents, but in the early minutes after the attack, she didn't know exactly what had happened.
"I thought it was some kind of terrorist attack," she said, adding that it wasn't clear if the bloodshed was over at that point.
"I was probably the most scared, sitting inside my hotel room wondering if I was going to live or not," Roth said.
She didn't learn the attack had ended and that she was safe until 3 a.m. After that, she returned to California.
Ellen Abramo didn't attend the Route 91 Harvest festival and didn't personally know anyone injured or killed in the attack. The artist and stay-at-home mother from Nazareth, Pa., knew a little something about grief, though.
She had participated in a similar portrait project to honor the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 in Orlando, Fla., and shortly before the Las Vegas shooting, her own father died.
"I felt some of their pain," she told UPI of the Vegas shooting. "I was hurting, myself, and I knew they were hurting even more."
Abramo and her cousin, Kortney Struemph, of Marietta, Ga., organized the Las Vegas Portrait Project to provide "a healing experience" for the friends and families of the victims. The two created two portraits, as well.
She said each artist was allowed to use whatever style and medium -- pencil, paint, etc. -- they wanted, as long as the portrait accurately captured the likeness of the subject.
"It speaks to the individual personality of the victims," Abramo said of the variety of styles, sizes and media used. "More important than [the artists' styles] was that the likeness of the person, the personality of that person, came through."
All 58 portraits all came together for the first time Sept. 17 in an exhibit at the Clark County Government Center in Las Vegas. After the show ends Oct. 19, each of the portraits will be sent to family members of the victims -- like Angela McIldoon, Jordan McIldoon's mother.
Roth said she started two versions of her painting of Jordan McIldoon, a 23-year-old Canada native who attended the music festival with his girlfriend, Amber Vanderpol. The first wasn't going well, and then she talked to Jordan's mother.
"She just wanted to talk about him and how much he was into adventures," Roth said. "He was a funny kid."
She said her first painting was "not the right" one.
After looking at more photographs of Jordan and watching a video of his celebration of life video, Roth said she'd realized she was trying to make a painting for Jordan himself. So she started the second version with his family in mind.
"I worked really hard on that painting. It just became this obsession to get it right," she said.
The new oil painting was a double portrait -- in the background was Jordan with friends riding snowmobiles. In the foreground, a closeup of him wearing a maple leaf ball cap for his Canadian heritage.
He was wearing maple leaf clothing on the day he died, Roth said.
Roth is now Facebook friends with Angela, who said she loves the painting of her son.
"One thing that Angela said is she doesn't want her son to be forgotten," she said.
Roth believes she was protected by guardian angels during the attack, including Jordan McIldoon.
"This portrait project definitely helped me. It was therapeutic," she said, adding that the process allowed her to finally "cry it out" for the first time since the shooting.
Abramo also hopes the exhibit will be a healing experience for victims' families and survivors, some of whom will meet for the first time Thursday for a special reception at the government center in Las Vegas.
"We wanted to make sure that these families knew that their loved ones did not die in vain," she said.
"People around the world will remember them. They have have become very important to us and we don't want them to be forgotten."
Marking the first anniversary
The portraits project isn't the only way the city of Las Vegas is marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting. The Clark County Museum will hold an exhibition of some of the items left at the memorials created in the days and weeks after the shooting.
The museum is working to preserve more than 15,000 artifacts like stuffed animals, candles, silk flowers and artworks.
Mark Hall-Patton, the administrator of the Clark County museum system, told UPI the exhibit and the effort to preserve the items show how the community mourns a tragedy of this magnitude.
"We today mourn differently than we mourned in the past and I suspect we will mourn differently in the future," he said. "It is important that we learn from this and it is important that we preserve that."
-- On Monday morning, there will be a sunrise remembrance ceremony hosted by Clark County, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the Clark County Fire Department and the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center at the Clark County Government Center amphitheater.
-- There will be a remembrance event at the Las Vegas City Hall at 11:30 a.m. Monday, including a prayer and live music.
-- The Get Outdoors Nevada organization is dedicating a new remembrance wall at the Las Vegas Healing Garden at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
-- At the healing garden Monday, officials will read the names of those killed in the attack at 10:05 p.m.
-- Marquees along the Las Vegas strip will go dark to honor the victims at 10:01 p.m. Monday.