When Kristin Babik walked into her dining room after returning to Gainesville on Tuesday, she spotted a large, homemade poster reading “UF Law Loves You” sitting on a table.
The poster had signatures from many of her fellow students in the University of Florida’s College of Law, all wishing her well and sharing their excitement that she’s finally home. Every time she glances at it, a new name she didn’t notice before brings a smile to her face.
Accompanying the poster were balloons and a vase full of brightly colored sunflowers, roses and carnations. And what was once a blank wall in the dining room now proudly displays a rainbow banner spelling out “Welcome Home Kristin.”
Babik, who grew up in Gainesville and is in her third year of law school, was one of the hundreds injured in the Oct. 1 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, which left 59 dead, including gunman Stephen Paddock.
The massacre, launched from an upper-floor hotel room in the Mandalay Bay casino, is considered to be the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history
Babik had been spending her weekend in Las Vegas with her friends. She had a red-eye flight booked for the same night as the festival ended, and her bags were already packed.
Country singer Jason Aldean was the last set of the three-day festival, and Babik was eagerly awaiting his performance of “Burnin’ It Down.”
But she didn’t get a chance to hear it.
“I don’t think he got through a minute of [the song ‘When She Says Baby’] when we started hearing what sounded like firecrackers,” Babik recalled.
But the firecrackers turned out to be bullets.
Aldean’s lights cut off on stage between the second and third round of fire, and Babik crouched down on the floor with her head bent over.
People around her were scared. Someone was crying.
And that’s when she was hit in the back with a bullet.
Babik felt it happen, but she didn’t register it as a gunshot wound because so many people around her were saying the noise wasn’t gunfire.
She assumed someone had hit her with a shoe by accident. And when she felt the splatter of blood, she figured maybe someone had just spilled their drink while they were running.
But Babik was in a huge amount of pain. She knew that if she could get out by climbing a nearby fence others were going over, she would be fine.
“It was so painful and hard to breathe, but we made it to the fence,” Babik said, adding that she still didn’t believe she had been shot.
After she climbed the fence, a man on the other side told her, “I got you. Just come on. I got you.”
“He gave me the biggest hug and said it was going to be OK,” Babik remembered. “This was someone I didn’t even know.”
Moments later, she began coughing up blood and then fell to the floor. She began to ask if she had been struck by a bullet and whether she would survive.
With the help of strangers — one a paramedic who stopped the bleeding, another who drove her and her friends to an ambulance — Babik made it to the hospital and began receiving treatment for her injuries, which included a collapsed lung.
To help with her missed time, from the shooting and her recovery needs, the law school is working to create a education plan.
“It’s really cool that they’re so flexible and willing to accommodate me, especially after such a traumatic event,” Babik said. “I think the most important thing on my mind, and other people’s, is my recovery, but also graduating on time with my class.”
Babik is still on track to graduate with her class in 2018.
“My life has been put on hold for the past two weeks, and it’s really hard because I’m not usually like that,” Babik said. “I’m usually a workaholic, especially during the week, so it’s kind of hard to focus on myself and my recovery because I just want to go, go, go and get back.”
Babik hopes to become a criminal prosecutor after graduation.
“Law school was something I wanted to do for myself, and I don’t want to stop just because someone wanted to do something so insidious and not even take responsibility for it,” Babik said. “It wouldn’t be right to quit my dream of becoming a lawyer.”
All the while, Babik has thought a lot about that night. She has wondered what would be different if she hadn’t attended the concert or if the shooter had chosen a different venue. She even asked why it happened to her.
But she said her motivation for everything she does, including recovering, continues to drive her toward her goals.
“I don’t want to let [the shooter] win,” Babik said, “and I don’t want to let it stop me from doing what I want to do.”