How Jason Aldean Fan Kolter Beneitone Came to Symbolize #VegasStrong
Jason Aldean fan Kolter Beneitone doesn't have a great answer for how he ended up on top of the world during the singer's weekend return to Las Vegas. The 27-year-old Army veteran and Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting survivor just recalls screaming to let his emotions out.
Beneitone is the man pictured in a wheelchair being held up by fans during Aldean's Friday night (Dec. 6) show at the Park MGM. That first Ride All Night Vegas residency date marked a return to the city for the singer and dozens, if not hundreds, of fans who were there when the gunfire started on Oct. 1, 2017. Yes, he's technically been back before. and even performed during a few televised events, but this was his first full show since. That clearly mattered to those in attendance.
"I kind of blacked out in the moment. I was pretty emotional," Beneitone tells Taste of Country during a phone call from his Missoula, Mont., home. "From what I understand, he [Aldean] teared up a little bit and pointed at me and gave me a little acknowledgment."
Wearing a Route 91 t-shirt and holding an American flag, Beneitone can be seen going through a range of emotions in three pictures shared to Aldean's wife Brittany's Instagram page. Photographer Justin Mrusek captured the images, the final one showing Beneitone with arms up, head down and a look of anguish across his face. There's so much more to his story that one needs to know to appreciate the pictures in full.
"It was hard for me not to cry," he says, speaking of a night that ended with Aldean finishing "When She Says Baby," the song he was playing when the gunfire started two years ago. "I'm not much of a crier and that was pretty hard not to cry."
Fourteen people from Beneitone's group of 18 that attended Route 91 Harvest Festival joined him at the Friday night concert. There were also a few friends that he met in 2017, two of whom were EMT or first responders. That's who held him up on Friday night. That's who he was representing.
"I just wanted to show everybody ... I was proud we were all there doing that," he shares. "The only way to express the feelings you have in a moment such as that is just to scream as loud as you can."
Among the group in Vegas for both weekends were Beneitone's stepfather and his mother, Michelle Cole. During a conversation with the Idaho State Journal in April 2018 she shared her Route 91 story, one that ended with no harm coming to any of her friends or family members (Beneitone is a paraplegic as a result of a 2012 car accident that ended his Army career). Since then the family has been very proactive. Both Shane and Michelle Cole were already intensive care nurses at Missoula St. Patrick Hospital and had trained for an active shooter. Now they're all Stop the Bleed trainers active in training businesses and schools. He says they're also active shooter resistance trainers with the Safariland Training Group.
"A lot of people struggle finding their route back in life after an event like this," Beneitone says, speaking to how the work has helped him heal. Still, the emotional fallout is something no one can totally prepare for. Army training and that rollover car accident in 2012 may have put him in a position to thrive and lead in 2019.
"I've been through a couple of traumatic incidents prior to that that I was luckily able to learn how to cope with these things a little bit easier," he admits.
After the Aldean concert, Beneitone's group went to see George Strait the next day and then returned home to Missoula, where he was spending Monday recuperating. His message comes with the kind of inspiration that can't be faked, and the double tragedies are described more as learning or growth opportunities than a moment for pity.
"Love wins," he shares when asked for a final word. "And stay country strong."
See Photos From the Route 91 Harvest Festival Shooting in Las Vegas