MINNETONKA, Minn. – A memorial fund has been set up for the Shorewood father of three killed in the Las Vegas attacks.
That, while friends and family of 44-year-old Steve Berger are still reeling from their new reality.
“It feels like a bad dream that you’re waiting to wake up from,” said Josh Decker, who was with Berger at the Las Vegas concert when the shooting started Sunday night.
“I feel sad and empty. And there’s going to be a huge void in my life. But I also feel an obligation and duty to honor my friend,” Decker said.
‘His Eyes Were Closed’
Decker and Berger planned the trip to Las Vegas to celebrate Berger’s 44th birthday. The two, along with other friends, had spent the weekend attending the country music festival and dining at Las Vegas restaurants. On Sunday, they’d hoped to follow the same schedule.
“We spent the day having fun at Vegas. And then we would head over after dinner and listen to music,” Decker said, adding that Berger was enjoying his birthday-weekend celebration.
“He was excited. He was excited for the weekend. And he had a lot of positive energy,” he said.
And then came Sunday night and the moment Decker and his life-long friend realized they were under attack.
“I remember hearing what I thought was firecrackers. As if someone were to light a brick of firecrackers and throw it, and you hear this ‘pop, pop, pop,’ sound,” he said.
“At that moment of time, your brain is not telling you someone is shooting at you… I remember hearing a scream behind me. We were only a few feet from the front, so all of the people were behind us, and I remember turning my head, and I saw a man with blood down his face,” he said.
“In the section that we were in, it was so packed, if one person falls, they hit another person. And they hit another person. And everyone fell together down. So I fell down with everyone else,” he recalled.
And it was from that vantage point Josh could see his friend Steve – lying a few feet away – covered in his own blood.
“His eyes were closed. His eyes were closed. He did not look like he was conscious,” he said.
For several minutes, Josh watched as a few medical professionals attempted to resuscitate Steve. And all that, while the gunfire continued. Eventually, Josh and his girlfriend – who was crouched beside him – were approached by a man who identified himself as a former U.S. Marine.
“He said, ‘you can’t help him. You have to save yourself. You’re not able to help anymore. You need to get out of here,” Decker recalled.
And so Decker and his girlfriend sprinted several hundred yards through the concert venue, past bodies and away from his life-long friend.
“We just saw bodies. It was very quiet. There was no screaming or yelling. Almost everyone was gone,” he said, adding, “We had to go. Sometimes that’s the bravest thing you can do.”
Forever Friendship that Started in Northfield
But fleeing that field also meant leaving behind the person Josh first met back in 1991.
“I met Steve my freshman year at St. Olaf. We were put together as college roommates, randomly. He was from Wisconsin, and I was from Burnsville,” he said.
“He was very gregarious. He was very confident. He was full of life,” Decker said, adding, “He’s very tall. He’s 6’6”. So he was physically imposing, and he also had a booming voice and a large personality. And when he put all of that together, he had a lot of charisma, and people gravitated to him.”
Before long, the roommates would be inseparable – first, as friends who bonded as athletes at St. Olaf, and later, as fathers who could relate to the joy of raising children.
“He obviously lived life to the fullest and that included his kids. He was always at all of their sports events all of their activities… He did a lot of boating with them. And he had them with him everywhere he went. He was a very doting individual on his kids,” Decker said.
‘Just a Really Good Man’
One day after learning his friend didn’t survive the attack, Josh is both grieving and processing what he witnessed in Las Vegas. But he still holds some truths with complete clarity, including that the world has lost a good person.
“Steve breathes life into every room he walked into. He lifted people up. He made people feel good about themselves. He was a giver. He would do anything for anybody. That’s why he had a lot of friends in his life. He was just a really good man. And when you lose a good person in this world, everyone should grieve and feel sorrow,” he said.
Steve is survived by three children, ages 15, 12 and 9, his parents and sister. He worked as a financial advisor with EFS Advisors, which has created a memorial fund for Steve’s family. Donations can be made to the “Steve Berger Memorial Fund” and can be sent to the EFS corporate office, at: 440 Emerson St. N., Suite 2, Cambridge, MN 55008. People can also make donations at YouCaring.