Sisters ensure soldier’s wife slain in Las Vegas won’t be forgotten

The memorial to Denise Burditus. (Courtesy photo)
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LAS VEGAS, Nevada (KWTX) Not a day has passed since the night of Oct. 1 that Sue Ann Cornwell and her sister Bill Jo LaCount have not thought of Denise Burditus, a woman who died in the bed of their pickup truck after she was shot in the Las Vegas concert rampage.

They never met her, but they say she has changed their lives forever.

"Though Denise and I never spoke a word to each other, I care about her and her family." Sue Ann told KWTX.

"She and Tony have changed my life."

Denise was one of 58 people killed after Stephen Paddock opened fire from his 32nd floor hotel room at Mandalay Bay.

The West Virginia native was attending the concert with her husband of 32-years, Green Beret Army veteran, Tony Burditus, when shots rang out.

After his wife was struck, Tony helped carry Denise into the back of a small Ranger pickup truck driven by two good Samaritans attending the concert whom he'd never met but who wanted to help.

The two were Sue Ann Cornwell and Billy Jo LaCount.

"I call them guardian angels one and two," Tony said.

Denise died in her husband’s arms in the back of the truck en route to the hospital after the group got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a freeway that was unexpectedly closed down following the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

When Sue Ann and Billy Jo dropped Tony off at the hospital, they didn't know if they'd ever see him again.

They didn't even know his name.

But when news coverage of the victims began, the sisters immediately recognized Denise’s face and tracked Tony down on social media.

Tony stayed in Las Vegas the days following the shooting waiting for his wife's body to be released and returned to West Virginia and it was during that time the sisters, one a Las Vegas resident and the other visiting from Wisconsin, drove to his hotel on the Vegas strip to meet him face to face and tell him how sorry they were for his loss.

But they also came with a mission.

They wanted to help Tony carry on the memory of his high school sweetheart.

"I want to help Tony keep her memory alive," Sue Ann, a retired school bus driver of 30 years told KWTX.

And they've put their words into action.

Within days of Denise's death, Sue Ann had a bumper sticker made to go on the tailgate of the truck where Denise took her final breath.

It reads "Denise Salmon Burditus" and it's adorned with angel wings.

Shortly after the sticker was made, the sisters loaded up in that same truck and drove to the site on the Vegas strip where memorial crosses had been erected, one in honor of each victim.

They left a message for Denise.

"Rest in paradise. You will forever hold a place in my heart," the sisters wrote, snapping a picture and sending it to Tony.

But even just across town seemed too far for Sue Ann to have a memorial.

She wanted a reminder she’d see every day, so she returned home and wrote Denise’s name on a memorial lighthouse in her own front yard in Vegas.

"It has names of family and friends that have had an impact on our lives,' Sue Ann said.

"Today I put 'Denise Burditus’ name on it. Her and her family will forever hold a place in my heart."

When Sue Ann and Bill Jo learned the City of Las Vegas had created a healing garden, a place where visitors could go and remember the victims, they knew they must make sure there was a tribute to the only victim from West Virginia.

The two contributed belongings that had great meaning to them to pay tribute to Denise.

"I used my old boot for the flowers because it's a part of who I am," Sue Ann said.

“I put my love and part of who I am in things I took to her tree.”

They included a metal cross and sign they made as well as a photo collage they put together including pictures of Denise from Tony's Facebook page.

They even wrote captions about the woman they never met but they felt like they knew, thanks to Tony.

The picture captions included things like Denise “loved life” and “always had smile.”

But their favorite touch were paper butterflies they attached to the tree in honor of Denise's grandchildren.

Sue Ann says they believe Denise loved being a "G-MA" to her grandkids more than anything.

"I did three blue butterflies for her grandsons and one pink one for her granddaughter,” Sue Ann said.

“I picked butterflies because I believe they are one of the most beautiful things created by God. They can appear anywhere at any time. I'm hoping when her grandkids see a butterfly they think of it as their g ma visiting and watching over them."

On Thursday evening, the sisters added their latest memorial to the West Virginia mom of two they never met; pins they plan to wear on their shirt to future country music concerts with Denise's picture on it.

"I want folks to ask about her so I can tell them."

"I want them to learn that she was full of life, spunk and fun. She was a military mom and an awesome G-ma.”

“I know we will meet her in heaven and we will walk the golden streets together one day."