My Friends Made it Out of Las Vegas Massacre
October 1, 2017 will go down as one of the worst days in American history. The mass murder that occurred in Las Vegas ended with 58 dead and over 500 injured.
Two of my friends, a husband and wife who live in Sioux Falls, were at the concert when the shooting started.
I asked for an interview with one of them. As the time drew near she called wondering what I might ask and what to say. I could tell she was not comfortable doing it. I encouraged her not to. I can't imagine what it is like to go through an event like that and then deal with it afterwards and tell the story so publicly.
During our 15 minute conversation she did tell me the basic story of their experience at this tragedy and gave me permission to share it with my audience, which I will paraphrase as best my memory and sketchy notes will allow me to without guess or exaggeration. She said she may do an interview in the future, but right now it didn't feel right. Until that time I will keep their names private.
She started off by telling me it is only by the grace of God they were able to come home to their three girls.
It was a typical country concert crowd. There were a lot of people drinking, some smoking marijuana, and a few getting into fights. Most were having a great time. She had only been drinking water that night because she wasn't feeling completely well.
Security was very tight for the Route 91 Festival. She was frisked, wanded with a metal detector, and had her purse thoroughly searched. They were on the east side of the grounds near a place where you could refill your water. This put them farther away from the Mandalay Bay than most of the crowd.
Suddenly she heard what she thought sounded like three distant shots fired from a pistol, somewhat muffled by the loud performance of Jason Aldean. She turned to her husband and said "Those were gun shots, someone is firing!"
She grew up with guns, has a fair amount of experience shooting pistols and rifles, including AR-15 style rifles. Like many others her husband thought it was just pyrotechnics from the concert, or maybe fireworks.
When she heard the initial burst of automatic rifle fire she yelled "I'm going!" and took off running without looking back. Her husband and brother-in-law took off as well, trying to follow.
They were standing near an exit on the east side where tour buses and trucks come and go to load equipment. It wasn't officially an exit, but you could get out through there.
"I was so scared. I probably ran for at least a mile," she said. "I got separated from my husband. We didn't reunite until we were back at our hotel, at the MGM Grand."
She did not see any of the gore of the shooting. She guessed they were among the very first to identify the threat and run away. But they didn't even know where to run because they could not tell where the sound was coming from.
At first the concert muffled the sound. But even after Jason Aldean fled the stage, and all they could hear was the POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP. The shots sounded like they were coming from inside the outdoor venue.
"It sounded like the gunfire was chasing me," she said. "It was right behind me all the time and I wasn't going to stop running until I was hit or safe.
"The sound of that gunfire will never leave me."
She got back to her hotel and didn't have a room key, her husband had it. The hotel was locked down and she sat in a stranger's room next door for ten minutes until her husband came back. He had been hiding on the first floor from what was thought to be a possible assailant coming down the street. No one knew anything for sure.
It wasn't until they were back in their hotel room and turned on the news that they learned that the shooter was on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, more than 400 yards away from the stage of the concert.
I'm thankful my friends made it out safely. Many others did not. Knowing that, every time we end up at their house for a get-together I'll thank God we're able to hang out, watch our kids play, and gorge ourselves on chips and dip.