Wednesday, November 1, 2017

1 October 2017

One month... How has it been that long?

October 1st, 2017 was supposed to be like any other ending to a music festival.  There would be people nursing Saturday night's hangovers, people taking advantage of a Sunday Funday,  those letting loose on the last day of vacation, but most importantly it was supposed to be the last day where all 22,000 of us Route 91 goers came together to enjoy the end of the weekend with some of our favorite artists.

Route 91 for me was all about Eric Church who had performed Friday night.  Friday night....  That seems so long ago when I sit here and write this.  It was the night that my sister and I worked our way up close to the stage and danced and drank and held up or boots for "These Boots".  It's when a random stranger took our photo because we were "awesome" and when another random put his arm around me and we swayed to "Springsteen".

That Friday night will forever remain frozen in time as we didn't know what would happen Sunday.  I look back in disgust that a shooter had been watching our joy and love for country music over 3 days from 32 floors up while planning the worst modern day massacre in American history.  I feel violated.  I feel sick.  I feel sad.  Mostly, I feel lost and very angry.

Sunday started like any other Sunday in Vegas, with a champagne brunch for the girls while the guys stayed holed up at the sports book.  Finally we all decided to get ready to go, but my family was delayed a bit and our friends went on ahead of us.  My mom, sister and I left and got to the festival around 5 p.m., got our beers and settled at the Next from Nashville tent for Adam Craig.  We decided to stay back that far until my brother in law got to the festival.  We texted our friends who said they were up close and we would all meet up toward the end of Jason Aldean.

The day went by and I noticed that Sunday seemed to be the busiest day for the festival.  There were so many of us country lovers in attendance.  At the Next from Nashville tent a guy approached me to talk about my Wyoming hat because his shirt was from the same company.  Our friend Julie who met on Friday found us at a picnic table and chatted about ice cream, her friends being close to the stage on the right side.  We met a CHP who worked with my hairdresser's husband.

What can I say?  Country people are friendly and wherever you go, you make new friends.  That is one thing I love about this community most.

Not long after the CHP and his girlfriend left, I got up to throw my beer can away.  I looked at my watch, 10:00p.m. on the dot.  Jason Aldean was starting his 4th or 5th song of the night.  My sister and I talked about how it wasn't our favorite and we couldn't wait to see what would be on his playlist.  Then I heard three pops that sounded like firecrackers.  Looking around I found my eyes settling between the Mandalay Bay and the Luxor.  Now I know, we all were looking at a devil in disguise who would soon rain Hell down upon all 22,000 of us.

Then it started... It sounded like a drive by shooting on the Strip and my first reaction was, "God dammit OJ Simpson.  Of course there's shots on the Strip the day you get out of jail."  That is when I saw him... A man in a baseball hat, orange shirt and camo shorts running toward me screaming to run.  The officers behind me ran forward, security was there pulling fences open, someone grabbed my arm and my brother in law said to run.  I looked at my mom and told her to run.  I took off to the right toward porta-potties, my family to the left.  My mom yelled for me and I took off after them.

My sister was trying to call our friends while I called home to tell my dad we were safe and running.  I was terrified to run out on a street, because that is where I heard the gunfire, but I ran with the crowd.  I looked at my new friend, Julie, and told her to come with us.  She said she couldn't and took off back toward the venue in search of her friends.

No sooner than we made it into the main casino area of the Tropicana there were screams and people running in from The Strip side and someone yelled, "Shooter!  There is a shooter coming this way."  We all scattered.  A man  was knocked out of his chair at  a slot machine.  I paused to help him and told him to get out and get to safety.  I looked around and found my family.  We all ran our side emergency exit doors.  After the crowds ran, we ducked between stairs and a building, my brother in law saw an opening and told us to get under the steel stairs.  Once under them we realized we were hiding between the stairs and an employee entrance exit surrounded by fascia board.

Here we crouched in the dirt for what seemed an eternity receiving texts from friends and family with updates from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department with reports of snipers, active shooters, car bombs and gunshots upon medics.  The first death toll released was 27 people....

Soon a helicopter was over head, lowering itself toward the Tropicana, then flying up... It continued in a yo-yo pattern for minutes.  Screams were heard from the Strip.  Gunfire.  The footsteps of those running out of the casino thundered directly above our head.  Slight explosions were heard in the distance.  The noises were chilling and being hidden, we still have no idea what exactly was going on.  Every noise made me more aware and fearful of the scene we had no visual on.  Just the noises of chaos, panic and pure terror rang out.

At one point we thought we were safe, only to be told by a security guard who saw us that they believed there were active shooters in the casino and to stay hidden.  He promised to come back and get us.  As I was getting ready to climb back over the fence to our hiding place I spotted a young couple.  I grabbed them and told them to hide with us.  The poor woman was semi-hyperventilating.  Repeatedly I took her hand and told her we all were going home.

In those moments, every sound and person going by was a threat.  We didn't know there was one shooter from 32 floors above.  That was the worst part.... Not knowing what the real danger was.

The blaring of sirens and flashing of the Tropicana's emergency system still haunt me.  How I didn't lose it in those moments I will never know.

After what seemed like weeks, the Tropicana announced we were safe but on lock down.  We pulled ourselves out of the dirt and hopped the fence once again and limped into the hotel's employee portion.  We came limping in from blisters and stiff joints with twigs and dirt stuck to us, the employees looked terrified.  Immediately our hands went up as the employees asked if we had been shot or injured, thankfully we were all shaken up, but ok physically.  They escorted us to a stairwell where other Route 91 concert goers were heading to the casino main floor.

After trips to the bathroom, I saw our friend who had been separated from his wife and us.  I yelled to him and we all embraced in a huge group hug.  He was able to call his wife from our phones as his  battery had died.  We found security and tried to get to his wife who was locked in a hotel room with 20 or so other people.  Security said they would get her, but the other's in the room refused to give her the room number.

As I walked down the corridor toward the convention center entrance, I passed hysterical girls, huddling families, men crying- the truth is- everyone was in shock, whether it be hysterical cries or silent huddles.  Each and every one of us knew we had escaped death, but had no idea what loomed outside the walls of the casino.

Strangers huddled together, shared phone cords, shared blankets, water, cigarettes and most of all, compassion.  Cowboys donning their hats walked water cases up and down the halls and in and out of ballrooms to keep busy, others huddled together and shared stories of their escape.  The true beauty of human kindness filled the halls even though the event was a tragic nightmare.

After hours, we were finally released.  After much begging and pleading our friend was able to go with the police and my sister to get his wife from the hotel room.  We all hugged and basically ran toward the exits to head back to our hotel and home.

The events of October 1st have changed each of us, we will no longer be who we were before that horrendously awful night.  We are bound together as well.. All 22,000 of us.  We have become a family, leaning on each other in the hard moments, celebrating small victories, most of all because we survived the worst massacre in modern day America.

If you have someone in your life who is a survivor, please be kind.  Check in on them, even if it is a just a text.