Eyewitnesses to Sunday night’s deadly Las Vegas shooting described hearing rapid gunfire while singer Jason Aldean performed at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
Videos showed terrified concertgoers screaming, fleeing and throwing themselves onto the ground during the attack. Attendees said they saw lifeless and bloody bodies around them. One man described a stranger dying in his arms.
Aldean, who was not injured, was performing a song when the attack began. Approximately 22,000 people attended the concert, according to authorities.
Justin Levya, a 22-year-old graphic designer from Riverside, California, was at the concert with his girlfriend, Jenna Newton, and her family when he heard the initial gunfire.
Panic ensued as shots continued to rain down on the crowd and performers began to clear the stage, he told HuffPost in an email Monday.
“I look back to my girlfriend’s father who just yells to get down ― and we did,” Levya said. “My instinct kicked in and I knew I had to get myself as far away from the firing as possible. I grabbed my girlfriend as she was staying down for cover and began throwing chairs out of our path until we finally decided to make a break for it.”
The couple became separated from Newton’s family in the chaos, and joined thousands of other concertgoers trying to escape. They used a “cart of some sort” to scale a perimeter fence, Levya said.
“We originally intended on trying to make it to Hooters but the fear of the unknown pushed us to seek shelter the quickest way we could,” he said. “In large groups, we made our way to an elevator [in the Tropicana hotel] and they were FLOODED with people running for their lives.”
Another couple offered them shelter in a room in the hotel. Levya and his girlfriend were then able to reconnect with Newton’s family.
“All we knew we can do, was pray and take shelter and hope for the best,” Levya said. “That’s exactly what we did.”
Cassie Burgoon, 24, has attended the Route 91 festival every year with her mother.
“[Aldean] was playing a really popular song and out of nowhere, everyone heard about five pops and a saw a little bit of smoke, and we all looked around thinking maybe it was a firecracker,” she said.
Once the crowd around her realized what was happening, she said, “people started running everywhere, trampling each other.” Burgoon and her mom ended up running to the side of the venue near the VIP section, where they had to climb over a fence. Burgoon said people in the crowd helped push her mother over the fence.
“The shots just kept going,” she said. She estimated “hundreds” of shots were fired over a period of about 12 to 15 minutes.
They eventually made it to their car, which was parked at the Tropicana resort. They drove several other women to a hotel on the other side of town before driving straight home to Rancho Cucamonga, California.
Shauna Vasquez of Midland, Texas, was watching Aldean’s set with her husband when the shooting began. Vasquez, who has attended the Route 91 festival four times and visits Las Vegas frequently, said the scene was “surreal” because no one understood what was happening or where the shots were coming from.
“It was so loud and it just kept going and going,” she said. “We saw a guy behind us drop down and he was shot in the head, so we just all dropped to the ground. His wife was screaming at him to wake up.”
They remained on the ground for a few moments before deciding to crawl toward the exits.
“We crawled over people and everything,” Vasquez said, noting that she lost her shoes and that her husband had blood from the man behind them on his shirt.
They had to jump over multiple fences to exit the venue. Vasquez said she saw many bodies on the ground at the bottom of those fences.
“I just remember the faces of the people who were lying there lifeless,” she said. “It was horrible.”
Brandi Klemme Quan, of Rossmoor, California, said concertgoers were “sitting ducks” as the shooting seemed to go on and on.
“At one point, I thought, ‘Why isn’t he dead yet? Where are the cops? They should be shooting at him and taking him down!’” Quan, who fled the concert with her best friend’s family, wrote in an email to HuffPost. “I had no idea or even thought for a second that gunman was up in his hotel room, shooting at us as we were sitting ducks in that wide open space with nowhere to hide.”
Quan, her best friend, Kim, and Kim’s daughter, Paige, reached a safe location by running over a perimeter fence near the airport and seeking shelter in a hanger with about 100 other concertgoers, she added. They were eventually evacuated by police. Quan went straight to her parents’ home, where her young daughters were staying. On Monday, she returned to the Mandalay Bay Hotel to retrieve her luggage and experienced a panic attack while in the elevator.
“I had to go get my luggage from our room on the 27th floor,” she wrote. “I can’t believe [the shooter] was staying five floors above us for our entire stay.”
There was a guy about 10 feet away from me running toward us and he tripped over himself and fell — at least, that’s what I thought. And then I looked down at his leg and he had gotten shot in front of me.Michaela Gallo
Michaela Gallo, who was visiting from California to attend the festival, said she was backstage when she heard what she, too, thought were fireworks.
“I thought to myself, ‘That’s weird. Why is someone lighting off fireworks in a big crowd like this? That’s so dangerous,’” she said.
She and others ducked behind a tour bus parked backstage once the crowd realized the sound was coming from a gun.
“There was a guy about 10 feet away from me running toward us and he tripped over himself and fell ― at least, that’s what I thought,” she said. “And then I looked down at his leg and he had gotten shot in front of me.”
Gallo gave a fellow concertgoer her belt so he could use it as a makeshift tourniquet on the victim.
Brian Buonassissi, 38, was visiting Las Vegas from New York and staying on the 27th floor of the Mandalay Bay, the same hotel from which the shooter targeted concertgoers.
“I heard what I thought was fireworks at the time, it didn’t sound like gunfire because it was so quick,” he said.
Buonassissi and other hotel guests then received an automated call telling them to stay in their rooms with the door locked. Police later came to check every room.
“People were holding one another, people were crying,” he said of the scene in the hotel’s lobby after guests were given the all clear. “It was super somber.”
Eyewitness videos showed concertgoers diving for cover and fleeing from the scene.
One unidentified woman told CNN that attendees were hiding in every crevice they could find, including under bleachers at the venue and underneath cars parked outside.
“The shots just kept coming,” she said, adding that she saw at least two injured people, one of whom she helped into her car.
Another eyewitness said he saw a man die while he was bringing an injured friend to safety.
“One guy ended up dying in my arms,” the festivalgoer, identified only as Mike, told ABC News.
Speaking to HuffPost over the phone on Monday, Brent Poppen, of Paso Robles, California, who uses a wheelchair and was in the accessible seating area watching Aldean when the attack began, described the chaos as the bullets began raining down and people tried to flee.
“It was literally a wave of thousands of people who went over the accessible seating, through the accessible seating, around the accessible seating,” Poppen said. “All the hundreds of chairs that were up in our seating area ― there’s probably only a handful of wheelchairs up there ― all those chairs were knocked over.”
Poppen and his wife rushed back to their hotel, the Hooters Casino Hotel, located about a mile away from Mandalay Bay. Poppen said an “influx” of fleeing people sought safety at the hotel, including some who were injured.
“There’s literally blood all over the carpet, on the walls, when you open the elevator doors, the floor was full of blood,” Poppen said, adding that he invited strangers to his room so they could “decompress, have some water, charge their phones.”
In the morning, seeing Mandalay Bay from his hotel room window, Poppen said he was struck by the horror of what they’d been through.
“I didn’t even really know that we could see the Mandalay Bay” from our window, he said. “It wasn’t until morning in the light that we could see the shooter’s broken window and where the stage was and it really hit home. We were just involved in this and all these people died.”
Rebecca Shapiro contributed reporting.