Horror hits Las Vegas
People with Maui County links describe chaos after shooting
Makawao native Nikki Davis didn’t have any big plans for the weekend, so when a friend offered her extra wristbands to an outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas, she gladly accepted.
“It sold out really, really fast, and I had wanted to go,” Davis said Monday. “I was super excited.”
Davis and thousands of others who packed the grounds at the Las Vegas Village had no idea that a weekend of music would end in heartbreak, after a gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, killing 59 and injuring 527 as the casualty toll continued to rise Monday. Police later found 64-year-old Stephen Paddock — a gambler with no major criminal history — dead in his hotel room with more than 20 firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
Authorities believe he acted alone. But the reports of multiple shooters at the height of the attack Sunday night locked down the Strip and sent people across the city into a panic.
“It was absolutely chaotic,” Davis said. “It was chaos, and I was running and not knowing when to stop because every single point that I thought was a safe point, there would be people just sprinting again or yelling that there’s someone behind us.”
On Sunday night, the three-day Route 91 Harvest Festival was drawing to a close and musician Jason Aldean was on the stage. Everyone was singing, the booze was flowing and the crowd of 22,000 was having fun when “a crackling in the sky” interrupted the show just after 10 p.m.
“It sounded so weird, like fireworks,” Davis said. “I looked into the sky, and there was nothing. I looked around and nobody seemed to notice. Then the second round went off, and they were super, super fast.”
Everyone started running. That’s when Davis realized it was a shooting. She and her friend rushed for cover near a freight container turned pop-up bar. The 22-year-old Davis, who works in internal communications for a Las Vegas casino and hotel, had just undergone active shooter training at work Friday. She never expected to use it.
“I could see people running and dropping. (I didn’t know) whether they got shot,” Davis said. “It was just complete chaos. People running for their lives.”
Just when Davis thought she was safe, shots started to hit the metal freight container.
“Some guy stood up. He sounded like military, and he said, ‘This is not a secure location. Everyone needs to run,’ ” Davis said. “We hopped over the table, and we just ran. And that was probably the scariest part of it all. Hearing shots in the air, running through this area.”
The crowd ran as fast as they could from the festival grounds. Davis and her friend just kept running until they made it to the parking lot of the private jet terminal at McCarran International Airport. Two workers on a night shift agreed to let the group of 15 to 20 people squeeze into their small office. They gave the group some water and told them to call their families. Everyone was comforting one another, Davis said.
For two hours, they huddled in the dark office, listening for updates from the police scanner app that Davis downloaded onto her phone.
“It was also scary because there were these reports of other shooters at the time,” Davis said. “It felt like it was getting closer and closer to us.”
Through the scanner, Davis heard that the shooter was down. Once the group had flipped on the TV in the office and saw people walking around on the Strip, Davis finally felt safe enough to leave. She and her friend walked to another parking lot to catch a ride with a friend at around 2:30 a.m.
“I almost lost it just because the last time I was walking there, I was running for my life,” Davis said.
In other parts of town, others also feared the shooter was headed their way.
Barely a block away, Tara Spangler was dealing cards at the Hooters Casino and Hotel. Originally from Paia, Spangler is a Realtor who works at the casino a couple nights a week. As the shooting unfolded, a wave of people came running into the casino. They were frantic, but nobody said anything, Spangler recalled.
“Then a second wave comes in,” Spangler said in a video posted to her Facebook. “Now with the second wave of people, it was a little bit more intense. You had a guy walk past me with blood on his neck. I’m like, ‘Are you OK? What’s going on?’ And he was like, very nonchalant too, ‘Oh, this isn’t my blood. We just came from a concert. There’s a guy shooting at us.”’
People started pouring into the casino, some without shoes and ripped, bloodied clothes. Some were shouting that the shooter was coming to the casino. Alarmed, Spangler went upstairs looking for a place to hide. But when she got to the rooftop, she heard the gunshots and instead decided to hide in a storage room with another group of people. With no way of calling her family, Spangler borrowed another girl’s phone and posted to Facebook, asking friends to take care of her two daughters if anything were to happen to her.
“All I could think about was my husband and kids,” Spangler later told The Maui News.
Once it was determined that there was no shooting threat to Hooters, Spangler was finally able to leave the casino around 1 a.m.
“In front of our casino was tons of ambulances,” Spangler said. “You felt like, am I in Vegas, or am I in a war zone? It’s a weird thing to see people running and screaming ‘active shooter’ and to see people with gunshots. You see it on TV, but when it happens in front of you, it’s a whole different story.”
At the Brooklyn Bowl, about 15 minutes away from the shooting, Molokai High graduate Kori-Lee DeRouin and four friends from Hawaii were enjoying a concert by Oahu reggae band The Green.
“About halfway through the song, the lead singer looked out into the audience, dropped his mic and someone yelled, ‘The shooter’s in the building! Get out! Get out!’ ” DeRouin recalled. “We just grabbed on to each other and ran. We didn’t really know if there was a shooter. It was just automatic instinct.”
Crying, DeRouin called her mom to tell her “I love you no matter what.”
“She was just keeping me calm,” DeRouin said. “But it was hard. I was running, out of breath. I don’t wish this upon anyone.”
DeRouin, a sophomore at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, found out the campus was on lockdown, so she and her friends drove to DeRouin’s aunt’s house to spend the night. Classes were canceled Monday. On her way to a candlelight vigil at the college, DeRouin said the ordeal had been replaying in her head all day long.
“We’re all college kids,” DeRouin said. “We got a feeling of the real world last night.”
As the city shut down, Maui resident Tyson Moore and his wife got locked out between the New York New York and Excalibur.
“Everyone was giving different information,” Moore said. “I was on the bridge running and ducking for about 20 to 30 minutes, then SWAT came at us with guns telling us to put our hands above our heads and run towards them and keep moving.”
Moore and his wife were escorted to a conference room in the Excalibur, where everyone was searched and given water and blankets. They were released at around 5:30 a.m.
Sympathy poured out across the state Monday, as the flags flew at half staff and Hawaii’s politicians expressed their sorrow for the victims and their families. Lei of Aloha, a group of Maui residents who have woven and shipped ti leaf lei following attacks in Paris and Orlando, announced it would weave a 2-mile lei for Las Vegas.
“We call it The Ninth Island because we have so many family and friends living there, and most of us have visited the city for entertainment or business purposes,” Ige said. “Today, we grieve with those who have lost loved ones and pray for the injured.”
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.