It was supposed to be a fun night of entertainment for Mykenzie Lane and Brandon Helmick, but the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas last October turned into a nightmare that put their lives on the line.
As country star Jason Aldean was preparing to leave the stage at the outdoor event on Oct. 1, a series of loud bangs rang out from the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel. Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old gambler and real estate businessman who lived in the area, had broken out the window of his hotel room and fired bullets from high-powered weapons into the crowd of 22,000 concertgoers.
As the gunfire sprayed out into the frightened and confused crowd, Lane and Helmick — who, on that night, had been a couple for almost two years — knew they had to take run from the area to save their lives.
“The first round went off and he shielded me. Then he said we have to go,” Lane, 21, from Tustin, California, tells PEOPLE. “He told me to run and I started jumping over fences and he ran in front of me and slid under a storage container and pulled me in.”
As Lane made her way under the storage container, a bullet hit her left ankle — right through her cowboy boot.
“The last thing that went under [the container] was my ankle, which is what got shot,” she says. “Brandon then carried me to an Uber where we got the ride to the hospital.”
During a span of 10 minutes — from 10:05 to 10:15 p.m. — Paddock fired more than a thousand rounds, injuring more than 500 people and claimed the lives of 58 others before Las Vegas police officers entered his hotel room and found him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The massacre is listed as the deadliest mass shooting by an individual in the U.S.
Though Lane was injured that night, she and Helmick would soon be on their way back to California to begin healing from the traumatic experience.
“It affected us forever,” Lane says of what followed that night in October, adding that while her ankle has healed, she still experiences pain sometimes. “We don’t like to be apart for long periods of time, especially at night is the toughest because of flashbacks.”
That night, Helmick took action to protect Lane, shielding her with his body and making sure she was taken to a safe place. It proved to her that he is the real thing.
“Our relationship has always been strong, but I always had doubts that he’d leave,” she says. “But I never doubt him after he put his life on the line for me.”
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Showing his sweetheart that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, Helmick sealed the deal and proposed to Lane on April 20 while on a trip to Laguna Beach. Lane says the proposal didn’t come entirely as a surprise, but Helmick still managed to sweep her off her feet with the romantic setting.
“We talked about it, so I kind of knew it was happening,” she recalls. “But when we got to the beach, there were rose petals in the shape of a heart where he got on one knee. I bawled like a baby and don’t remember anything he said!”
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The wedding is set for Aug. 3.
Looking back, Lane doesn’t remember exactly how she and Helmick were introduced — it was likely through mutual friends and their love of baseball and softball many years ago — but if you ask her, their connection was the work of destiny.
“I think, in my heart,” she says, “I’ve always known he was the one.”