Dylan Schneider — who performed just a few hours before Jason Aldean took the stage at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival — recounts how he hid from the gunfire during the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history

By Lindsay Kimble
October 02, 2017 05:00 PM
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A rising country star who took the stage at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival just a few hours before a gunman opened fire on the gathered Las Vegas crowd is opening up about the terror of the night — and how he escaped.

“It’s disgusting, it’s a horrible thing,” Dylan Schneider, 17, tells PEOPLE.

Schneider performed on the Next From Nashville Sirius XM Highway Finds stage at 4:20 p.m. local time on Sunday. “Everybody seemed like they were having a good time,” Schneider tells PEOPLE of the set. “And it was one of my favorite shows I’ve ever played.”

After finishing his set, the “Two Black X’s” singer joined fellow performers Jake Owen and Jason Aldean back at the mainstage, where they were hanging out behind-the-scenes.

As Aldean’s performance began, Schneider says he headed to a viewing spot near the VIP bleachers and lounge to watch.

“I actually had just plugged my phone in to charge it — I don’t have my phone, it’s still there — and I was going back to get it and a song came on that I liked,” he details. “I was talking to my manager Joe, and I was like, ‘Let’s stay for this one.’ Then another one came on, and I was like ‘Let’s stay for this one.’ ”

Schneider listened to two songs, before turning around and heading toward the backstage area to retrieve his cell. It was then, that he heard the first shots. “I was honestly convinced it was fireworks or firecrackers,” he says, revealing that after taking a few more steps he realized that the popping sounds were actually gunfire.

“I immediately just turned around and ran,” he explains. “But dodged away from where it sounded like it was coming from, obviously. I got split up from all of my band and buddies and everybody who was out there with us, and it was just me and my manager.”

Credit: Dylan Schneider/Instagram

Schneider and his manager hid under some bleachers, but panic set in as they couldn’t decipher where the gunman was. In fact, Schneider says he thought the shots were coming from someone in the crowd.

“I was under [the bleachers] and I think I looked at my manager and said, ‘What do we do?’ at least 150 times in a span of five minutes,” he recalls. “It was just insane. I thought [the gunman was] in there and I thought, ‘It’s only a manner of time until they come over to these bleachers.’ ”

The teen ran, ending up in the lobby of the nearby Tropicana hotel. Still unsure of the gunman’s location, though, Schneider says he was worried about being in an area that was chaotic and crowded. After trying several doors, he and his manager were able to kick their way into an empty staff room. After an hour and a half, Schneider says, others began to join them in their hiding place.

“People were freaking out and I tried to just calm everybody down and get them glasses of water,” he says, “and tell them everything was going to be fine. I met a lot of people, a lot of really nice people.”

Credit: David Becker/Getty

At least 58 people were killed and 515 others were injured after a shooter — who has been identified as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock — fired on the crowd of more than 22,000 from his 32nd-floor at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. The shooting is now the deadliest in U.S. history.

Schneider tells PEOPLE that everyone from his team was thankfully uninjured, saying, “We’re very lucky.”

Asked if the deadly attack — which came in the wake of the bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester earlier this year — make him fearful to take the stage, he admits, “The thought of it, the idea of it, that would scare anybody.”

Continues Schneider, “But it’s what I do, and it’s what I’ve always done. I’m not going to let people like that stop me from doing what I love, and stop people from coming out and having a good time because — something like this happens, you can’t let them beat you, you can’t let them win.”

Credit: David Becker/Getty Images

Reaching out to those injured, as well as the families of the victims, Schneider says, “I’m praying for them, they’re in my thoughts and this is such a terrible thing to happen at something that’s supposed to be such a good time. I just hope they stay strong.”

“I feel so sad, because we were in that position,” he shares. “We were wondering where everybody was, so we had that feeling, we had that ‘What if?’ at one point. And I know it’s definitely not easy, I just want them to know that I’m praying for them, I’m thinking about everybody that’s in the hospital and all the doctors and police.”

How to Help and Learn About Loved Ones

Friends and family are asked to report missing people believed to be connected to the shooting using the hotline 1-800-536-9488.

Anyone with photo or video evidence of the shooting is asked to call 1-800-CALL-FBI.

The city of Las Vegas has established a Family Reunification Center to help connect relatives with the more than 500 people who were injured.

In addition, city officials urged those locally who wish to donate blood to visit one of two donation centers operated by United Blood Services, either at 6930 W. Charleston in Las Vegas or at 601 Whitney Ranch Drive in Henderson, Nevada.

A victims’ fund has been started on GoFundMe by Steve Sisolak the Clark County, Nevada, commission chair. Other groups providing relief include the local chapter of the American Red Cross and the National Compassion Fund.