Country star Jason Aldean was performing the night’s final set and, just after 10 p.m., had begun singing “When She Says Baby” when the first shots rang out — the start of what would become the deadliest in modern America’s epidemic of mass shootings.
The hail of bullets lasted for more than 10 minutes, killing 58 people and injuring more than 700 others in the chaos.
The gunman, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, fired at the crowd from two blown-out windows in his room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino. Later, with law enforcement closing in on him, Paddock fatally shot himself.
In the days following the shooting, PEOPLE spoke with those who were there. They shared stories of unimaginable horror and extraordinary heroism.
Mark Gray, 37, PEOPLE contributor, Las Vegas
Pop, pop, pop. It sounded like a firecracker…. The shots just went on forever. It was relentless. You hear the pops and windows shattering. It’s hard to know what to think or do. We kind of realized at the same time, “We’ve got to get out of here.” Someone said, “Go! Go now!” And we ran.
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Shaun Hoff, 32, casting director, Los Angeles
My wife and I were right in front of the stage when someone started screaming, and we just hit the ground. There was a pause in the shooting, and we started running. We were just running through all of these bodies. No one had any idea this guy was in the hotel because it sounded like the shooting was getting closer and closer.
Clay Wilson, 48, and wife Kelli, 46, small-business owners, Lubbock, Texas
People started dropping, just dropping. We were all terrified. … [Kelli] called our children to say, ‘We love you, and we don’t know if we will make it out.’ Our children were on the phone and they could hear the gunshots.
Rob Handley, 34, medical-device salesman, Las Vegas
It was like we were in a war movie. You could hear the gunfire, then hear the bullets slamming down all around us and breaking apart into shrapnel that was flying everywhere. We were laying in puddles of blood, and my girlfriend’s friend was covered in blood. We thought she’d been hit, then we realized that the blood was coming from above us. It was literally seeping down on us from the bleachers above. The people up on the bleachers had been so shot up, that blood was seeping everywhere.
Keith Gale, 50, manager for country star Jake Owen, Nashville
I have no reference for war, but it sure felt like a battlefield. Just a constant pop, pop, pop. We crouched behind a trailer near the stage, and it was constant, steady firing. People didn’t trample each other, and you were in a battle, with no idea where this person was, but people were boosting each other over fences, helping the wounded. Men tore their shirts off to use them to plug wounds.
Karen Gale, 44, publicist, Nashville
I will never forget the sound of that gunfire. There were lost shoes all over the ground, women being carried by boyfriends. If anything, I learned there is still humanity in this world. I saw it last night.
Lindsay Padgett, 29, entertainer, Las Vegas
We didn’t hear gunshots for a little bit, so we were like, “All right, let’s go.” We got to my truck, and we just see all these people all over the road and this guy says, “We need your truck,” and I said, “Put them all in.” There were four people in my back seat and four more [who were] shot [lying] in the bed of the truck. People had fingers in their wounds. One guy died; he had been shot in his back. We were trying to get to the nearest hospital, and the roads were blocked off. We finally got to the freeway and the ambulance there stopped us.
Brian Rogers, 53, community ambulance co-owner and paramedic, Las Vegas
I was home in bed. My daughter was at the event, and she called me and said, “I’m being shot at. What do I do?” She called around 10:05. Then I couldn’t get a hold of her. As I’m driving there, I’m coordinating with my personnel. We sent 26 ambulances. I don’t even have words to describe what it was like. It was almost out of one of those shows like The Walking Dead.
Brad Sugars, 46, business coach, Las Vegas
I stayed with the police and handed out first-aid kits. Batteries were dying. People were helping people. A girl was wrapping a guy’s thumb and another person was bandaging a wounded leg. Everyone was trying to help—off-duty cops, SWAT [teams]. I saw police running towards the bodies. God bless them.
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Heather Gooze, 43, bartender, Las Vegas
To escape the shots, many people raced toward the bar where Gooze was working. After helping one man who had been shot in the head, she sat with fatal victim Jordan Mclldoon after three men trying to help him brought him over on a maintenance ladder.
I held his hand. His fingers were wrapped around mine. Jordan’s cell phone rang. We answered, and his friend Conor gave us Jordan’s name. His phone was locked but Facebook Messages kept coming in, so I went on Facebook and found him, sent messages to everyone who had the same last name. After we found his family, I promised them I wouldn’t leave him. I was with him when he took his last breath. Something inside me wouldn’t let me leave. Everyone who survived was basically just an inch or a foot away from being someone who died.
Dean Weber, 31, paramedic, Las Vegas
Once he was allowed into the venue, Weber found a desperate scene of wounded who had been tagged according to their injuries—from green (minor) to yellow (non-life-threatening) to red (life-threatening) to black (dying).
We had to take the red-tagged patients first, but it’s not always easy. One woman grabbed at my ankle and we locked eyes. All she could say was, “Please.” She had tears all over her face. But she was tagged in yellow and there were people in red. So I had to say, “I’m so sorry. Someone will be back for you soon.” There was a man tagged in yellow who said, “I have a new baby. Please save me.” You have to understand that yellow tags can become red really fast. They’re all losing blood, they’re in pain and going into shock. We went back again and again, maybe 15 times. We were just trying to save as many lives as we could. The night was endless. When it was over, I just hugged my partner and cried. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and I hope that no one ever has to go through it again. It was pure hell.