Gunfire rang out just after 10pm, sending the audience and performers at a country music festival fleeing, with at least 59 dead and more than 500 injured
The Guardian | October 2, 2017
10pm in Las Vegas
It is a warm night in America’s gambling capital and more than 22,000 country music fans of all ages, including children and teenagers, are in upbeat mood at the Las Vegas Village and Festival Grounds, run by MGM Resorts. It is the climax of the sold-out Route 91 Harvest festival, “three days of country music on the Vegas Strip”. The singer Jason Aldean is beginning his set, overlooked by the two gold towers of the Mandalay Bay hotel, which has 3,309 rooms and a 135,000 sq ft casino.
Just after 10pm
Jason Aldean performs during the festival. Photograph: Mindy Small/FilmMagic
Rapid fire rings out. At first, few realise the extent of the unfolding horror, assuming the sounds are part of the show. But as bullets continue to rain down, the music stops and Aldean rushes off stage. “He literally dropped his guitar, threw it down and sprinted to the side,” a witness, Brian Claypool, told the MSNBC channel. “A lot of people were still sitting in their seats. They didn’t realise what was going on … There was an onslaught of shots. It felt like it was world war three, like it would never end.”
William Walker, from Ontario, California, said: “It sounded like something was wrong with the speakers. Jason Aldean kept playing through three rounds of it. Then once he stopped everyone took it more seriously.
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“We were under a big spotlight and someone said: ‘Turn off the light.’ They shut it off and you could see and hear bullets hitting the ground. People piled up behind cop cars, and ex-military guys were saying, ‘Give me a gun, I’m going to get these fuckers.’”
Bullets hit concertgoers and spark off the pavement. People scream and duck for cover, fall on top of each other or run for their lives; witnesses see people fall dead in front of them. Split-second decisions make the difference between life and death. The country singer Jake Owen, who was on a side stage, told CNN that for the attacker, it was like “shooting fish in a barrel”.
An injured person is tended to in the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. Photograph: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Police get the first call reporting the shooting. According to the New York Times, video captured nine seconds of rapid, continuous bursts of fire, followed by 37 seconds of silence and panicked screaming from the crowd. Gunfire then erupted again in at least two more bursts, both shorter than the first.
There is a stampede and carnage. Megan Kearney told NBC: “People started screaming that they were hit and to get down and then about every 20 seconds after that you would hear a round of machine guns and people just dropping; I mean hundreds of bodies all over the ground.”
Jackie Hoffing, her eyes glassy, still in a clear state of trauma, said: “It was hysteria. There were people trampled. We jumped walls, climbed cars, ran for our lives. I’ve never run that hard or been that scared in my whole life.”
Desiree Price, from San Diego, said: “Two girls hid behind a car with us, right outside the concert. We huddled together. That’s why I have their blood on me. One girl was shot in her leg, the other had it in her shoulder. It didn’t stop so we all ran – we kept going.”
There are acts of heroism from concertgoers and first responders treating the wounded despite continued gunfire. More than a hundred people are taken to the University Medical Center in ambulances and cars. They include four who died and 12 in critical condition.
Witness footage of Las Vegas music festival shooting – video report
Taking cover under a table, Kevin Kropf, from Orange County, California, waited until tactical police units came in. “I didn’t want to get up because I didn’t want to get mistaken for a bad guy and get shot. I saw a couple people on the street covered up with sheets, and them loading one girl into the back of a truck. She was definitely dead … she looked to be in her mid-20s and whoever she was with, her husband, was in the back of the truck too. He was a mess.”
Among the dead is Sonny Melton of Paris, Tennessee. His widow, Heather Gulish Melton, told WZTV: “He saved my life and lost his.”
The streets between the concert grounds and the nearest medical center are a non-stop convoy of ambulances and police. Reports of gunmen and shootings at other hotels circulate on Reddit and Twitter, adding to the chaos and panic. Survivors keep emerging from apartment buildings, motels, parking garages and other emergency shelters. They have nowhere to go, since the Strip remains on lockdown.
Jackie Hoffing said: “We’ve been in the Motel 6. We had stopped in the lobby and thought we were safe, but then they came in and said, ‘The suspect is here. Everybody has to run.’ It was another stampede. We knocked on a random door and went in there – about 15 of us – and hid in the bathroom for two and a half hours. I was texting my children. I thought we were going to die. I told them: ‘I love you.’”
Play Video 2:00 – Number of injured in Las Vegas ‘continues to increase’ – video
Seventy-two minutes after the first call to police, several Swat teams are sent to the 32nd floor of the the Mandalay Bay hotel and, using explosives, get inside the attacker’s room. Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, is dead, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot. Police say he has at least 10 rifles in the room and has been staying there since 28 September. His motive remains unknown.
At least 59 people have been killed – the deadliest mass shooting in American history – and more than 500 injured.
Most of the famous Vegas strip, including Caesars Palace, is locked down. Flashing red and blue lights from countless ambulances and police cars nearly outshine the casino towers on the strip. At the Rebel gas station behind the MGM Grand, survivors stand teary-eyed and shocked. Some make calls to their families. They wonder where they will go. Many have rooms in hotels under lockdown, blockaded by law enforcement.
Police personnel stand outside the home of Stephen Paddock. Photograph: Mesquite police department/AP
Police search Paddock’s house in Mesquite, a town on the Nevada-Arizona border.
Donald Trump, facing his first major mass shooting, tweets: “My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!”
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Trump makes a statement at the White House, describing the attack as “an act of pure evil” and announcing that he will visit Las Vegas on Wednesday. “In moments of tragedy and horror, America comes together as one,” says the president, who has proved a divisive figure on many issues.
Paddock’s brother Eric, who lives in Orlando, says he is “completely dumbfounded” by the shooting. “We can’t understand what happened,” Eric says. “He’s not an avid gun guy at all. The fact that he had those kind of weapons is just – where the hell did he get automatic weapons? He has no military background or anything like that.”