They weren’t alarmed when shots filled the air. Not at first. Jason Aldean was capping his set with fireworks, they figured.
Then bodies started crumpling to the ground and there was blood. So much blood.
“A guy got hit in the head right next to me,” said Ted Kalnas, a Los Angeles fireman who was at the concert with Vedamay Bradford, a nurse. “We got hit with a wave of people who just trampled us, while this guy was still shooting.”
When evil was done pounding its fist in the form of a lone shooter’s fusillade, nearly 60 lay dead, hundreds injured. Kalnas and Bradford could have fled but stayed and put their training to use, bandaging bloody limbs, applying pressure to the angry gashes the bullets had opened, speaking comforting words to victims who closed their eyes and didn’t open them again.
“People were dying,” said Kalnas, who said Sunday’s was the worst scene he’s witnessed in 37 years as a first responder.
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Bradford’s friend was shot in the abdomen but survived.
“There were people bleeding, falling all around us,” she said, her voice dissolving into tears. “The worst part was trying to get to cover and leaving people behind. I knew if I got shot I couldn’t help other people. It was horrifying.”
Authorities identified as the gunman Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retiree who took indiscriminate aim from a 32nd floor hotel room Sunday night, then killed himself. He’d smashed out a window of his room in order to prey upon innocent strangers, leaving a dark hole in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino’s gleaming gold exterior.
Investigators searching for a motive say they have found no ties with terrorist groups. Paddock had no criminal record, just a routine citation from a few years ago. He apparently had purchased at least some of his numerous weapons legally.
“This guy wasn’t your stereotypical nut,” said Jeff Lowe, a tiger breeder who works with Vegas properties that want to add big cats to the entertainment repertoire. “It’s just crazy.”
On Monday afternoon Lowe and his wife, Lauren, were among the very few walking into the Mandalay, a sumptuous cathedral of luxury and chance that faces Las Vegas’ famous Strip. The usually bustling ribbon of asphalt and neon was quiet as a country road, blocked off by numerous police vehicles. Many of the shops and restaurants inside the Mandalay and its adjacent mall were shuttered, and access to the lower-level spa was cordoned off.
“It’s kind of surreal,” said Lowe, who recalled a frantic Sunday evening juggling panicked queries via message while trying to suss out what was happening.
“We could see the helicopters from our balcony,” Lauren Lowe said.
In a somber address from the White House, President Donald Trump called the shooting an act “of pure evil.” Aides said he will visit here on Wednesday.
The shooting started as more than 22,000 fans were enjoying the the Route 91 Harvest country music festival. Kristen Lee Barrett and her boyfriend Jeroan Bailey of Cobb County were posing for pictures outside Caesars Palace nearby when she heard the staccato pops she thought were from the iconic hotel’s water show.
Once they realized the awful truth, the couple hid in a corner, “like a sitting duck,” Barrett said.
Aldean, a Macon native, ran off the stage as gunfire erupted. He and his crew were shaken but uninjured.
“Tonight has been beyond horrific,” he posted on Instagram later. “My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved tonight. It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night.”
Allan and Michelle Hendsbee exchanged vows two and a half decades ago. On their final night in Las Vegas to celebrate their anniversary came the for worse. But also, the better.
“He saved me,” Michelle Hendsbee said, her eyes welling as she gazed at her sweetheart.
When the shooting started, Allan took charge. He grabbed his wife’s hand and together they dove behind a beer cart.
The vendor, a young woman paralyzed with fright, seemingly could not move. Allan took her by the hand, too, then found a large pallet and propped it between them and the bullets spraying down all around.
With information sketchy and the crowd of thousands in full panic, the trio were alerted, incorrectly as it turned out, that another shooter was on the ground and headed their way.
“We made a run for it,” Allan Hendsbee said. It was then that they saw some of the shooter’s gruesome handiwork.
“One lady had been shot in the neck,” Michelle Hendsbee said. “There were bodies laying around.”
Their new friend, the cart vendor, regained presence of mind and called her husband. “Keep running,” he said over the phone, directing them to a rendezvous point. Finally, they made it to safety.
The next day, on their way back to Nova Scotia, the Hendsbees were still processing what became of their anniversary trip.
“We couldn’t ask for people to be any nicer” following the massacre, Allan Hendsbee said. “Five minutes before the shooting started, we were just saying this had been the best trip. It was perfect, almost.”
-AJC reporter Ben Brasch contributed to this story
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jennifer Brett is reporting from Las Vegas. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. A second AJC reporter, Ernie Suggs, is en route. He can be reached at email@example.com