The Las Vegas Route 91 Music Festival
I almost didn’t go. I almost sold my ticket to the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. I can’t help but think that I would have felt worse if I would have sold it and someone would have had to go through what I did. The friend I was going to go with ended up unable to go. I was ready to sell my ticket when a friend told me her roommate, who I’d met a few times, didn’t have anyone to go with either. So we decided, “Why not? Let’s go!” and booked hotels and flights. I’ve been trying to do more this year, and not be afraid of the what if’s. Spend my money on experiences, not things. Take a chance. So I went.
An Interesting Start to the Trip
In my Lyft on the way to the airport, I realized my Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor stopped working. For those of you that don’t know what this is, it tells me my blood sugar at all times through an app on my phone. I changed the site so many times trying to get it to work that I had to make the driver turn around and go get more sensors (sticky piece that inserts on my skin). I called Dexcom, only to sit on the phone for 30 minutes, twice, and be told I needed to put a new transmitter in (a piece that looks like a thumb drive and actually transmits the data, snaps into the sensor). I had grabbed the extra transmitter while I grabbed the extra sensors. Thank goodness. The only reason I was able to spend that much time on the phone with Dexcom was because my flight was delayed. My first bout of luck. I was frustrated, but wasn’t going to let this ruin my weekend!
I flew in earlier to met my boyfriend’s (Ryan) mom for lunch at the Wynn, since they live in Las Vegas. We took pictures of the elaborate flowers in the hotel, and talked about how intricately decorated and updated the hotel is kept. She told me tons of stories of the old Vegas, and we spent a few hours together.
Once I met up with Natalie we quickly found we travel great together, and had an amazing time on Friday and Saturday. Some of Natalie’s friends from Stagecoach were also at Route 91, so we met up and ended up with them at some point each evening.
Jake Owen played and Natalie and I ventured up front and center, just as we had the night before. We met a random group and danced and laughed with them. After Jake Owen, we decided to get some food, and go find our group. Looking back, I am thankful I insisted we get food that night, because I had to have a turkey leg before the festival was over! Otherwise, we may have stayed in the middle of the crowd where we would have been trapped by people when things got scary.
As Jason Aldean began to play, we stood with our group on the right side, kind of close to a bar, and a walkway. On the map below, it would be about O-P, 24-25.
We took a few selfies, and I vividly remember Chris, the guy on the right below, mentioning how he used to hate pictures. But since someone close to him passed and he realized he didn’t have many photos, he takes more pictures so that he has them for memories. Kind of chilling, considering what unfolded.
10:05 pm: I remember the first rounds, looking behind me because they sounded like they were coming from next to the bar, on a walkway that went by VIP. I even said to one of the guy, “What kind of idiot brings firecracker poppers into a place like this? Someone could get hurt!” The second round, again which I thought were firecrackers, brought a pause in Jason before he played again. Only to have an “Oh shit!” moment when people started screaming and the shots kept going as he ran off stage. People started yelling to get down, and we all hunched down for cover. I remember looking towards the strip, thinking that’s where it was coming from. I remember a woman taking a video that thought it was funny, like, “look at these idiots.” Because I thought it was street level, I figured it couldn’t hit us through all the fences and bleachers and trailers as we huddled on the ground.
At some break in the gunfire, one of the guys with us pushed us to run towards the bar next to the stage. We sat up against the fence that ran along the edge of the stage. There was a man that was shot, that people were trying to shove into the trailer for protection. I thought he was for sure gone, as he was white as a ghost. I cannot express how happy I am to tell you as I write this, that he is alive. You can see half of the trailer on the far right of this photo, the little white rectangle in the middle of the picture:
But then the shots kept coming. Still not knowing where it was coming from, I said to a woman, “I’m scared it’s going to come from the other side of this fence.” So the guys started to push people to move further from the Strip as the shots continued. In utter shock, people were moving slower than felt safe, so I told Natalie to run through some buckets full of beer behind the trailer bar. We took cover, in a pile of people, on the side of the trailer furthest from the strip. I kept thinking, why don’t the cops shoot this guy? Or just plain run him over with a car??? I even sent a few texts to Ryan’s mom asking if she knew what was happening on the strip. You can see the top of the trailer in this photo that literally saved my life. It’s in front of a fence, in front of other trailers. The black on the right side is the stage, to give some perspective.
As I was behind the trailer I looked at the ground and saw an Omnipod (the part of my insulin pump that is attached to my body). At first it didn’t even register it was mine, I think I said, “Someone’s insulin pump fell off.” Until I felt my side and realized. It was mine. Little did I know this would be my saving grace later in the evening. I put my phone in my backpack at that moment as I kept getting jostled and my phone had dropped a few times. I am so glad we got backpacks (to carry snacks in, duh) as many, many lost their purses, phones, etc.
We continually looked to one of the guys for guidance. So when he said run, we booked it. He wanted to stay behind and help. This was 10:27 pm. 22 minutes after it all started, and 12 minutes after the gunshots had allegedly stopped. Fortunately, the gunfire was over and we did not have to dodge bullets like most had done as they ran. Unfortunately, that meant that on our run to the Tropicana (the entire length of the venue), we saw the leftover carnage. I hate that word. But I’m not sure what else to call it. Dead bodies? Sounds even worse. The pictures posted online don’t even begin to show what I saw. They are pretty G rated in comparison. This photo is G rated in comparison. But gives you a sense of what we literally ran through.
I had a panic attack as we ran. It felt like a low blood sugar. I felt so heavy. So slow. Super shaky and unsteady, like I was going to pass out. It was onset when I saw this girl, around our age, just looking at us as we ran. But she wasn’t actually looking at us, because there was no life left behind her eyes, and the placement of the bullet hole told me why.
What else I saw, was so many people step up. Like it was their job, even though they were there to enjoy themselves just as we were. So many men lead us in the right direction on our escape route, told us to remain calm, that they would stay with us. It was amazing and honestly what I needed. I had no sense of where to go or what to do. I’m not even sure at what point I realized where the gunfire had been coming from.
After going through some bleachers and I’m sure over a fence that someone knocked down, we ran through a street, a parking lot, and were ushered into a conference room at the Tropicana. We ran upstairs and as we were running, I called my mom. I knew they were sleeping, so I called the house phone. I was so utterly confused I didn’t know what to tell her except that we were safe, and there was a shooting. I also called Ryan’s mom as I didn’t want her to be worried when she checked her texts in the morning. Ryan was deployed, so I helplessly sent an email as that is the only way I could reach him. I hoped he’d receive it before hearing what happened (but he didn’t).
We ended up in an upstairs portion of the Tropicana, not where rooms are, but shops and an elevator. We could look over a railing into the casino. I remember going into the women’s bathroom and there was a man in there with a hammer or a crow bar, mumbling a bunch of things about everyone needing to protect themselves. He was super creepy and not helping the situation at all.
At one point, everyone in the casino came running towards us on the upper level, screaming that there was a shooter in the casino. I have been told that someone dropped a glass or a car backfired or something. Who knows. Everyone was on edge. We hid out on a roof for a awhile, then came back inside.
After a bit, some of the guys appeared, shirtless and beltless, from using theirs as tourniquets on the injured. Later, the cops and hotel security came through, told everyone to keep their hands up as if they were sweeping for someone or something suspicious. It was then that I started to realize I needed to do something about my insulin situation.
I had insulin, but no syringes, as I don’t regularly use them. I also somehow had dumped a portion of my supplies out earlier in the day in another bag, so had no inhaled insulin either. I text a doctor that I work with, and told one of the guys, who flagged down a hotel worker. He led us to a cop, who walked us down to a ballroom where they were starting to have people congregate. Something odd that happened on that walk was, I distinctly remember the cop telling me it was happening other places too, and the only one I remember him saying was Paris. At the time I thought, Paris in France, but now I realize he meant, they thought there were shooters at other hotels.
When we got to the ballroom, we were met by EMTs and told them the situation. And then Natalie realized. They were part of the group we were goofing off with earlier during Jake Owen. Since they knew they would not have syringes anywhere in a locked down hotel, they told us to go to the hospital. One of the guys said “I put my wife in a car and sent her home as soon as we were on the Strip because who knows what other danger there is, or when you’ll be able to leave. This is your one chance to get off the Strip tonight. Take it.” He walked us, and another hysterical lady that had been hit her head, out towards the Strip. It was so very eerie. There was no one. But there were the lights. And it was silent. Another cop told us that unless we were shot, we would not be put in an ambulance, so the EMT offered to get his car out of the lot and drive us. A taxi pulled up though, randomly, and they put us in it.
We got to the hospital and they wouldn’t let us in. Only the critical could go into the hospital, and the non-critical were stuck waiting outside. I didn’t even want to go in anyways. I told a nurse I just needed a syringe and she brought me two and I was able to take an injection of Humalog.
The doctor I work with started calling in prescriptions for me for a short and long acting insulin. The first Walgreens we went to was on lockdown, so we had to go to one further out. Thank God that several Uber and Lyft drivers continued to work that night. Also, I was worried because I did not have my insurance information on me. My backup plan was to call my insurance, but was baffled when I only had a normal copay for the prescriptions. I’d just changed insurance providers. Somehow, Walgreens had the information even though I’d never filled with them with the new insurance. A prescription had accidentally been sent to them a month earlier. I was speechless.
Once we had my prescriptions and some essentials from Walgreens, we were wondering where we could spend the night. All the hotels were on lockdown and it was impossible to get to the Strip, back to our hotel. Somehow, some friends of Natalie were still awake and lived just outside Las Vegas. We were able to go to their house and they welcomed us with open arms. They’d just flown in on the last flight to land from San Diego that night, with a 10 week old puppy. And they already had another. I have never needed a puppy more in my life.
The news was buzzing and I didn’t sleep all night. A lot was on the news that night that was legit information, and is no longer being talked about. It’s disheartening.
Turn’s out, Natalie’s friends lived near my boyfriend’s family in the suburbs of Las Vegas. His mom and dad picked us up the next morning and took us to our hotel to get our things, and then the airport. I was numb. I still couldn’t believe it happened. But it felt good to be around parents. I wanted to be home, but I was terrified of the airport, which turned out to be so anxiety provoking. At one point we had to freeze and not move for about 10 minutes. Every time they paged someone they used an alarm sound, and at one point I asked Natalie if we should go hide in the bathroom. My flight was somber, as it seemed like everyone had also been at the festival. There was even a man with a broken leg who couldn’t get seen in Vegas, so was coming home to go to the hospital.
I am having a hard time knowing what to say when people ask if I’m ok. Physically, I am ok as I can be. Otherwise, I am struggling. I am having nightmares and not sleeping, making me irritable and spacey. I can’t concentrate and continually forget what I’m doing, where I am driving, or even to put on deodorant. I’m not thinking about it all day long either; my brain is just in a fog. But I see people functioning as normal and have a hard time comprehending; I feel like I’m in a purgatory, or operating on another planet. Lately it feels like this experience is a tumor inside of me, making my skin crawl, and I need it removed. But I am not quite sure how.
We were lucky. We made it out with only scrapes and bruises. Up until that very last set, the weekend had been amazing, and I was so high on life. But the images are seared in my memory and hard to forget. Even when I have a better day, my nightmares don’t allow me to forget that feeling of sheer terror. I wake up with it almost daily, on an adrenaline high, ready to run from whatever was in my dream. I am taking it day by day, going to a group support meeting, and seeing someone to talk about everything, but it is a slow process. I am grateful for the people I have had reach out with their love and support. It truly has been more than I could have imagined.