“It felt like there were fireworks,” Long Beach resident Denise Carroll told the Herald on Monday.
The death toll in Las Vegas was climbing that day, after a lone gunman opened fire with an assault weapon from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino during country music star Jason Aldean’s performance at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
Fifty-nine people were reported dead and more than 500 had been injured as of Wednesday, when the Herald went to press, and authorities said that the attack was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Carroll, a court reporter for District Court in Hempstead and a mother of two, was in the crowd at the Aldean concert. She was attending the three-day music festival with her friend Beth Galofaro, who lives in Las Vegas. They were staying at the Luxor Hotel and Casino, right next to Mandalay Bay.
“I looked up at the hotel and I saw the lights, and then people just started running,” Carroll recounted. “There was a stampede, and then we were hiding under bleachers. I felt like a sitting duck.”
When the shooting stopped momentarily, she and Galofaro ran 10 feet toward an exit, Carroll said, and when it started again, they dropped to the ground and hid underneath a camping chair.
“Thankfully, as we got into the area where we were trying to exit, people were saying, ‘Be calm, be calm,’ and it did help,” she said. “Everybody kept telling each other, ‘Be calm’ so that nobody would trample each other.”
After escaping the concert venue, the pair didn’t return to the Luxor, instead making their way to a back entrance of the nearby MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, where a couple from New Zealand invited them into their suite to stay overnight. Carroll flew back to New York Monday night.
“I just want to go home and hug my kids,” she said.
Long Island elected leaders offered their condolences to the families of the dead and prayers for the wounded.
“It seems horrific events like this happen more frequently, with each one worse than the last,” said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky. “But prayers are not enough, and we must take meaningful action and deal with gun violence with this country head-on.”
Rockville Centre native Peter Meehan was also in the audience at Aldean’s performance. He was attending the festival with his girlfriend, Erin Peretti, and they escaped to safety after racing to the exits through the scattering, panicked crowd.
Aldean, the festival’s headliner, drew the largest audience of the weekend on Sunday night, Meehan said, and he and Peretti — along with Peretti’s sister, Miranda, and her boyfriend, Daniel Barnes — were about 25 yards from the stage, watching Aldean perform, when bullets began raining down on the crowd.
“The first three gunshots — they kind of just sounded like firecrackers,” said Meehan, who briefly interned for the Rockville Centre Herald in 2011 and who now lives in Hoboken, N.J. “As it started to happen more frequently and a little louder, I guess you could say it was obvious that it was straight-up, heavy-artillery machine-gun fire.”
“Our initial reaction was just to duck,” he added. “We put our heads down, and we were kind of just laying on the ground.”
When the gunfire ceased temporarily, Meehan and his companions ran toward the exits, ducking each time it began again. The group reached the exit in about five minutes.
Meehan didn’t recall seeing anyone shot, but said he saw injured people around him. “So many people were laying down, ducking for cover, so for all I know there were people who were shot and possibly even killed that looked like they were just laying for cover,” he recounted. “There was so much adrenaline, and I was just focused on getting out of there.”
Authorities identified the shooter as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock. He opened fire on the crowd from two windows on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, from roughly a thousand feet away. Aldean continued to perform momentarily before realizing that the crowd was under attack and hurrying offstage. He and his band were unharmed.
The shooting continued, with one or two 45-second pauses, for 10 minutes until Paddock killed himself just before a law-enforcement team broke into his hotel suite, according to published reports. Far below, survivors of the attack used aluminum barricades to fashion make-shift stretchers to carry the dead and wounded to any available cars and ambulances, which sped them to nearby emergency rooms.
Meehan, who was set to fly home on Monday, said the shooter was still firing when he and his friends escaped. “[I’m] just grateful, lucky, happy to be here still,” Meehan said. “Obviously some people weren’t [lucky], so thoughts and prayers go out to them and their families.”