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Strip shooting witnesses recall hearing a steady stream of gunfire

Updated October 2, 2017 - 5:34 am

Jessica Noble was standing about 30 people back from the concert stage at the Route 91 country music festival Sunday night when she heard five pops that sounded like firecrackers. A few seconds later a steady stream of gunfire erupted about 20 feet to her right.

“What made it really real was seeing a girl shot as we started running. We heard it and looked over to our left and she was on the ground,” Noble said. “You knew you had to run with a group. You couldn’t be the solo person running.”

A few hours after the mass shooting, the Denver resident among more than 100 people gathered at a Chevron gas station at Tropicana Avenue and Dean Martin Drive as police shut down pedestrian and vehicle traffic into the Strip.

The gas station became a shelter for both evacuees and those waiting to return to their resort hotel rooms.

Three women listened to the news on a Buick sedan’s radio while a nearby group of seven men sipped cans of Miller Lite from a freshly purchased 18-pack. A woman sitting next to the men recounted how she helped slow the bleeding from a gunshot victim’s leg.

On a nearby sidewalk, Noble smoked a cigarette and recounted where she was when the shooting started.

Noble said she hid behind vendor carts and stands every time she heard gunfire. About 10 minutes later she was outside the venue and hiding with others inside a kitchen at the Tropicana. Inside, a man who appeared to be in his 20s was receiving medical treatment for a gunshot wound to his left arm.

Noble said she and others exited out the back and crept to the nearby Hooters Hotel, using the backs of cars for cover.

She made her way inside the nearby MGM Grand. Noble said it was there she hitched a ride to the Chevron with a woman whose husband came to pick her up.

“I’m farther away, but I’m at least on this side of the Strip,” she said. “I’m not freaking out or screaming. But I’m shaking and I want to get to my people.”

Not all at the gas station were evacuating.

Betsy Fernandez and her three sisters had traveled from Southern California for the concert. But they left after seeing one act early Sunday evening, opting to grab drinks under the bright lights of the Fremont Street Experience instead.

Fernandez, 23, said she found out about the shooting on their taxi ride back to the Strip. Her cousin called to ask if she was alright.

“I think we were just blessed. Someone is watching over us, I guess,” she said. “Any other day we would have been there.”

‘It was chaos’

Gary Mocnik, of Orange County, was in a suite watching the Jason Aldean concert when he first heard about six shots, he said.

People didn’t seem to react at first, he said.

Then after a brief pause, he said gunfire started in rapid succession.

“People at that point started hitting the decks and moving to the sides,” he said.

After another brief pause, he said the gunfire started again.

“It was chaos,” he said.

Mocnik said victims were being carried in wheelbarrows to try and find emergency vehicles.

People were loading victims up in pickup trucks and taking them to hospitals, he said.

Maria Rangel, who works at Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs inside New York-New York, said she and her co-workers were closing up for the day when hotel security ordered them to evacuate.

“We heard the security guard saying ‘just get out, everybody get out,’ like screaming really loud.”

Rangel said she dropped to the ground, because she was scared someone was shooting, but security made her and everyone else leave the hotel.

No one told Maria or her co-workers what was happening, just that they had to run.

“I’m not afraid of this now”

Ryan, a 14-year combat veteran, jumped into action when police told bystanders outside the New York-New York to take cover. As people crouched against a cement wall on the sidewalk, Ryan told them to move closer to the wall. A group of young women huddled together, crying. One of the women said she just wanted to go home.

Ryan and a few other people tried to comfort a woman and her young daughter. The girl smiled as one man told her she was safe, and everything was going to be OK. After police moved away, Ryan went to a nearby bar to try grab bottles of water for the group.

“I got shot at for 14 years,” he said. “I’m not afraid of this now.”

Smell of burning rubber

A group of people gathered in front of the hotel to watch as ambulances and patrol cars set up a triage station at the intersection of Tropicana and the Boulevard.

Paramedics hurried to get injured people onto stretchers and into ambulances before moving on to the next person. About midnight, police armed with rifles ran past the staging area toward the New York-New York and the Excalibur.

As paramedics worked, police shouted and raised their rifles toward a group of people walking out of the hotel with their hands up.

The smell of burning rubber filled the air as police cars sped through the triage center and east on Tropicana.

At 4 a.m. Monday police were still blocking off the south end of the Strip, turning back tourists, many with luggage, trying to get back to their hotels. A few sat and waited outside the Monte Carlo, near Sambalatte and 800 Degrees Pizzeria, where a half-eaten pizza and several boxes sat out on the patio.

At the MGM, people wrapped in hotel blankets splayed out on the floor or in chairs at a sports book where every TV was tuned into a news station. At the check in area, a family of five huddled together on the carpeted ring around a golden lion statue.

“I just want to go home”

Lisa Bollow came to Las Vegas from the Chicago area for her third Route 91 festival. Bollow said she didn’t see much from where she was in the back of the festival, but she did hear gunfire for about 20 minutes.

She said the shooting started about four songs into Aldean’s set. At first, she thought the sounds were firecrackers or a busted speaker. She got down as the shots continued. When there was a two-minute lull in the gunfire, she ran.

“You could still hear it no matter how far you got away from the place,” she said.

She said the concert was far more crowded than any other night of the three-day festival.

People trampled each other as they tried to run away, she said. Bollow ran from the festival toward MGM, where she was on lockdown. She then got a ride to Mandalay Bay, where she was staying.

Bollow said early Monday morning she was going to miss her flight back home due to being stuck

“I just want to go home; Be with my kid,” she said.

A helping hand

Jessica Perez, 21, was in bed at home when she learned about the shooting. Less than an hour later, she had five packs of water in the trunk of her car and headed toward the Strip with her brother and cousin.

“We couldn’t just sit at home doing nothing,” the Las Vegas resident said. “Everyone was begging us please don’t go, but we couldn’t sit there.”

Perez said news reports led them to the staging area at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard South and Sunset Road, where a large mix of reporters and civilians were camped out waiting for updates from Metro.

“We knew everyone would be coming here,” she said. “My heart hurts and I can’t believe this is happening in my home.”

‘We got to get out of here’

Concertgoer Chelsea Sullivan, 27, said she heard one shot but initially wasn’t sure what it was. “At first no one really moved or did anything and then all of the sudden there was a couple more pops,” Sullivan said. “I looked at my friend and said, ‘we got to get out of here.’”

She said several people ran for a nearby fence and knocked it down. She and others jumped an exterior fence leading to the street because they couldn’t find an exit.

“As we’re jumping the fence, we could still hear shots firing,” she said.

She said she and at least 100 others, one with a gunshot wound to his leg, continued running toward a private airport hanger at Atlantic Aviation LAS. She said they broke into a private hanger and tarmac. They ran as far north as they could on the tarmac until they reached the airport office near Tropicana Avenue.

There staff helped them as they waited for about a half hour for shuttle buses to take them to a neighboring lot.

Sullivan said a man with a pickup truck was driving through fences so people could keep running.

A man at the concert had parked his pickup close and got inside, she said.

“He was jamming through the fences so that by the time we got there, they were open and we could get through,” Sullivan said.

The man who was shot applied a tourniquet to his leg using his belt, she said.

“It was like rapid fire”

A man staying alone inside his room on the 27th floor of Mandalay Bay said he heard gunshots from above him and saw people running from the concert grounds from his window.

“Not doing anything wrong except for enjoying music,” he said.

Like many others, he said the gunshots initially sounded like fireworks. “I saw no explosion, I saw no lights, I saw nothing lighting up and I was like, ‘that’s weird. That’s not fireworks,’” Geoffrey Williams said.

He said the concert stopped, and he heard screaming. Then “a massive amount of people” ran.

“It was like rapid fire,” said Williams, imitating the sound of a machine gun.

As of 1 a.m., he was trapped on the 27th floor. He said emergency doors prevented him from leaving the hallway.

He said he took a picture before the shooting happened, and heard the gunshots as he was trying to post it to Instagram.

“I didn’t even finish editing that picture before I started hearing what I (thought) sounded like the fireworks,” he said.

Rodolfo Hardt, 30, went to the bathroom inside MGM Grand while waiting to get into a hotel club about the time of the shooting.

“When I came back, no one was there,” Hardt said.

Police with large guns told him and others to leave.

He said his friend was inside Hakkasan Las Vegas Nightclub and was told to get down inside the club.

‘You never think it’s going to happen to you’

Wearing country music T-shirts, Chip and Lisa Schau of Sacramento stood at the corner of Sunset Road and Las Vegas Boulevard and embraced.

This was their 30th concert this year, give or take, Lisa Schau said.

When the shooting began, she estimated she heard gunshots for 15 to 20 minutes.

“You never think it’s going to happen to you,” she said.

First they took cover. Then they ran. Like Sullivan, Schau said people busted down a gate to escape.

“We were running over people that were injured and it was, it was terrifying,” Lisa Schau said.

The two hid behind cars, waiting for pauses in gunfire to run to another hiding spot. The pauses didn’t come.

“I just kept thinking to myself, ‘This isn’t real. This is not happening. This is not real,’” Lisa Schau said. “I just kept thinking that over and over. And it was.”

She paused. Her voice broke.

“It is.”

They hitched a ride in the back of a pickup truck with more than a dozen other people and fled.

“Some really awesome person pulled up with a truck and like 20 of us jumped into the truck and were laying down,” Lisa Schau said.

The driver dropped her off around a nearby airport, she said. Vans from Sundance Helicopters near the airport took them through the airport parking lot to a safer location.

“I’m just like astonished that it was just one person for as much gunfire as there was,” she said.

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