Jessie Wood was wading through the crowd of country music fans, headed for the bathroom, when she heard the pop-pop-pop late Sunday night.
The 22-year-old Ogden resident had come to the three-day Route 91 Harvest Festival with her friend and friend’s mother. The three glanced at one other: Were those fireworks? Then Jason Aldean stopped singing. The stage lit up. The women realized they were in danger.
“The shots started coming real quick,” Wood said in a telephone interview as she traveled home Monday morning. “The atmosphere changed so fast.”
Wood was among a number of Utahns in attendance Sunday when gunfire rained down on the festival crowd from a room on the 32nd floor of nearby Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, ultimately killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 500. Some crouched in the dirt, seeking shelter. Others climbed fences in a desperate bid to escape. Nobody had a clear sense of where the shots were coming from.
Southern Utah resident Cameron Robinson, 28, was among those who would be fatally wounded, according to The Las Vegas Review-Journal. Robinson was attending the festival with his boyfriend when he was shot in the neck, his sister Meghan Ervin told the Review-Journal.
Robinson lived in the St. George area and drove to Las Vegas for work, Ervin said. His Linkedin profile says that he’d worked for the city of Las Vegas since 2013.
Robinson graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from Nevada State College and a master of business administration from Western International University, his profile says.
“I feel like this is a horrible nightmare,” Ervin wrote on Facebook, adding that her brother was the best uncle, brother, son and companion anyone could ask for.
Former Salt Lake City resident Neysa Tonks, 46, also died in the assault, according to a fundraising page for her family. A graduate of Brighton High School and mother of three, Tonks worked for Technologent, a technology company based in Irvine, and she lived in Las Vegas, according to public records. The fundraising page, showing many photos of Tonks flashing a big smile, said she “brought joy, happiness, fun and laughter to so many of us.”
“Our first thought was, we know there were Utahns there for sure,” Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said Monday morning, before the names of the victims were publicized. “We heard from some of them. ... There were many that were right there on the ground, literally on the ground, lying down, trying to get out of there, crawling out. The stories you hear are just horrific.”
Wood and her companions didn’t wait to see the carnage unfold. They grabbed one another’s hands and ran, she said. They were already walking toward the back of the venue, allowing them to escape just before other concertgoers began stampeding for the exits.
“A bunch of people were just panicking,” Wood said.
The women arrived back at their room at the Excalibur Hotel and Casino and promptly barricaded the door with a dresser. Who knows what might be unfolding out there, they figured.
They said a prayer. They surfed Facebook and news reports and listened to police scanner traffic online. They couldn’t sleep.
“It‘s not easy thinking about it,” Wood said.
Amy Beckstead, of Herriman, won tickets to the concert from a radio station and took her sister-in-law to Las Vegas for “a fun girls’ weekend,” and it was, she said Monday, until the shots began.
Early in Aldean’s set, Beckstead pulled out her camera, but then she heard the pop-pop-pop. The band didn’t stop playing immediately, Beckstead said, but when it scrambled off the stage, members of the crowd dropped to the ground.
Beckstead was on the phone with her brother, who listened helplessly from home, knowing his wife and sister were in danger, trying to calm them down. He and Beckstead’s husband immediately jumped into the car and drive south.
Several gunshots would ring out, she said, followed by a break for what she estimated to be 30 to 45 seconds. After two cycles of gunshots and a pause, Beckstead said she and her sister-in-law made their move.
“It sounded like there were multiple shooters,” she remembered. “It sounded like it was moving around the venue.” People didn‘t know where it would be safe to move, she said.
“It was just crazy, there was so much shooting while we were actually in the venue,” Beckstead said. “It just felt like it was never-ending.”
After a stint of crouching behind the bar, Beckstead said, she and others decided the venue wasn’t safe. They passed over a small fence that had been trampled by others, then they crawled under a chainlink fence topped with barbed wire around the parking lot.
As they passed through the Strip, there were rumors that shooters were roaming around hotels, so the women decided to get as far from the Strip as possible.
They fled to a convenience store about a mile away from the Strip, where about 50 people had already gathered, waiting to hear more information about the shooting.
At about 1 a.m. a stranger offered to give the women a ride, Beckstead said, but they didn’t want to return to their hotel, Luxor, on the Strip. The stranger told them she worked at a small hotel nearby and arranged for them to get a room there.
Beckstead’s husband and brother arrived later, and the Utahns watched the news on TV all night. They drove home Monday.
Karen Larsen, of Clinton, was about 20 yards from the stage with several friends when the shots rang out, she wrote on Facebook. She crouched down, later posting pictures of her legs caked in dirt.
“There was bloody people, and there was dead people. And we‘re all OK, but we’re scared,” Larsen said in a video as she huddled in her hotel bathroom.
“We can‘t stop shaking,” she wrote.
Jared Esselman, Utah’s director of aeronautics, was attending a Las Vegas conference for work. He was with a group walking back from dinner to Caesar’s Palace, the hotel where he was staying, when they heard the pops.
“We didn‘t recognize that it was gunshots,” he said. As they crossed a bridge above the street and watched the first cop cars speed down the Strip with lights and sirens on, it didn’t faze them.
But then, Esselman saw the third police car stopping traffic by driving on the wrong side of the road. The fourth followed that path in the now-empty lanes, “hauling as fast as he can haul.”
Above, Esselman saw a police helicopter, and with his expertise in flying, he knew something was wrong.
The group was ushered into the hotel casino soon after, and the place was locked down. People were running, leaving their chips at the tables.
“They thought that there was an active shooter in the casino,” he said.
“Scared and confused” people were panicked. Once things quieted down, he saw parents, who he assumed had been locked out, “gripping their children, running to their hotel room, trying to get back to what they see as a safe spot.”
DJ Tischner, a radio disc jockey at Big Kickin’ Country 107.3 in St. George, was finishing three days of festival coverage in the media tent when he heard the first series of pops.
He and other photographers and DJs thought it was probably some kids lighting off fireworks on a street behind the tent; they went back to taking photos with each other and saying goodbye.
There was shortly another, longer series of pops, Tischner said in a video he posted to his Facebook page and a subsequent interview with a Midwest radio station. Tischner said a sense of realization and dread quickly spread among the other media members inside the tent: They were stuck in the middle of a shooting.
He went and found several people near the tent who had come to the festival with them. They fled out the back and climbed a fence. Soon, hordes of concertgoers were pushing the fences down.
Tischner said he ran into the street with his friends, where they crammed into an Uber with several other strangers; one of the passengers had been shot in the arm.
He said nobody knew the gunshots were coming from above — a hotel room. Many figured there must be multiple gunmen, perhaps roaming the area around the concert venue, Tischner said.
“We thought they were in the venue with us. You don’t know, am I gonna turn, and there’s someone with a gun there? It was complete pandemonium,” he said.
The car full of concertgoers ended up at a nearby business, which eventually allowed them to hide inside. Tischner saw the blood coating his jeans and jacket.
“There was nothing scarier in my life than running, and hearing gunshots, and you think the next [gunshot] you hear is going to be you. The next one,” he said.
“The biggest mass shooting in American history has happened. And we were there.”
— Reporter Pamela Manson contributed to this story.