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What Happened When The Gunshots Started


It's been one week since a lone gunman opened fire on a country music festival in Las Vegas. And there are still so many questions about why and how this happened. NPR's Leila Fadel has been speaking with survivors and first responders, piecing together their stories. She takes us through that terrifying night now, from the first gunshot to the moments that followed. And a warning - this story has sounds of gunfire.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Jason Aldean is the man the crowd is waiting for, the headliner at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. It's 10:05 p.m.


NICOLE RUFFINO: You know, I heard something that sounded like fireworks.

FADEL: Nicole Ruffino was at the concert.

RUFFINO: I remember turning to my friends. I said, who has fireworks here? That doesn't make any sense.

FADEL: Like Ruffino, most people think it's fireworks. But it's bullets that are raining down on the crowd.


FADEL: For 35 seconds, the shooting stops. Videos posted on YouTube capture this moment - the crowd confused.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: He ran offstage.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: He ran offstage.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yeah, but what happened?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Something happened.


FADEL: Jason Aldean leaves the stage. The shots begin again.


FADEL: A police officer calls in to dispatch. There's an active shooter.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: 16910 - we've got shots fired - 415 ASO, route to 91. Sounded like an automatic firearm.



UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: What the...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: This can't be happening.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Go, go, go, go, go.

FADEL: It's 10:07 p.m.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: In the Mandalay Bay, upstairs in the Mandalay Bay - halfway up. I see the shots coming from Mandalay Bay - halfway up.

FADEL: The crowd of some 22,000 people know it's gunfire. But they don't know where the shots are coming from or how many shooters there may be. The shaky video from the body camera of a policeman shows him pulling someone away from the direction of the gunfire.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #2: Get back. Get back. Get back.

ANGEL GOMEZ: It's just bap, bap, bap, bap. And it'd continue. And then it would stop. And then it continued again. And just getting up and running - I had my daughter with me. She's 16 - and just running, trying to save her life.

FADEL: Angel Gomez is a dealer at a casino on the strip.

GOMEZ: We were watching people get shot as we were running out of the location.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #3: I'm en route to US2 with a female with a gunshot wound to the head.

FADEL: The dispatcher's trying to keep the police calm as they call in casualties. People are searching for safety from the gunfire.

SCHANDA BENNET: You had people hiding under the tables.

FADEL: Schanda Bennet is dealing blackjack at the nearby Hooters Hotel and Casino.

BENNET: I'm seeing people coming in with bullet wounds in their bodies. There's people with busted knees. There's blood everywhere.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: Get down. Get down.

FADEL: The police are frantic, trying to find the gunman.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #4: We can't worry about victims. We need to stop the shooter before we have more victims. Anybody have eyes on the shooter?

FADEL: Inside the Mandalay Bay, a security guard, Jesus Campos, responds to a door alarm at room 135 on the 32nd floor. The shooter fires through the door and hits him in the leg. At 10:12 p.m., police are closing in on the shooter's location.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #5: I'm inside the Mandalay Bay on the 31st floor. I can hear the automatic floor coming from one floor ahead - one floor above us.

FADEL: Outside, people are fleeing the gunfire as Caitlin Medina, a medic, arrives to help.

CAITLIN MEDINA: There's lights everywhere. Freeways are shut off. Roads are shut off. The strip was nothing but just red and blue lights everywhere.

FADEL: At 10:15, the shooting stops. The festival grounds are littered with bodies.

MEDINA: It seemed fake. It didn't seem real that there were that many casualties in an area that wasn't staged for, you know, a movie.

FADEL: People attending the concert are carrying the wounded to cars, trucks and ambulances to get them to the hospital - people like Mark Lacy.

MARK LACY: We were pretty good at getting all the injured or deceased out. I mean, we used tables. We use beverage carts. We used fencing to use as a stretcher to carry these people out.

FADEL: Frantic families are searching for loved ones at hospitals. Some are trying to get to the festival grounds. There are false reports of shooters and explosives at other hotels. It's chaos. At the Mandalay Bay, police have been clearing people from nearby floors and neighboring rooms. At 11:20 p.m., they move toward the shooter's room.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #6: I'm in on the suspect's door. I need for everybody in that hallway to be aware of it and get back.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Got the (unintelligible) on the 32nd floor. Everyone in the hallway needs to move back. All units move back.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #6: Breach. Breach. Breach.


UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: One suspect down inside the room. Zebra 20 has one suspect down inside the room.

FADEL: The gunman is dead. He killed himself and took 58 others with him. Now people here are trying to heal. Throughout the week, they mourn together at vigils across the city. A memorial garden opened on Friday, a tree planted for every one of the dead. They include a mother of four, an aspiring nurse, a police officer, a mechanic, a man on his honeymoon. The list goes on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was NPR's Leila Fadel reporting from Las Vegas, with NPR's Rebecca Davis, who produced that story. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.