By Sara Mamer Hilfiker
LAS VEGAS — A lone 64-year-old gunman holed up in a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel apparently used multiple machine guns to rain down gunfire on the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Festival 2017 Sunday evening, various news sources are reporting. At last count, 58 people in the open-air venue were killed, and over 500 injured.
According to reports, the barrage of bullets into a crowd of 22,000 people lasted several minutes, causing panic. Some were reportedly injured as fleeing fans trampled each other.
During a press briefing, Las Vegas Police officials said they had identified the suspect Monday as Stephen Paddock, who lived in a retirement community in Mesquite, Nev. They said they believed he acted alone and did not know why he attacked the crowd.
The following is a firsthand account from Holtville resident Sara Mamer Hilfiker who was attending the music festival Sunday evening with her friends when the gunman opened fire:
The music festival was the first of its kind for me to go to. My friends, Chris and Mindy Toth, were so excited to experience a fun Las Vegas weekend together.
We were enjoying all the bands over several days and the venue was so amazing to have the Las Vegas strip as its backdrop. The third and final day had the best line up of artists, so we got there early, about 3 p.m., to watch one of my favorites, the Josh Abbott Band, on the main stage.
The three of us were able to make our way to the end of the stage jetty up against the metal railing (looking at the stage would be the left side, corner of the jetty). We knew from the nights before, once you got that close, you better consider staying, because those close spots were sought-after and really crowded later on when the headliner artists played.
We stayed through all the artists. Mindy and I really wanted to stay for the last two artists, Jake Owen and Jason Aldean.
Jason Aldean took the stage and the energy and songs were great. About three songs in, I heard a popping sound. First, I thought it was a weird sound from speaker music, then I started looking around, then the popping sound became rapid fires.
Mindy and I looked at each other and then across the stage alleyway, and could see people about ten feet away with looks of fear and yelling they needed help.
The shots kept firing and we all dropped down to the ground. Mindy and I held onto each other along with other people. We could hear the ricochet of bullets on the metal around us and hear the screams of many, many people.
We tried to keep everyone near us down on the ground. There was a sudden break in shots fired, so we looked around cautiously and noticed many people behind us, in the largest area of people, were running away.
We stood up and everyone began to run. I held Mindy’s hand super tight and had to pull her along to get us out of there together.
As we were running over and around people still on the ground, another round of shots started. The majority of the stampede we were in went out a small gate that was not a venue entrance or exit.
As we got outside on the grounds, we saw people jumping over a wrought iron fence. We heard people yelling to keep moving, because the bullets could still reach us. At the next break in shots firing, Mindy and I decided to go over the fence with others. As she got helped over, I was going over the fence and got pulled down by my purse as a lady was trying to lift herself onto the fence.
I fell back into the crowd of moving people and decided to get up and keep moving.
The shots firing started again and everyone began running. It was so scary to be separated from Mindy and going opposite directions, and my cell phone had died.
As the crowd got to a locked fence, we were all trapped. A group of guys starting pushing on the fence until it came down and we began moving again.
We turned the corner, all running with the shots still being fired. We were headed towards the airport. Again, the large crowd pushed down a perimeter fence at the airport. We found a private jet hangar and about 150-200 people found safety in there.
The police showed up and asked us all to stay inside, saying they had the building secured. I borrowed a phone from a nice couple from Phoenix to call Mindy and Chris. She had made it to the Hooters hotel and Chris was back to our hotel at Excalibur.
I then called home quickly to let loved ones know I was ok, but without a phone. I found a charger in the hangar and a lot of us shared it. A lot of people were following the news and updates to find more about the shooter and events.
I was shocked to find out that the shooter was shooting from the 32nd floor of the hotel across the corner from the venue!
Mindy’s phone had also died by then. Those of us in the hangar were transported at about 1 a.m. to Thomas and Mack and then got news of hotels opening back up about 5 a.m.
I took an Uber back to my hotel and had to walk across the freeway bridge, because we couldn’t get any closer than that. The most difficult part was being separated from my friends, but to know we were all safe and not injured like so many others was some peace.
And to know that so many were worried and concerned for us, and trying to let them know we were the ones that got to safety.
There were such moments of strength — in pain, suffering and chaos. From praying with those that were scared, or knew they had hurt loved ones, or had seen someone injured or killed in front of them, everyone’s kindness really shined.
To be headed home to our children and loved ones is a relief to our hearts, but we will never forget being a part of the concert community that went through that tragedy together.