What started out as a short vacation for a group of family and friends from Baker, ended in an unbelievable nightmare three days later.
By Angel Wyrwas
What started out as a short vacation for a group of family and friends from Baker, ended in an unbelievable nightmare three days later. Bob and Selena Nelson, Doug and Rosanne Varner, Jeff Varner and Alice (Straub) Parker arrived in Las Vegas Thursday evening to attend the fourth annual Route 91 Harvest Music Festival.
As good luck would have it, to start their weekend, the group was upgraded to some nicer rooms near the lobby when they checked in at the MGM Resort across from Mandalay Bay.
Friday they enjoyed the music festival near the stage. “We were standing closer to the stage that day,” said Doug, “but after a day of standing, we decided to move towards the back of the event area where we could sit in chairs and be closer to the food, beer gardens and bathrooms.”
What they didn’t know at the time is that this decision would play a large factor in them escaping the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Sunday evening the weekend festivities were drawing to an end. People were congregating near the main stage to listen to Country Music Artist Aldean perform. “The venue was wonderful,” said Selena. “The people were so nice, we had a fun time.”
Around 10 p.m. Bob and Selena Nelson were discussing heading back to the MGM because they had to be up early for their flight home. Then the group heard loud shots.
“We wondered if it was fireworks,” said Jeff, “but then there wasn’t any smoke.”
It only took a second more for them to realize the noise was gunshots. The lights and music went out on stage and they could see the crowd starting to move. The group quickly laid down behind their seats to take cover.
“We couldn’t see where the shots were coming from,” said Doug. “The shots were so loud, like they were right by us,” said Rosanne. “How do you outrun something you don’t even know what it is? We didn’t know if it was one shooter or ten.”
In another split second they decided to get out of the event arena. “We squeezed through the bleachers behind us, hoping we were going away from the gunfire,” said Bob. “We traveled together in and around things to give us some cover until we arrived at the locker area. Then we caught our breath for only a minute and made sure we were all together.”
“Your adrenaline is just going,” said Selena. “Event staff was yelling for us to go this way, get out. I was thinking ‘Please don’t let me get shot’.”
The next round of gunfire exploded and they were told to keep going. “We had to go through an open area,” said Doug, “but we still didn’t know how many shooters, where it was coming from or what was ahead of us. But we had to go.”
Other people had joined hands with them and they were leading a crowd across the lot when someone from the Tropicana opened a door and let them in. “We walked down a long hallway of rooms,” said Selena. “We paused a moment in their casino. Someone yelled about a gun and we were off running again.”
There was still gunfire. It had only been minutes since the beginning shot was fired. People inside the casinos and hotels were just starting to find out something was wrong. And since no one knew who was shooting, no one knew where it was coming from.
All the group knew is that they were still in harm’s way.
After the Tropicana they had to cross ten lanes of traffic trying to make their way to the MGM. “The light was red but we had to go,” said Bob. “The drivers were mad and honking because they didn’t know what was going on. But some shots had landed near there so it was good that we kept going.”
They ran in the MGM, caught the elevator and went straight to Bob and Selena’s room. “It was incredible that our room had been upgraded because it was so close to the entrance, saving us time,” said Selena. Soon after they arrived at their hotel everything went on lockdown. Hotels were locked and the interstate was closed. “People that were still out there had nowhere to go,” said Bob. “Later, a bus was sent to pick people up.”
The group was in the hotel room by 10:50. “It felt like 5 minutes,” said Rosanne. They turned the TV on to see if there was any news. They looked on social media for answers. Some places were reporting shooters in hotels.
They closed the blinds, turned out the lights and got on the floor. Was it over yet or was there more to come? No one knew. “We were trying to text loved ones that might be seeing what was happening that we were ok,” said Selena, “but the phones lines were crazy. You couldn’t get through because everyone was on the phone.”
Finally at 3:30 a.m. the others returned to their rooms. No one slept that night. “We made a plan,” said Selena. “We wanted out of there, to go home where it was safe. Not knowing if we’d even be able to leave, we said we would meet at 5 a.m. to get to the plane.”
The Las Vegas strip was still shut down in the morning. “We were supposed to have a 6 a.m. shuttle,” said Jeff, “but they couldn’t get to us.” There were a few cabs but very few and many people trying to leave.
“The MGM’s back entrance was available to leave from,” said Rosanne. “We were in line for a cab but they only allow four people in one cab. None of us wanted to split up.” In another stroke of luck, a black escalade pulled up that could take seven people and they were off to the airport.
“The airport was great,” said Jeff. “Everyone was so helpful. We felt safe for the first time since the ordeal started.”
“If anything would have been different,” said Rosanne, “it could have changed our outcome. It’s so hard to believe how much worked out for us.”
“We definitely had angels holding us up,” said Selena.
“If we’d have gone out the way we did before, we would have been shot,” said Bob. “If we would have been by the stage or on the platforms we were going to sit on, we’d have most likely been shot.”
“Even the fact that we were all together when it started,” said Doug. “No one was in the bathroom or getting drinks. It’s amazing.”
“The gunfire was so loud, like it was right next to your head. I’ll never forget those sounds,” said Bob. “They’ll be in my nightmares.”
“There’s so many things going through your head,” said Rosanne. “When we saw the news stories we knew how truly lucky we were.”
“I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever get over,” said Doug. “The sheer terror and fear. We’re all in shock.”
It took nine to eleven minutes of gunfire for Stephen Paddock to kill 59 and wound over 500 people. “It was twelve hands holding on to each other,” said Bob. “Everybody did their part. That’s how we got out, we did it as a team.”