They set off for Las Vegas to relax and celebrate. Instead, they experienced bloodshed — some firsthand — of the worst mass shooting in modern American history with 59 people dead and more than 500 injured. Here are the accounts of several people with southwest Ohio ties who were witnesses to the shooting or its aftermath.
A 2011 Piqua High School graduate, Austin Cox was taking in the country music with a fellow Marine from Camp Pendleton. Then they heard shots.
Instead of fleeing, Cox, who played football for the Indians, and his buddy Mike Vura ran toward the gunfire.
As the Marines moved forward they encountered a woman shot twice in the shoulder and neck.
They’d never met Katrina Hannah, who was at the Route 91 Harvest music festival celebrating her best friend’s bachelorette party, according to CNN affiliate KABC-TV in Los Angeles.
"Really to just get there and help people," Cox said. "Once we got there we knew it was our job to help people."
Cox picked her up and made a run for it, eventually getting Hannah to Sunrise Medical Center.
The unthinkable happened to Todd Riley, a 1988 Kenton Ridge High School graduate. In line for a drink at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival, gunshots rained down.
“All of a sudden, we heard, pop, pop, pop,” he said. “Then there was a brief pause and it was automatic fire.”
Moments later in the pandemonium Riley felt his own leg burning, a sensation quickly forgotten as a woman in front of him collapsed to the ground, shot in the chest, he said.
“At this point, (the gunman’s) just spraying the crowd,” said Riley, who was also trying to locate his fiancee in a mass stumble for cover.
A gunman, police identified as Stephen Paddock, 64, was shooting from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Riley and another man found shelter for the woman, performed CPR and attempted stop her bleeding. A third lifted her into a wheelbarrow and pushed her toward safety.
Then Riley collapsed from his own injuries. A man applied a tourniquet to Riley’s leg and he was taken to a hospital for treatment. The school principal was hit by shrapnel in the calf, knee, thigh and belly.
As he left the hospital, Riley passed the young woman he performed CPR on at the concert. It appeared she didn’t survive, he said.
“I’m sore, emotionally and physically,” Riley said Tuesday from his home in Thornton, Colo. where he is receiving further medical attention.
But Rita Riley said her son’s greatest wound may be his inability to save the woman’s life.
“I think it’s going to weigh on him for a while,” Rita Riley said. “I think that’s going to be the hardest thing for him to heal from. He tried his best.”
A Kettering man was in Las Vegas to help is son propose to his girlfriend. What Mike Northern thought was going to be one of the happiest weekends of his life was upended by gunfire three hotels away and a report that a gunman was bearing down on his location inside the New York-New York Hotel and Casino.
“A SWAT team started running in ... ‘Get down, everybody get down! Everybody get down, everybody get down,’” he said.
Northern was convinced he was going to die underneath a craps table.
“I could peek out and all I saw was a pair of legs coming around the corner,” Northern said. “Honestly, I thought it was the shooter and that I had met my maker.”
But no one crouching for cover inside New York-New York knew that the reports of multiple shooters would prove false.
“I started calling on the phone, calling my son telling him, ‘You know, if anything happens to me I love you,’” Northern said.
Northern and others were cleared to leave New York-New York, but his anxiety was heightened again when he was momentarily stopped by police on the walk back to his hotel.
“I get the full SWAT alert,” he said. “‘Freeze, freeze, freeze!’ I've got guns pointed at me.”
Jen and Zach Rupert of Germantown were in Las Vegas for a long weekend celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary. They were at a street-level bar as shots poured from a 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel room - on the same floor as their room.
“At first there were reports of multiple shooters at multiple hotels and we didn’t know what to do so we hunkered down,” said Jen Rupert. “It’s tragic that one person can do that to so many people.”
After the shooting stopped, the Ruperts left the bar to seek shelter in a nearby food court where the severity of the night’s carnage became clearer: they heard a bloodied man tell another through his phone that despite giving CPR to a victim the person died.
“Even the police officers were saying if you go out there we can’t guarantee your safety,” Jen Rupert said. “Thankfully we were not in the hotel. You start thinking about every decision you make when something like this happens and how one choice could lead to something different.”
With four other members of an Eaton-based singing group, “Something Good,” Janet Eby stepped off a bus just two blocks away from the melee.
Eby described the scene as “eerie” and “scary” as sirens wailed. People on the Vegas strip were solemn, many on cell phones, she said. The women had scant information about what was developing nearby as police and ambulances passed.
“Like everybody says, you think it’s going to happen elsewhere and not to you,” she said. “We were only two blocks from the Mandalay. We could have been off at that stop very easily.”
Eby said her group is thankful to be safe but knows many others will never see loved ones again.
“It is just devastating to know how many lives have been affected by this,” she said. “It’s grandparents, it’s grandfathers, it’s moms, it’s dads, it’s kids.”
Holly Bennett, who is from Xenia, and her husband planned to be at the Route 91 Festival but changed plans Sunday night. The decision may have saved their lives.
“It is unbelievable and shocking,” Bennett said. “The atmosphere is weird, kind of somber and strange.”
Bennett was staying at The Mirage hotel, next to the Mandalay Bay where the shootings occurred.
“There was word of a shooting, so we went seven miles downtown to stay away from it,” she said.
Bennett was stuck at a downtown Las Vegas casino for a time as police blocked roads.
Lori Sparks said she received a call from her daughter, Molly, early Monday morning.
“As a parent getting that 2 a.m. phone call from your children is heart-stopping,” Lori Sparks posted on Facebook.
“I got that call (this morning) from my daughter Molly Sparks who had been at that country concert in Las Vegas, but luckily had left about 30 minutes before the chaos started,” she added. “Those that were not so lucky, my heart goes out to their families and I will pray for the injured as well. I hope that type of call never happens again.”
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