Las Vegas Concertgoers: Gunfire 'went on and on and on'
CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 10/2/2017, 9:36 a.m.
By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
(CNN) -- It was the eeriest of timing. The intro guitar riff had ended and country singer Jason Aldean had just stepped to the mic to belt out the first verse of his hit, "When She Says Baby."
At the same time, the rat-tat-tat of automatic gunfire filled the air.
For a few seconds, no one seemed to react. His guitar strapped around his neck, Aldean sang the next line of the song -- about a woman helping him through bad days -- as dozens of gunshots, maybe as many as 50, peppered the crowd.
It wasn't until the third line -- "Some days I'd rather be a no show" -- that Aldean realized something frightening was happening. He stopped singing and darted to the back of the stage. The singer, his wife, his band and crew eventually fled to safety.
The crowd, some 22,000 people, gasped and looked around, confused but not yet in a state of full-blown panic. That would come shortly.
Thirty-two floors above them, behind the gilded windows of the Mandalay Bay hotel across the Las Vegas Strip, a 64-year-old man -- later identified as Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada -- was raining down bullets. By the time Paddock was dead, it was the deadliest mass shooting in US history.
From concern to chaos
Aldean was the headliner, the last act on the last day of the sold-out Route 91 Harvest country music festival. Many fans had been partying at the Las Vegas Village, a 15-acre greenspace outside the MGM Grand hotel, since early Sunday afternoon.
Once Aldean's band stopped, the light show carried on for a few more seconds before cutting to black. Floodlights illuminated the crowd. Still not sure what to do, some concertgoers crouched while others made their way to the edge of the festival along the Strip.
Then came another, shorter volley of gunfire, and the evacuation grew more urgent. On cell phone footage, there are screams and expletives. People can be heard saying, "Don't push."
SiriusXM Country radio host Storme Warren, who was watching Aldean's performance from the side of the stage, said he at first thought the gunfire was fireworks. By the third barrage of gunfire, he realized "something was wrong" and took cover beneath the stage.
"The shells were hitting the deck of the stage when I was on it," he said.
Before Aldean's set, Jake Owens had performed. He was still on the stage when the gunfire began. As concern morphed into chaos, he said, people began darting for cover. He could see the "fear in everyone's eyes." Owens escaped to his nearby tour bus as the bullets came down.
"When the shooting started, it was ringing off the top of the stage. You could hear it hitting trailers, people scattering and it was chaos," Owens said.
"Next thing you know, it was just unloading," the country singer said, "like no doubt an automatic-sounding rifle or some sort of machine gun or something. And at that point is when you could tell the chaos and the fear in everyone's eyes and their demeanor was changed and everyone just started scrambling for any sort of cover."