The death toll was climbing steadily on Monday, less than 24 hours after a lone gunman opened fire with a number of assault weapons from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas during country music star Jason Aldean’s performance at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
Fifty-nine people were reported dead and 527 were reported injured on Tuesday, as the Herald went to press.
In the crowd at the Aldean concert was Peter Meehan, 24, a native of Rockville Centre, who flew to Las Vegas on Sept. 28 to attend the three-day music festival with his girlfriend, Erin Peretti, who grew up in the area. They escaped to safety after racing to the exits through a scattering, panicked crowd.
Aldean, the festival’s headliner, drew the largest audience of the weekend on Sunday night, Meehan said, and he and Peretti — along with Peretti’s sister, Miranda, and her boyfriend, Daniel Barnes — were about 25 yards from the stage, watching Aldean perform, when bullets began raining down on the crowd.
“The first three gunshots, they kind of just sounded like firecrackers,” said Meehan, who briefly interned for the Rockville Centre Herald in 2011 while he was a senior at South Side High School, and who now lives in Hoboken, N.J. “As it started to happen more frequently and a little louder, I guess you could say it was obvious that it was straight-up, heavy-artillery machine-gun fire.
“Our initial reaction was just to duck,” he added. “We put our heads down, and we were kind of just laying on the ground.”
When the gunfire ceased temporarily, Meehan and his group of three others ran toward the exits, ducking each time that it would begin again. The group reached the exit in about five minutes.
Meehan didn’t recall seeing anyone shot, but said that he noticed injured people around him. “So many people were laying down, ducking for cover, so for all I know, there were people who were shot and possibly even killed that looked like they were just laying for cover,” he recounted. “There was so much adrenaline, and I was just focused on getting out of there.”
Cedarhurst native José Molina, who has lived in Las Vegas for nearly four years, was eating dinner at a restaurant in the Town Square Shopping center, roughly a mile away from the concert, when he heard the shooting.
“So I hear sounds like a helicopter engine failing,” said Molina, 29, a sales agent for Penske Truck Rentals in Las Vegas. “Across the street is a business that takes people on helicopter trips around the city. Then I saw about 100 police officers go past us.”
Roughly 30 minutes later, as the restaurant was closing, about 50 people showed up, Molina said, “out of nowhere, all dressed in cowboy outfits” — who he assumed were concertgoers.
“We’re sad,” he said of the mood of the city hours after the shooting, adding, “We’re all willing to help.” He said that there was a three-hour wait at a local blood donation center at one point on Monday.
Authorities identified the shooter as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, and said that the attack was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Paddock opened fire on the crowd from two windows on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, from roughly a thousand feet away. Aldean continued to perform momentarily before realizing that the crowd was under attack and hurrying offstage. He and his band were unharmed. He was performing his final number of the night.
The shooting continued, with one or two 45-second pauses, for 10 minutes until authorities were able to break into Paddock’s hotel room, according to the Associated Press. Far below, survivors of the attacks used aluminum barricades to fashion make-shift stretchers to carry the dead and wounded to any available cars and ambulances to speed them to nearby emergency rooms.
Meehan said that he and his friends were fortunate to escape the concert quickly, noting that the shooter was still firing when they got out. “I couldn’t believe what was happening,” he said. “You just have a new respect for these things when they happen to you, because you think they’ll never happen to you, and then when they do, it was just mind-blowing.”
About 30 minutes later, Meehan and his group arrived at the University of Nevada Las Vegas’s Thomas & Mack Center. The venue was mostly empty at the time, Meehan recounted. It was later “used as a location for evacuees affected by the incident, [as] per the request of local law enforcement,” according to UNLV’s website.
A friend picked up Meehan and his group a few minutes after they reached the arena and drove them to Peretti’s home in Centennial Hills, a suburb of Las Vegas, where he spoke to the Herald by phone on Monday. He arrived home at 6 a.m. on Tuesday mornng.
“Just grateful, lucky, happy to be here still,” Meehan said, adding that he was shaken up and angry Sunday night, and unable to sleep. “Obviously some people weren’t [lucky], so thoughts and prayers go out to them and their families.”
Peter’s father, Dan, said he turned on the news early Monday morning and learned of the shooting. Knowing that his son was in Las Vegas and that he had mentioned going to a concert, he texted him. A text that he later learned Peter had sent to him had not come through, Dan said.
Not getting a response, Dan then called him. There was no answer. After a few minutes, he called his son again, and finally he heard Peter’s voice.
“He picked up the phone, thank God,” Dan said. “…I just was thankful he was alive.”
He said he looked forward to Peter and his girlfriend coming to Rockville Centre. “I just want him home now,” Dan said.
Long Island elected leaders offered their condolences to the families of the dead and prayers for the wounded. “It’s hard to find the words to express how it feels to once again wake up to reports of the deadliest mass shooting in American history,” said U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat from Garden City. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before — as many as 58 people dead, more than 500 injured, several in critical condition. But at the same time, it feels like déjà vu.
“Right now, I’m praying for the hundreds of Americans who just lost loved ones and family members and friends,” Rice continued. “I’m praying for the victims fighting for their lives, for the doctors and nurses and emergency responders working tirelessly to save them, and for all the police officers and firefighters and first responders who risked their lives to save others, who ran toward the threat while helping others get to safety.”
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, said, “It seems horrific events like this happen more frequently, with each one worse than the last. But prayers are not enough, and we must take meaningful action and deal with gun violence with this country head-on.”