Country music fans from the central and southern San Joaquin Valley were among the thousands of terrified concertgoers who ran for cover when a gunman opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas on Sunday.
The death toll from the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival stood at 59 as of mid afternoon Monday. More than 500 were injured. Authorities said 64-year-old suspect Stephen Paddock apparently killed himself in the 32nd-floor hotel room where he launched his attack.
Heather Plata of Fresno was with her husband in the VIP section of the festival when the gunshots rang out. The couple met up with friends from previous years at the festival, and made some new friends. The night began “cheerful and energetic,” she said in a Facebook post.
Plata heard the gunshots and first thought it was firecrackers. She and her husband crouched down in the confusion, but realized something was wrong when performer Jason Aldean ran off the stage.
When deciding whether to run, Plata said she was hesitant – until she realized she was kneeling in a puddle of somebody’s blood.
The Platas were met at the exit by police cars. They stopped to help the wounded.
“I wanted to run but Lionel and I both stopped to help triage some victims. One was shot in the thigh, another in the arm,” she said.
She and her husband continued moving, but were unsure of their destination. They stopped behind a car to call loved ones and were reunited with some cousins.
The couple moved on to the Tropicana Las Vegas Casino Hotel Resort, but left after hearing rumors a shooter was in the building. They finally settled in the Americas Best Value Inn, where they were given a free room for the night after the hotel entrance was barricaded.
Plata cut off the bloodied knees of her jeans, making them into shorts to “try to get rid of some of the awful night we experienced.”
“This morning we woke up still in shock and seeing the numbers really hurt all of us,” she said. “This was a place where we go to find happiness and it was stripped from us in a matter of minutes.”
Jody Jo’s condolences
Local country music disc jockey Jody Jo Mize, at KISS Country, posted her condolences to friends and family of the victims. She also encouraged local fans to let her know if they were all right.
Several responded, including Frank Ball of Clovis.
Ball said on Facebook: “Me and tiff were there !!bar tender next to me shot we helped at least 15 people who were shot in my area.”
Also at the concert was Julie Miller Jensen of Clovis, who said: “I was there...safe in r room now. Praying for all who were injured.”
Armen Bacon, a Fresno author, is in Las Vegas. “The city is very quiet and somber,” she said in an email to The Bee. “Massive kindness – in elevators, coffee lines, hallways ... eye contact, words of compassion, strangers exchanging embraces. From horror and tragedy we witness the best of humankind.”
Ex-Fresno State linebacker Karl Mickelsen was at the concert and posted this on Twitter Sunday night: “To all my Family and Friends that knew we were at the Route 91 concert in Vegas, We made it out safely!”
Bakersfield woman killed
KGET-TV 17 in Bakersfield reported that a Bakersfield woman, Bailey Schweitzer, was killed in the shooting. Schweitzer, 20, was a 2015 graduate of Centennial High School. The station also said that a Tehachapi woman, Rachel Sheppard, was in critical condition at a Las Vegas hospital with a gunshot wound.
Bakersfield police said that one of their officers, Aaron Mundhenke, a six-year veteran, was wounded. Mundhenke was off duty and attending the concert with other off-duty officers.
Through a family group text, Tara Monreal, a Fresno State student, said she first heard of the shooting from her sister, Kathryn Monreal, who was at the music festival when gunfire broke out.
Monreal said she remained in constant contact with her sister.
“My sister didn’t know what to do. She was able to leave the scene, but the friends she was with called her crying, saying they were hiding under a truck and didn’t know where to go,” she said.
She said her sister was “paralyzed” from fear and confusion. However, she said her sister and her friends found their way back to their hotel and were instructed not to post to social media to keep from being targeted by unknown threats.
“They turned off their lights, closed their curtains and barricaded the hotel door,” Monreal said. “They didn’t move until they were informed the suspect was down.”
She said her sister took a 4:45 a.m. flight back home to the Bay Area. The Monreal family is from Madera.
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand issued this statement: “I want to offer my condolences and prayers to everyone affected by this act of madness. This senseless tragedy has shocked our nation, and we should be grateful for the quick response by Las Vegas police and emergency responders. My heart goes out to the victims of this deadly shooting as well as their families, and we pray for a speedy recovery for all those injured.”
Flags at Fresno State and all Visalia city offices were lowered to half-staff to honor the victims.