On Sunday night, a Las Vegas country music festival turned into a night of terror when Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel.
After the ten minutes of gunfire ended, a total of 58 innocent concertgoers were killed and hundreds more injured. Flights were grounded, hospitals were overcrowded and people cowered in fear, not knowing if Paddock's deluge of bullets would start up again.
While investigators are digging into Paddock's past to try and discover why he launched the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, survivors from that evening are sharing their stories of their six hours through hell.
Heather Gooze, a bartender, knew her customers by name by the end of the third night of the festival. Before Paddock unleashed terror on the concert, Gooze was doing her part to keep the party atmosphere alive and well.
When the bullets started raining down, she took shelter behind the bar. After the madness stopped, she held an injured man's hand while waiting for help.
"I just didn't want him to be alone, ... to be a John Doe," Gooze told CNN through tears.
"I'm not the most courageous and strongest person. Something wouldn't let me run. Like, everybody was running out the door, and something wouldn't let me go," she said.
Eventually she helped move the injured man to a sidewalk.
"I felt, like, a squeeze on my fingers, and then I just felt the fingers go loose," she says. Jordan McIldoon died on that sidewalk but Gooze didn't leave. She didn't want him to be alone. She contacted his family via Facebook and promised them she wouldn't leave his body. She stayed with him for four hours, until 3:30 a.m.prevnext
Musician Bryan Hopkins went from signing autographs and taking pictures with fans to leading a group of 30 people into a freezer.
"There was just a spray of [gunfire] and two guys go down right in front of us," he told CNN of the initial gunfire. "I look back and the girls that are singing behind us go down."
He rushed around but couldn't find a way out. Then he found a freezer and ushered people inside, telling them, "It's going to be OK."
"This is not where I'm going to die," he told a friend.
Eventually, he decides to bolt and leads the group across the festival field toward where police officers are ushering. "We start running ... and there's a body, a body, a body and then there's another body and this time the guy is shot in the stomach and his friends are there pumping on his chest trying to resuscitate him and one of the girls starts to panic," he says.
He leads them into a kitchen, where he and the dozens of other people he's with lock themselves in.
After 25 minutes, Hopkins comes out of the kitchen to a surreal scene: "People are gambling and sitting around drinking," he said.
Confused and exhausted, he made it home by 4 a.m., where he charged his phone and posts on Facebook that he's OK.prevnext
Caren Mansholt and Rusty Dees
Caren Mansholt and her boyfriend, Rusty Dees, were standing at their bleacher seats to the right of the stage when gunfire sprang out during Jason Aldean's set.
Dees screamed at Mansholt to get down, then ran to the right, where the gunfire was coming from, to try and help — or stop the gunfire. At this point, they thought it was coming from inside the concert.
Mansholt was laying between the bleacher seats with her head down screaming for Dees. Eventually the two were reunited and they ran as far away as they can from the venue, her in cowboy boots, him barefoot.
Sporadic bursts of gunfire forced them to stop and take cover multiple times. Eventually, they made it back to their hotel, the Cosmopolitan, where they turned on the news for a while before deciding it was too much. They went to bed but wondered if the nightmare was not yet over.
"We were fully dressed ready to escape again," Mansholt said.prevnext
Michael and Jamie Goguen
Michael and Jamie Goguen were attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival for their third time. They even sprang for VIP seats this time around.
Bullets rang out and the married couple made it to a cinderblock wall. Michael is a helicopter rescue pilot and refused to leave. Jamie refused to leave him, so they began to help.
Together, they carried victims to the festival's medical tent. One man with a head wound didn't make it that far; he died in their arms.
The couple flagged down random cars and trucks. Jamie told drivers, "I need to put shot-up people that are bleeding and hemorrhaging into your car and you're going to take them to the hospital right now."
They crammed countless people into countless cars. One police officer who had been shot in the neck put pressure on his bullet wound and used his other hand to help usher people into a car.prevnext
Bowdien Derby and Madison Viray
Bowdien Derby and Madison Viray, two brothers-in-law, had a good laugh after Derby accidentally spilled beer on a young woman before Alden and his band came on stage.
Like many others, once the gunfire started, Derby believed the shooter to be somewhere on festival grounds and worried that staying hunkered down by the stage made him and his family sitting ducks.
He looked at his cousin, who was lying over his girlfriend to protect her. He turned to his aunt. "I'll never forget the look in her eyes," Derby told CNN. "It was the look of, are we about to die? Is this it?"
The family decided to make a run for it, but like Mansholt and Dees, was forced to find cover multiple times — because every time people would try to escape, Paddock would start shooting again from the broken windows in his 32nd floor hotel room.
Derby lost his brother-in-law and the rest of the family somewhere along the way. Eventually, Derby and Viray get ahold of each other on the phone and meet at the Tropicana resort.
They moved to the Hooters hotel, where there was a station for the wounded. Viray, a firefighter, went over to help.prevnext
Up on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort, Stephen Paddock was not alone. Hotel guests, including Brad Baker, were fast asleep.
Baker heard loud noises but figured it was from the concert 32 floors below. Then, two police officers with guns and flashlights barged into his room and told him to evacuate.
"One officer with his [automatic rifle] going down the hallway and another with a shotgun right next to my door," he told CNN. "It looked like providing cover. And they told me to get out and hug the wall and run as fast as I could to the elevator bay."
At the elevator was a crowd of people comforting a scared 4-year-old boy.
"I saw the little boy and thought about my own daughter and told myself don't risk it, just get out as fast as you can, when you can," Baker said.
Down the hallway, hotel security guard Jesus Campos got too close to the door of room 32135. Paddock sent over 200 rounds of ammunition through the door and shot Campos in the leg. He survived, helped police on the scene and was later praised by Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo for his bravery.prevnext
Johnathon Smith, a 30-year-old dad of three, was enjoying the concert when the gunshots started.
During the shooting, Smith helped somewhere around 30 people to safety until he was shot in the arm and the neck. At that point, an off-duty police officer, Tom McGrath, sprang to action and transported the 30-year-old father of three to safety, covering his bullet-hole wounds with his fingers until they made it to the hospital.
The bullet in his neck remained in place because doctors were too worried that removing it would make the damage worse. The injury means he is in "constant pain," as he told CNN.
In a live interview, Smith was reunited on air with McGrath over the phone. Both men got emotional.
"He's somebody who inspires me," McGrath said about Smith, who wiped tears from his eyes. "I know he might not want to give himself all the credit, but he definitely did a wonderful job, and I was just happy to be there to help him towards the end, and get him out of there when he was hit."
"I owe that man my life because from the moment I got hit, he was the first one to actually help me stop the bleeding," Smith said of McGrath. "He never left my side at all…I kept telling him 'I don't want to die,' and he said 'You're not going to die, I got you.' "
Smith shrugged off the "hero" title he's been given, saying he "just did what anybody would do."0comments
"Through this tragedy I remember, nobody suffered alone. When people were dying there was somebody there who was holding their hands or holding them in their arms, comforting them," McGrath said.
"When people had injuries, no matter how severe it was, (people were) trying to get them to safety, nobody suffered alone and I think that's the takeaway from the whole entire situation."prev