A Maple Ridge couple survived the Las Vegas mass shooting.
Then they spent hours horrified, convinced the city was under attack by terrorists, as reports came in about shots fired across the city.
Paramedic Sean Kettley and his wife Abbey Workman were among the 22,000 people at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. The country music fans were there for all three days, and had been having a great time. Soon they would be part of a crowd under a hail of bullets that killed 59 and injured more than 500.
It started at about 10:00 p.m. on Saturday.
“The crowd is shoulder to shoulder, but every everyone is getting along good,” recalls Kettley.
And then he heard popping sounds like fireworks. He didn’t immediately recognize it as gunfire, but he didn’t discard the possibility, thinking “We are in the States…”
Performer Jason Aldean kept playing.
Then there was more pops.
Kettley locked eyes with a woman in the crowd who was also paying attention to the shots. It was the dawning realization and terror he saw in her face that confirmed his own fears. He grabbed his wife’s hand and started to run.
They were moving before anyone else around them, but soon everyone was in motion – many simply ducking down.
“Some of them were probably shot.”
He ran east, away from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino – but not because he knew that’s where the shots were coming from.
“It sounded like it was coming from everywhere,” said Workman.
“It really did sound like there were multiple people shooting,” said Kettley. “And the more we ran, the more the sound followed us.
“Each burst of firing got longer.”
They saw people dropping, and were not sure whether they were hit, or had just fallen.
His training as an emergency responder made him want to stop and help people, but Kettley’s instincts all told him to get out of there.
He climbed a fence and, being an athlete who just ran the Tough Mudder, was able to pull himself up onto a wall some 10 to 12-feet high, and then helped his wife up. On the other side was a parking lot, with hedges that would provide a visual screen.
“The gunfire was still going, and it felt like it was coming right at us.”
“I was truly afraid for my life.”
More people needed help getting over, and Kettley couldn’t simply leave them.
“The fear and hopelessness in these people’s eyes…”
He stayed up on the wall and lifted people over, helping about six or seven to safety. A couple were covered in blood, that they said was not their own.
Finally another man told him to go, saying he would “get the next round.”
Kettley dropped to the ground on the other side of the wall. Somehow he lost his shoe, and went back for it. Another person launched off the wall fall on top of him. He got his shoe and ran away from the chaos with his wife, seeking safety.
They got into a charter helicopter business at the nearby airport, where security staff let the fleeing people in. Some people hid under desks. Security told people to stay away from windows.
Trying to find out what was happening, they saw social media reports of shots fired at numerous hotels on the The Strip. They turned out to be false, likely caused by echoes of the shooting from the Mandalay Bay, but they added to the horror that night.
“We thought Las Vegas was under attack. We really did,” Kettley said. “We thought this was a terrorist attack.”
Airport shuttle buses gathered people, and drove them to the far end of the airport property.
“Even on the buses, people were saying ‘turn out the lights.’ People were so scared for their lives.”
They were unloaded, but had nowhere to go. Close to 100 people took shelter under a freeway on ramp, not knowing where to go for safety. They waited there over an hour.
Finally the Las Vegas Police Twitter account released that it had been one shooter, and advised guests to get to their hotel rooms, and stay there.
USA Today dubbed the incident “90 minutes of terror,” but the Maple Ridge couple did not get back to their hotel, The Westin, until about 2:30 a.m.
“We got to the hotel, and everyone had that sort of ghost look on their face – something terrible had just happened.”
They had met a lot of people, including many Canadians, during their time at the festival.
“You can’t help wondering, of all the people we met and talked to, whether they got out of there.”
Another Maple Ridge man, Jordan McIldoon, was among the 59 people killed in the shooting. He was one of four Canadians who died. Another 500 people were injured when a 64-year-old opened fire on the crowd for nine minutes from his room on the 32nd floor at the Mandalay Bay Hotel.