An Angeleno Describes Witnessing the Deadliest Mass Shooting in U.S. History

A local event producer saw acts of strength and heroism, and heartbreaking tragedy
People hug and cry outside the Thomas & Mack Center after a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas

Ethan Miller/Getty

Kat Thomas, the CEO of Los Angeles-based event production company This Way Adventures, splits her time between L.A. and Las Vegas. She was at the Route 91 Harvest Festival to assist a friend who paints henna at music festivals. Thomas was in the vendor booth, in a multi-level structure on the western side of the venue, which provided some cover from gunfire, when shooting broke out. She told us what she saw during the deadliest shooting in American history.

“The headliner was playing,” she said. “There was this rat-a-tat-tat sound, like fireworks. Then the music stopped. I thought, ‘Oh no, they blew out the speakers,’ but it was so quiet, and something seemed strange. Nobody came on to make any kind of announcement. It was just silent. And then the rat-a-tat-tat started again. That was the point when we all got down. The energy changed. You could feel the tension in the air.”

“I could hear the shots. It was clear that the sound was coming from above. But there was also so much going on, and some of it sounded like it might be coming from the ground,” she said, although, so far, law enforcement has only identified a single assailant.

Thomas, who described the way concert-goers worked together to get to safety as “the best worst-case scenario,” noted that the festival had drawn many military and veterans among the fans, some of whom took control of the situation as it developed.

“They told us what we needed to do,” she said. “They told us to stay low. After about 15 minutes, someone came and told us it was safe to leave, but the guys in our group suggested we wait a few more minutes to make sure it really was all clear. I was kneeling next to this man in a white cowboy hat. I have no idea who he was, but he seemed really calm and knew what to do. He told me, ‘You probably won’t believe this, but I lived through the shooting in Columbine, too.’”

Other festival attendees rushed to use their own pickup trucks to triage the wounded.

“These people would gather the people who were injured and load them into the backs of pickup trucks in groups and drive straight to the hospitals or the staging area at the airport.”

As the minutes ticked by and she waited in the vendor pavilion with a group taking shelter there, she pulled out her phone and franticly searched for information about what was happening, but found official word slow to come. When it did, she felt the information did not offer immediate guidance to those at the scene.

Once it was safe to leave the area where Thomas sheltered, she crossed to the exit, passing victims of the shooting, and those who had been trampled in the aftermath.

“So many people were injured. So many people were dead. I saw people who had been trampled, a woman lying there with her dress torn off her body from being trampled. Pickup trucks were driving around filled with people, and you couldn’t entirely tell who was injured and who was dead.”

Once Thomas made it out of the festival grounds, she walked for 45 minutes to arrive at the staging area set up at the airport. The friend she was working with at the festival tried to return to her hotel, but having fled without her phone or ID, found herself held in a lock-down room with other travelers for several hours while law enforcement tried to process everyone.

“People came to this festival from all over,” Thomas said. “Lots of people from Los Angeles and SoCal. Once I made it to the airport, I shared an Uber Pool with a girl from the Valley. She was so shaken up, she just kept saying ‘I just want to get home to L.A., I don’t want to be here.’ All I could do was hold her hand and tell her that it was over, that we were safe. We were lucky.”

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officers point their weapons at a car driving down closed Tropicana Avenue near Las Vegas Boulevard after a mass shooting at a country music festival

Ethan Miller/Getty

Other Angelenos at the scene

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that several off-duty law enforcement officers attended the festival. A number of police officers and sheriff’s deputies from Los Angeles, Orange County, and Bakersfield attended the event while off-duty, have been confirmed to have been in the crowd. One LAPD officer, an OC deputy, the wives of two other OC deputy sheriffs, and one Bakersfield police officer, were all shot and wounded, and are expected to survive.

According to ABC 7, a Manhattan Beach special education teacher was killed in the shooting. The Manhattan Beach Unified School District sent the following email to district families:

Dear MBUSD Families,

This morning we are reaching out to you in shock and grief. As you may have read in the news, last night there was an unprecedented mass shooting near Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas during a concert that was part of the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival. There have been multiple fatalities and even more injuries. Several members of our MBUSD community were at the concert and in the vicinity of the attack. We have been in contact with MBMS Principal Kim Linz, who was in attendance. She is unharmed, as are MBMS teacher Ms. Debbie Dreiling; school psychologists Ms. Marjorie Questin and Ms. Emily Allen; MCHS and Meadows instructional assistant Mr. Chris Willemse; and Pennekamp Principal Dr. Karina Gerger; who were there as well. However, we have received information that one of our MBMS Special Education teachers, Sandy Casey (formerly Sandy McDermott), was fatally wounded. This is unbelievably sad and tragic.

We wanted to let you know so that you can be prepared to support your children and to help them process this information. As you can imagine, this loss is impacting many of our staff members deeply, and while we collectively grieve, we will be working to provide support to everyone affected.

Teachers at MBMS will be sharing the news with their classes today so that we can be sure that all students hear accurate information from an adult rather than through the rumor mill. All staff at all of our school sites have been informed as well, and they are working to keep things calm and the day as typical as possible in order to support our students. We have mobilized counselors who will be on campus at MBMS and other schools as needed, throughout the day today and over the coming days to provide support for students, teachers, and parents. Teachers will monitor and work with students to ensure they are connected with those resources as needed.

We thank you for your support of your children and our staff.

Mike Matthews, Superintendent

CBS Los Angeles reports that a Manhattan Beach police civilian employee was also killed in the shooting.

Rachel Parker, who worked for the Manhattan Beach Police Department for 10 years, was confirmed killed in Sunday night’s shooting. The department said that a second employee, an off-duty officer, also attended the the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival and suffered a minor injury.

Concert-goers wait for a ride outside the Thomas & Mack Center after a mass shooting at a country music festival

Ethan Miller/Getty

For those still trying to wrap their heads around this horrific shooting, The Washington Post has an informative piece explaining what is known of the timeline of the night as well as diagrams of how the shooter conducted the attack from the 32nd floor window.