The bullets were still tearing across the concert venue when people began dropping to the ground.
They were at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, among more than 22,000 packed together watching Jason Aldean perform when the gunfire began. Many people who were there on Oct. 1 said they didn’t even realize it was gunfire at first. It sounded more like firecrackers, they said.
But as a lone gunman inside his 32nd-floor suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino continued to fire, people began to panic, flee or seek shelter by falling to the ground.
“I was with my best friend … and I held her hand and we were holding hands with other people that we don’t even know,” one survivor, who said she got shot in her arm, later told police. “And I told her, ‘Call your mom, call your dad.’ ”
She continued: “This might be the last time we do this.”
Her story, which she gave to police in an interview, was included among a large cache of witness accounts the Las Vegas police released on Wednesday. Her name was redacted, as were those listed on other witness statements. Their recollections combine to offer new glimpses of the horror that unfolded during the massacre, which left 58 people dead and more than 850 injured.
In the new accounts, those who survived the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history echo many of the things that others said after the rampage in Las Vegas as well as other mass shootings. They described the initial confusion about what was happening, the sheer terror of fleeing gunfire that seemed endless and the chaos of not knowing where to seek shelter.
Many of these recollections begin with people saying they initially thought it was just firecrackers or fireworks they heard at the Route 91 Harvest music festival. That gave way to the growing, terrible awareness that the concert had transformed into a war zone.
Police said gunman Stephen Paddock fired into the crowd for more than 10 minutes before turning one of his guns on himself.
The hail of bullets spread uncertainty as well as carnage. Once people realized what was going on, they said it was still not clear where the danger was — and where they should be going.
“We’re assuming there’s someone shooting, right?” a 22-year-old woman from New Jersey who was shot, told police. “But we don’t know if there’s multiple people, if there’s someone running around with a gun in here. If there’s someone above just taking shots willy-nilly.”
People said they became separated from those they came with as the crowd scattered. One man said he was “very nervous and fearful that I couldn’t find my family” and did not know if they had been injured. Another person said that the bullets sounded like they were “coming from above and then coming straight at me,” while others described being shot while trying to flee or seeing people shot “right in front of us.”
There was still more confusion outside the venue as rumors began to spread about multiple attackers. A server at the Venetian, waiting outside Mandalay Bay to pick up his brother-in-law, told police he heard people saying that someone was shooting “in three different casinos,” which turned out to be untrue. (Similar rumors about multiple shooters often spread during and after mass shootings, which are typically carried out by lone attackers.)
Even amid the stories of horror, many offered words of appreciation for those who rushed to save lives during the carnage. People said they jumped into cars with strangers, huddled together for safety and watched people throw their bodies atop others to keep them safe.
“I saw a lot of superheroes that night, law enforcement & civilian,” one man wrote in a voluntary statement given to police. “Thank you for being there.”
The statements were released Wednesday after a judge, siding with media organizations seeking records from the shooting and its aftermath, ordered the Las Vegas police to make public video footage and documents. Media outlets, including The Washington Post, sought 911 calls, video recordings, affidavits and interview reports. Las Vegas police tried to delay the release, citing the ongoing investigation.
Earlier this month, in the first release prompted by that legal battle, Las Vegas police disclosed video footage captured on the body cameras of officers who went to the gunman’s suite after the massacre. Police said that Paddock shot and killed himself. Months later, investigators say they still do not know what could have motivated the attack.
The documents released Wednesday also include statements from Mandalay Bay employees who encountered Paddock. One of them described him and his girlfriend as unremarkable, setting off no red flags.
The survivor who said she had held hands with her best friend and dropped to the ground recalled calling her father while huddled with others during the rampage.
As many as 50 rounds rang out while she was on the ground, she later told police during an interview at the hospital, and her father realized what he was hearing.
“My dad was on the phone, and he said, ‘Those aren’t firecrackers,’ ” she said.
She and her friend eventually got up, but they were separated. Then, hearing a moment of quiet, she decided to make a run for it.
“I’m not gonna lay here and just get shot,” she recalled to police. She began running toward the nearby House of Blues, but just before getting to the entrance, “he shot my arm and turned it into a zombie arm. It just — it just failed.”
She made it inside, where people gathered to help her, working to stop her bleeding, she said, eventually getting her into a car to the hospital. A man she identified as “Dave from L.A. Fire” was among those helping, she said.
“He just put me in the car and told me, ‘You’re not gonna die,’ ” she told police officers at the hospital later. “And then I just got here.”