It’s been a week since 64-year-old Stephen Paddock unleashed a deadly spay of bullets on concert goers in Las Vegas. But, Great Bend residents who were on the Vegas strip that night are just now coming to terms with what happened.
Paddock opened fire on those attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival from the 32nd floor of Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, killing at least 58 and wounding more than 500. The shooter killed himself as police prepared to enter his room band his motives remain a terrifying mystery as the investigation into the massacre continues.
There from Great Bend were insurance agent Matt Delong and his girlfriend Lexi Nettleingham, and college student Kaylin Hillegeist. They were willing to share their stories.
Matt Delong and Lexi Nettleingham
“It’s all kind of a blur,” said Delong, owner of Farmers Insurance in Great Bend. He and Nettleingham were in Vegas Sunday on the last day of a three-day vacation.
But, since returning to Great Bend Monday, he’s had time to piece together the events of that horrific evening.
Delong and Nettleingham were at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino attending Cirque du Soleil’s “Zumanity” Sunday, oblivious to what was happening about a mile away at the music festival.
“I got a text from the night club we were planning on going to later that night,” he said. It said there had been a shooting on the strip and suggested they stay at their hotel until things settled down.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” Delong said. After all, shootings in large cities are not uncommon.
The show was over at about 11 p.m., about an hour after the massacre, and the couple started to leave the theater. “Half the people who had already left came rushing back in screaming there’s a shooter on the loose and he’s heading this direction,” he said. Thus began a frantic night of taking shelter, dashing from place to place and hotel to hotel, and searching for a way back to safety.
“It was chaos,” Delong said. “We didn’t know what was going on.”
On minute they are huddled in the New York-New York kitchen, the next minute they hear gun shots.
As they roamed the strip area in the darkness, Delong and Nettleingham saw armed SWAT teams and K-9 units. They also met a couple – the man had been shot.
“They were in shock and disbelief,” he said. “They said they saw someone get shot in the head.”
Eventually, they hooked up with two other couples and together sought an escape. “The strip was silent. Everything was locked down.”
Salvation came at about midnight in the form of an Uber driver who took them to their hotel five miles away.
“It was an adrenaline rush,” Delong said. “I’m just glad we weren’t at the concert.”
But, “it’s nice to be back,” he said. “We had a great time until then.”
Great Bend college sophomore Kaylin Hillegeist, 19, was among the over 20,000 country music fans attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival. So were her uncle Scott Hillegeist and her cousin Devon.
All three made it out of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history unharmed, at least physically.
“Now, I just feel kind of numb,” Kaylin said. “The first couple of days were pretty tough. I broke down a lot.”
She arrived back in Great Bend Monday evening. She was home, but things weren’t as they were.
“Getting back into my normal life is hard,” the said. She tried going back to Barton Community College, where she is majoring in business, and to work.
She couldn’t and is taking off a few days.
“This will affect me for the rest of my life,” she said. “It makes you think of everything.”
She and her family members went to Vegas just for the country music festival. Her uncle was on a three-week leave from serving in Afghanistan and purchased the tickets.
Although she had an odd, uncomfortable feeling about being at the show, “we were just there to have fun,” she said. “Then we’re being shot at the next moment.”
“Jason Aldean had just started his third song when we heard shots,” she said. This was at about 10 p.m.
“We thought it was fireworks,” she said. “Then Jason Aldean ran off the stage. Then three rows in front of us we saw a girl go down.”
Her uncle jumped on top of her to protect her, then the two ran, crouched and ducked between bursts of gunfire until they were behind the barricade. The two were separated from Devon who ran a different direction.
As she and her uncle ran, they saw many others shot, lying on the ground.
Scott went back into the kill zone to look for Devon and to help others. Kaylin started having a panic attack, but was comforted at first by a woman and man, both were strangers and she has no idea of their fates.
She peered through the barriers. “There were just so many bodies lying around,” she said.
Once she was safe, she started texting her mother. “She wouldn’t believe me,” Kaylin said, adding the story hadn’t broken nationally yet.
Kaylin found refuge behind a car with a group of other girls. They prayed together.
One of the girls who lived in Vegas invited Kaylin to her house, but the area was locked down and no one could leave. They sought comfort in a nearby motel lobby.
Kaylin, Scott and Devon were eventually reunited and they returned to their hotel which was just off the strip.
Law enforcement officials estimated Paddock fired on the crowd for about 10 minutes. But, to those on the ground it felt much longer, Kaylin said.
“It’s insane,” Kaylin said. “I was definitely hoping I would be a hero in that situation, but my emotions got the better of me.”
But, “you see the good in people,” she said of those who helped others. “People were willing to take bullets for people they didn’t know.”
Much like Delong who reported hearing gunshots after Paddock had been killed, Kaylin said they heard reports over a police scanner that there were three shooters. “The media hasn’t reported this.”