It was the final night of the Route 91 Harvest celebration in Las Vegas.
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Country superstar Jason Alden ended a Facebook Live backstage with my crew from SiriusXM before performing – and was the finalist of the three-day festival.
Some songs in their set, a lone gunman opened fire across the street from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, killing 58 people and injuring 869 – the worst mass shooting in American history.
Hundreds of us who were there are still wounded by that October 1, 2017 massacre.
As soon as 11 minutes of bloodshed ensued, Mandalay Bay was locked down. Brave officers confront the gunman on the 32nd floor, while his heroic comrades, the police, try to rescue the festival-goers – knowing they may not come out alive.
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Gamblers ran for their lives in the hotel casino, and so did two of our SiriusXM colleagues.
Meanwhile, wild reports of more shooters have led to chaos at other hotels along the Strip and stampedes out of casinos and onto Las Vegas Boulevard.
Every small decision my SiriusXM colleagues and I made that night changed our lives forever.
I was on the fifth floor of Mandalay Bay, trapped in my room and felt a few floors above myself as the shooter. I didn’t know if my SiriusXM colleague was alive. To be honest, weed may have saved my life that night.
After we finished the final Facebook Live with Aldean, some of my SiriusXM friends and I smoked a joint to celebrate the end of our festival coverage before breaking up the set.
Usually we’d be in the lounge for the performers, or backstage, or even on stage. But after covering three 15-hour Vegas heats and a concert, marijuana slowed me down.
My SiriusXM colleagues who were with me on the field – and are now a mass shooting survivor – will forever hold a dear place in my heart. We all helped each other that night and the days, months and years that followed.
My plan was to go back to Mandalay Bay, order room service, put money on the Philadelphia Eagles to win the Super Bowl, and play a little Black Jack. My main goal was to get up early on Monday morning and catch my flight to New York City.
But about 10 minutes after my hotel room was covered in dust and ready to shower, my SiriusXM colleague Dooley Watts called me from her room on the 17th floor.
“Holiday, the festival is shooting,” Watts told me.
The hotel I was in was the center of the deadliest mass shooting in American history. It was coming to the fore because I was stuck in this room on the fifth floor as the hotel was under lockdown.
Another SiriusXM affiliate, Corey Chiocchio, was also on the fifth floor. We were all as safe as we could be inside Mandalay Bay as dozens of officers flooded the hotel in an attempt to stop the bloodshed.
I had a phone chain and I was able to contact everyone and confirm that they are all alive. Then I started calling SiriusXM executives and waking up. My first call was to my boss, Jason Schramm, Senior Vice President of SiriusXM. I got Shram’s voicemail but he would call me back after about an hour.
“Vacation, are you okay?” Shram asked.
I could hear the fear in his voice.
“Yeah I’m fine. Everyone’s alive. It’s just Orlando again,” I told him.
A year earlier, I was living in Orlando, Fla., working as a journalist and covering the Pulse nightclub shooting—the worst mass shooting in American history at the time. Now I was trapped in the hotel where the next biggest mass shooting in American history is taking place a few floors above me. And my colleagues and friends are everywhere.
Hours later, news came that the gunman had died in the hotel. The shooting had stopped. Six members of the SWAT team banged on my door at around 4 am on Monday. I have never been so happy to see armed men holding guns to my face.
He cleaned my room.
One of the officers who saw my mini newsroom set up with CNN live coverage on my two laptops, two cellphones, and TV told me, “It looks like you know what’s going on.”
At 7 a.m. on a Monday, with the sun shining, I decided to break free from my hotel room and see what was happening, while the corpses were still lying on the edge of the Las Vegas Strip. Not far from the blood-soaked festivities and scratches and scuff marks, she made her way to the elevator in tears through the lobby.
Both inside and outside the hotel, the yellow crime scene was sealed off by tape.
With the airport open and our flight back home still ready to take off at about 11 p.m. I caught Chiocchio, who was my travel friend and was on the same flight as me. We packed our bags and left the Bay of Mandalay with great fear and disgust.
I cried for the first time.
Chiocchio’s mother wanted to talk to me. She thanked me for helping bring her 20-year-old son home and making sure he was safe during the shoot.
“You’re welcome,” I told her tearfully.
I even cried in that four-hour plane ride home, sitting between an older man and a woman who might have thought I was crazy. I was finally back at my Jersey City apartment late Monday night—a little more than 24 hours after being trapped in my Mandalay Bay hotel room on the fifth floor.
There will be many messages and well wishes in the coming days from my SiriusXM colleagues, family and friends. I spoke to several people and reached out to the consulting services provided by the company.
After my 20-plus years of covering breaking news and my horrific experiences at concerts (including the Woodstock ’99 catastrophe) I was acutely aware that I had PTSD.
A few days after returning from Vegas, I got a call from a SiriusXM executive who I had never spoken to before. During the conversation he told me, “It could have been worse.”
But there is still a lot of fear and disgust for me as I move back to Las Vegas for the first time in five years.