“They say it lasted for eleven minutes, but it felt like so much more.” Debbi Tamietti is from California, and she went to Las Vegas last weekend with a group of friends – seven girlfriends and one young man — to celebrate two of their birthdays. They stayed at the Luxor, a hotel with a walkway to Mandalay Bay, and they were having a great weekend. Until the night of the concert.
Debbi and her friends migrated close to the stage, and they were singing and dancing amidst a crowd of probably thirty people deep from the center stage. All of a sudden, there was the sound we’ve all heard now on all of the news coverage: pop-pop-pop-pop-pop! She said they looked at each other and asked, “Why is someone throwing firecrackers?” Nobody really thought it was gunshots. They kept listening to the music, and then ten seconds later, there were more shots. That’s when people started dropping to the ground around her. Someone screamed, “This is real! Get down! Get down! Get down!”
She crouched down a bit, but she didn’t lie down yet. She couldn’t imagine what was going on. That’s when a young man, a big guy in his mid-thirties, whispered to her, “Ma’am, you have to get down. Get all the way down.”
Stricken with fear, she whispered back, “What’s going on?” He lay down over her, covering her with his body. He said, “I’ve got you covered. You’re safe.”
Debbi looked to the right and saw a dead body. She looked to the left, and there was a man whose hand was nearly blown off. That’s when she realized, this is real. We’re in trouble. The shooting seemed to go on forever. “That sound is what I can’t wait to get out of my head,” she said.
There were a lot of military officers, firemen, and policemen in the audience. The opening band, Big and Rich, had just honored them moments before in the concert, asking the officers to stand, and leading the audience in a sing-along of “God Bless America.” Moments later, these same men took over, guiding thousands of people through what was truly a war scene. Debbi said in all of the chaos, she kept hearing their voices and their instructions, always crisp, clear, and repeated three times. They are trained for battle, and they brought order to the chaos.
But then the shooting stopped. A group of men shouted, “Get up! Get up! Run! Run! Run!” Debbi was with eight friends, and they all scattered. They got to a nearby fence, and people were pushing and pushing, shouting, “Get over the fence!” A young man standing nearby helped people over the fence, one at a time. As she ran, she found one of her friends. Her friend grabbed her and said, “Please don’t leave me.” Right then, the shooting happened again.
They stayed together, and they huddled under the sound booth, where they were packed in like sardines. Debbi was right at the edge of the sound booth, when she heard more popping. The sound booth was being sprayed with bullets. Shrapnel grazed her back and a small piece lodged in her arm. She later needed to have that piece removed.
While they hid under the sound booth, Debbi looked out and saw a man in a wheelchair nearby, frozen and staring into the war zone. Four young men, in their twenties, raced in a panic to get out from under the cover of the sound booth. They scooted past everyone and grabbed the man’s wheelchair. The four young men ran with him, pushing his chair and shielding his body. Debbi said, “I remember thinking right then, ‘Wow. People say so much about our young people, but look at those young men. Those kids got out from under cover, and they ran with this guy.’”
Then the shooting stopped again and the instructions came again. “Run! Run! Run!” She asked aloud, “Why are we running? We’re safe here. Shouldn’t we stay here?” But someone nearby answered her, “We don’t know where the shooter is. We have to run.”
So they ran again, and the shooting started again. She said what she remembers most is these men directing everyone. There wasn’t a lot of screaming, but there were leaders taking control. Debbi said, “They were concert goers in the crowd, but they had to be military. Their commands were authoritative and precise. It made me feel like someone was in control. I never once thought I was going to die. They took control, and they made me feel calm. I felt supported, like somebody was in control of this chaotic mess. I just knew I needed to listen to them.”
Debbi remembers strangers hovering over injured people. She recalls men taking off their shirts to apply pressure to the bleeding wounds of people they didn’t know. She remembers running with the crowd, running as fast as they could. They didn’t know where they were going, but they were just running. Drivers were stopping on the street, running out to injured people, piling them into their backseats, and taking them to the hospital. There were so many people who risked their own safety to protect someone else. Debbi’s friend, a 72-year-old grandma, hit her head when she climbed over the fence. A medic saw her and wanted to take her to the hospital, but she gave up her seat in the ambulance. She knew somebody needed it more than she did.
Debbi and all of her friends scattered to different places, some spending the night in a conference center, some in a showroom at the Tropicana, one in an airplane hangar, and one of them in a hotel room with strangers who opened their door and let her in. The next morning, they were allowed back into their hotel to get their things and go home. As they hailed a taxi, the driver said, “I don’t need any money. Just tell me where you need to go.” Heroes and helpers wore every uniform, every color, every shade of humanity.
Her friends on the trip ranged broadly in age, including one 72-year-old grandmother and a young couple in their twenties. They all survived with only some cuts and bruises, which is a miracle in itself. So many around them were hurt, shot, and killed. In a sea of bodies everywhere, they all made it out alive. As the days go by, she finds that she remembers a little more with every day, another face, another memory, another hero.
“It was the most horrific scene. But I kept seeing all these people who were helping other people. There were a lot of heroes. There were so many heroes. They were unbelievably selfless.”
On the day after the shooting, Debbi received a text from Cameron Paul, the lone young man who had joined his girlfriend on their trip. Cameron reached out to each of the women. He wrote:
Hello all, I am glad you’re doing well. Prayers have been helping me a lot. Trying to stay positive and be taught a lesson. Taking all the good I can from the evil that happened. We all have a new skill, and that is how to protect and survive. We all know how to calculate each situation, knowing exits, reading people, etc. This evil man killed nearly sixty people, injured over 500, and put more than 20k in the middle of the scene. If he ruins any of the twenty thousand in there who weren’t physically hurt, he is just killing more lives. Don’t let him win. Stay strong. Take the good out of the bad. And remember we have a purpose.
He finished his text with a Bible verse: Romans 12:21. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Debbi said, “On that day, we saw the people banding together and taking control. People were helping each other so much. We have such a strong spirit in our country. There is so much good. Everybody is so focused on the bad, but I saw so much good happening.”
Fred Rogers often told the story about when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.”