When a man opened fire late Sunday from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, firing indiscriminately into a crowd of 22,000, Nevadans were left in shock.
Even more than a day later, many people across the state — including right here at the University of Nevada, Reno — are only just beginning to sort through just what happened Sunday night.
To get a better sense of those events, we spoke to Nicole Kowalewski, a former design editor for The Nevada Sagebrush who now works in Las Vegas as a graphic designer. She was at the concert, in the line of fire, and she told us her story.
This interview has been edited for length and for clarity.
Nicole Kowalewski: “So, I was at the concert. It was the third day of the concert, the last act, Jason Aldean, and I had attended this festival once before, last year, and everything was fine. Everything was smooth. I thought nothing of it again this year.
“And I’m standing in the crowd, looking at the stage, I’m on the right side of the stage, which is closest to the Mandalay Bay hotel. From the crowd, we heard what first sounded like firecrackers, like fireworks. It only lasted a few seconds. It was just one of those noises you hear, and you don’t see any immediate reaction so you’re just like, ‘oh, whatever, I don’t know what that was, but it’s fine.’
“And, thirty seconds to maybe a minute passed, and all of a sudden, you just hear someone screaming, ‘we need a medic, she’s been shot. She’s on the ground, get the medic.’ This woman was five people from me. Immediately after that, within the next thirty seconds, this man just, just — just firing shots.
“It seemed to last minutes, and I’m sure it was only 30 to 45 seconds, but it just seemed like a lifetime. And it just kept going, and going. People are screaming, ‘just get down to the ground, take cover.’ And none of us know what to do, we don’t know where it’s coming from, we just know that shots are being fired out of the air. People are falling down, you can hear bullets ricocheting off the ground, ricocheting off the fences.
“The first round went off, and everyone’s on the ground, we don’t know what to do. I’m trying to get my cell phone and call my parents, just tell them what’s going on. And then, the second round fired. So after the first round, people got up, and are trying to run. And everyone’s like, ‘no, take cover, get on the ground, he’s gonna shoot again, don’t run.’
“We’re in a completely open venue, there was not a single thing covering any of us. And there are thousands of people there, 40,000 people, it was completely sold out this year. When the second round went off, I stayed down between rounds. I didn’t want to get up. I was with one other friend of mine. Her and I are on the ground, shaking, don’t know what to do.
“We were closest to the fence that separates the right side from the left side of the stage, which was just a little bit shorter than me. After the second round of shots happened, her and I just decided we need to get the hell over this fence. We need to get on the other side, because right now we are in a direct line of fire.
“People are jumping this fence, falling, people are trampling over each other. Everyone is just trying to save themselves. There were selfless people, that are, people are down. You see people just shot, and wounded. There’s blood everywhere. And there are people trying to help them, and her and I, it was just, instinct. We needed to at least get over the fence and get out of here.
“Her and I jumped both fences, and as we landed on the other side, we immediately hit the ground and heard a third round of shots. We’re lying there, against this fence, which seems like more protection, but then again, we have no idea where this is coming from. We don’t if this is coming from the hotel, we don’t know if they’re above us, we have no idea. Just shots are being fired from the air.
“We don’t know what to do, we’re just scared out of our minds. And then, there was a good five or ten minutes where there was nothing. And that’s when people — not police officers, just other men — are walking down the side saying, ‘run, get out, go. Now’s your chance, go.’
“And my friend and I are still hesitant, because as soon as people would get up and run, he’d shoot again, and you were just in plain sight. You’re not hidden behind anything. So, I grabbed my friend’s hand and said, ‘we have to go. It is either now, or never. We need to get out of here.’
“We ran across the venue, out the back, into a dirt parking lot. And that’s when we finally hit police lines, and cop cars, just everywhere. And we just kept running, running as far as we could possibly run.
“You don’t think it’s going to happen to you, and then something like this, it just really opens your eyes that it’s anyone, anytime.”
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