By Natalie Johnson / firstname.lastname@example.org
After hours of waiting, Morton resident Kendra Cheney, her mom and her aunt were just a few rows back from the stage as Jason Aldean started his set at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas on Sunday night.
But after a handful of songs, the women decided to move away from the stage and went to the restrooms — right next to the VIP exit.
“That’s when we heard the first gunshots,” Cheney told The Chronicle.
By Monday night, she was back in Washington, but still hadn’t slept since running from the scene of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. At least 59 people died and hundreds more were wounded Sunday night after a lone-gunman, identified as Stephen Paddock, used multiple weapons to open fire on the outdoor concert from his room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Cheney, 19, her mom Shelly Cheney and aunt Stephanie Barker were there for the whole country music festival weekend. They showed up at about 5:15 p.m. Sunday evening, hoping to inch their way close to the stage to see Jason Aldean.
“Jason Aldean was who I really wanted to see. I’d waited the whole weekend for this whole concert and we were only a couple of songs in,” Kendra Cheney said.
Cheney and her mom were leaving the restroom when she thought she heard gunfire.
“We were very lucky that we decided to leave,” she said.
Her mom thought it was feedback or a bad speaker connection, but they couldn’t hear Aldean’s singing anymore.
“Within the two seconds of me telling my mom it was gunshots … everyone else had noticed,” she said.
Police patrolling the area showed up and concert workers opened the exits wide and shouted for everyone to run as Cheney heard bursts of what sounded like hundreds of shots.
“We all thought he was in the concert,” she said of the shooter.
Her mom told her to run for their hotel and call her dad, and she did.
“He could just hear all the gunshots in the background,” Cheney said.
Cheney and her family met back up at their hotel, near the scene of the shooting, and found many concert-goers were taking shelter there.
“We ended up having 11 people in our hotel room,” she said.
Three girls they met at the concert stayed the night, but few did much sleeping. They still didn’t know where the shooter was.
“We were all sitting on the floor of my hotel between the beds,” Cheney said.
Tenino native Adam Craig, a country music performer who now lives in Nashville, Tenn., was also booked at the festival. He announced Monday that he, his family and his band were all safe.
“Can’t believe last night really happened,” he wrote on Twitter Monday. “My heart is broken for all of the victims … So thankful my family and guys are all safe.”
Craig had performed just hours before the shooting, having been scheduled to hit the stage at 5 p.m. Sunday.
He spoke to The Tennessean in a video posted Monday night.
“You heard the machine gun sounding thing and people running everywhere, just running down the main road,” he said.
He remembered how he’d keep reaching points where he thought he was safe, only to look behind and see throngs of panicked people still running from the scene. Echoing the memories of others, he said many thought there was a shooter on the ground.
“That was the scariest night of my life,” he said. “You saw people falling,” he said. “By that point we’re running.”
He described hearing the sound of bullets hitting the pavement, cement barriers and barbecues as he ran from the scene.
“You could hear them tinging off it,” he told the newspaper.
Cheney and Craig weren’t the only people with Lewis or Thurston County ties to either be at the concert or know someone who was. A number of area residents were posting on Facebook and Twitter to make sure their loved ones knew they were safe.
Cheney thanked Las Vegas law enforcement officers for their response after and during the shooting, and Gov. Jay Inslee also mentioned their heroism and that of ordinary people attending the concert.
Inslee made a statement on the incident on Monday.
“It’s difficult to conceive of the horrific violence suffered in Las Vegas last night,” he wrote. “Trudi and I, and all Washingtonians, pray for the hundreds wounded or fighting now for their lives, and grieve for the dozens killed. There are already heroic stories emerging of strangers protecting those near them during the shooting. We can draw inspiration from those stories as we heal together in the days and weeks to come. This horrific act has shaken us all to our core.”
Third District Congresswoman Jaime Herrera-Beutler, R-Battle Ground, also released a statement.
“What a heartbreaking day for our country,” she wrote. “I am grieving with those in Las Vegas in the wake of this senseless act of evil that has resulted in the devastating loss of innocent lives and has left so many with questions that can’t be answered. I commend the courage of the first responders on the scene. I am praying for strength for the families of the victims and healing for those who are wounded. May God be close to the brokenhearted.”