In a move that may have saved their lives, Jennifer and Darren Miller slipped away from a crowd of concertgoers to use portable restrooms Sunday night at a country music festival along the Las Vegas Strip.
Jennifer, who grew up in Post Falls and now owns a hair salon in Coeur d’Alene, said she was inside one of those restrooms when Darren started pounding on the door, shouting, “There’s a shooter. We have to run.”
Bullets were raining down on the crowd as the couple clambered over fences and sprinted away, causing Darren to lose his shoes.
Jennifer didn’t look back, didn’t see any of the bloodshed, but the sounds of the gunshots and the agonized victims stayed with her during Monday’s plane ride back to Spokane.
“It felt like 20 minutes, and it was just like, pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop, and we didn’t know where they were coming from,” she said. “The firing just kept going and going, and the screams just kept going.”
Jennifer said she and her husband attended the Route 91 Harvest Festival with five others from Coeur d’Alene, but the group had been separated when the first bursts of gunfire interrupted Jason Aldean’s closing performance.
The couple had been staying at the Mandalay Bay, the same hotel where a 64-year-old man was now firing automatic weapons through a smashed-out window on the 32nd floor; the same hotel that was now crawling with law enforcement officers in tactical gear.
Scrambling to take refuge as police locked down the area, the couple flagged down a random car near the MGM Grand and told the driver: “Please, just take us far away.”
Jennifer said they waited for the chaos to subside about 2 miles away near another hotel, the Venetian.
Meanwhile, one of their friends, Penny Aplaca Anderson, spent the night hunkered down with other survivors on the gambling floor of the Hooters Casino Hotel. She said employees shut down the bars and poker tables and brought out blankets, sheets, towels, socks, coffee, water and snacks.
Aplaca Anderson, also of Coeur d’Alene, said a Southern California firefighter she had befriended during the concert took her to the casino for her safety, then ventured back to the festival grounds to help others.
And in another act of selflessless, Anderson said, a man carried an injured woman to first responders, despite the fact he had only one arm because of a previous incident. The man then walked into the casino almost entirely covered in blood. She said he told her, “We are all doing what we have to do.”
When the Millers returned to the Mandalay Bay on Monday morning, the hotel was still locked down and police were walking around with rifles and solemn expressions.
Jennifer said she couldn’t shake the “eerie” image of gray curtains flapping through the broken, gold-tinted windows of the gunman’s hotel room.
Authorities identified the gunman as Stephen Paddock, of Mesquite, Nevada, and said he had checked into the hotel on Thursday, the same day the Millers’ group checked into a suite below him on the 25th floor.
“I was curious, in those last three days, if I ever saw him,” Jennifer said. “He was there the whole time, the whole time we were there.”
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