Crystal Hanson of Hauser Lake doesn’t want to sleep. Sleep brings dreams. She’d rather stay awake than risk reliving images of scrambling around with the survivors of the deadliest mass shooting in the nation’s history.
Hanson, 46, arrived back in Spokane late Tuesday from her first-ever trip to Sin City. What happened in Las Vegas Sunday will always stay with her.
“It makes me more alert about who I am around,” she said. “I can’t sleep. I don’t want dreams. I don’t want it.”
Hanson arrived in Vegas on Friday for a long-planned trip with her brother, Michael Hanson, 45, originally of Spokane, who now lives in Long Beach, Calif., with his partner, Christopher McGowan.
She got to see the Strip for two days before the final day of the three-day Route 91 Harvest festival. On Sunday, she listened to Michael Ray on a small stage and then got to see Big and Rich and Jake Owen before the finale by Jason Aldean.
Just after 10 p.m., Hanson left the main crowd to get a bite to eat. On her way out of the venue, she heard what she thought was a jackhammer as Aldean was performing.
“I thought, ‘Why would a jackhammer be used at the concert?’ ” Hanson said. She looked back as the stage lights briefly went off. Then Aldean sprinted off stage as the second volley of what turned out to be bullets rained down from an unknown location.
“I wanted to get to my brother. And then I had people coming towards me. Then I knew,” she said. “I tried to find an exit. I couldn’t find one. I got turned around and went back toward the venue. I just followed everybody.”
She joined as a mass of running people rushed for a building. As they approached, the shooting grew much louder.
“We didn’t know where it was coming from. You just want to be with the crowd,” she said. “Where we ran to was the worst. It was like he was just up the hill shooting. Someone said, ‘Turn around. Turn around.’ And they all turned and went the other way. That’s when I thought there were more people” shooting.
In the chaos, Hanson got turned around and she had no clue where to go or how to get out or how to get back to her hotel.
“I didn’t know where my brother was. I had dress shoes that were hurting my feet,” she said. “I went up to a couple and asked if I could be with them.”
The couple directed Hanson to duck in between parked cars. “The guns were still going off. That’s when I first talked to Shaleen” Hanson, her daughter, in Post Falls.
Finally, the volleys of shooting ended and Hanson emerged from the parked cars. In the distance, she could see the distinctive castle spires of Excalibur Hotel and Casino, where she and her brother and his partner were staying.
She tried calling her brother and couldn’t reach him. So many of the thousands of concert goers were using cell phones that it made getting connections difficult.
She walked, hand-in-hand, with her befriended couple as they walked toward Excalibur. Hanson walked across a footbridge, and above the throngs of responding emergency personnel, to get to her hotel. Then the horror started anew.
Hanson’s phone battery was about drained and she had no way of charging it. She found a guard who gave her a charger and she alternated between getting juice for her phone and trying to call loved ones.
“I didn’t know my name was on the room so I didn’t know I could go there,” she said. “I didn’t have a key card.”
As Hanson sat in her hotel, the masses began running again.
“I ran clear to the other side of the building because someone said there was a shooter inside,” she said. “When you have people running all around you, you don’t ask. You just run.”
Hanson ran down a hallway, through two large doors and found herself outside again.
“I had no idea where I was. I looked around. Where was I going to hide? I sat down on a rock and smoked a cigarette with a Canadian,” she said. “He couldn’t talk. He was in shock.”
Hanson made her way back into the hotel only to walk into another mad rush of people. Hanson dove behind a restaurant bar and called her 75-year-old father.
“I told him, ‘I don’t want to run anymore.’ I was done running,” she said. “I just sat there and hid.”
She also finally reached her brother, Michael, and Christopher. They were hiding under a towel near the swimming pool at Hooters Casino Hotel.
At one point, she was sitting in a small room off the main gambling room when everybody at the gambling tables raised their arms in the air.
“It was so scary. We didn’t know what was happening. We hid,” she said. “I asked a guard. He said everything is OK.”
After more moves, attempts to charge her phone and get a blanket, Hanson finally saw her brother and his partner walking towards her. It was 4:30 a.m. They had been separated for more than six hours since the initial shots were fired.
“We just stood there and hugged. We just held each other,” Hanson said. “Thank God we made it and we were together.”
She learned that Michael Hanson was standing next to a girl who got shot and killed. He had blood on his hat and shirt and pants. He also stopped another man from performing CPR on another woman who was clearly dead.
When they returned to their rooms, they pulled the drapes. Television coverage of the 59 dead and more than 500 wounded did not interest them.
“We didn’t feel safe. We couldn’t look outside,” she said. “It brought up too many memories. We just kept saying, ‘I love you guys. I love you.’ ”
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