TR Robertson …The events surrounding the shootings and deaths at the final day of the Route 91 Harvest Festival, sponsored by Sirius XM, has affected thousands of Americans from many different states, not only those attending, but relatives, family members and friends of those attending as well. This became even more evident, for my wife and me, when we learned our nephew, Adam Matz, was attending the 3 day concert along with his girlfriend, May Garrett, and were in attendance and close to the main stage when the shooting began on that fateful night. Adam works with RMJ Concrete out of Poway and May is a Special Ed Instruction Aide at Black Mountain Middle School in Poway.
Photos provided by Adam Matz
I sat down with Adam and May last week, a few days following the horrible events in Las Vegas, and discussed the festival, the events leading up to the first shots they heard and the chaos and terror which they experienced immediately following the shootings. What I would find out was, what many have heard about the reaction of hundreds of concert attendees, the selfless, heroic, brave efforts many of the people at the concert offered to protect, assist, and aide others in their effort to get out of harm’s way as well as provide medical assistance where they could.
By now, everyone who has read or seen the news knows that the shooting and killing was done by Stephen Paddock, age 64, using some 23 guns, many converted into automatic firing weapons, as he broke out two windows in his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel to open fire on a crowd of 22,000+ concert goers attending the final day of the Route 91 Harvest Festival country western concert in Las Vegas. Investigators discovered he had accumulated 47 weapons, placed in 2 homes and the hotel suite and possibly placed bombs in a parked car. His rampage would result in 58 deaths, some 527 injured, many still in critical condition. Paddock would be found in his suite, dead from a supposed self-inflicted gunshot. There is much that is not known about him and investigators are still searching for a motive. Authorities do know he was a former Postal Service employee, a former Internal Revenue Service employee, a former auditor on defense contracts and a high stakes video poker player. Each day more information surfaces about this individual responsible for the largest single mass shooting in the history of the United States, but still no indication of a motive.
As I sat with Adam and May, they would lead me through the layout of the concert venue, the security surrounding the event, the events leading up to the shootings and the aftermath that followed. Adam said they were excited about attending the festival. Avid country western music fans, they wanted to see country stars like Big & Rich, Eric Church, Sam Hunt and many more. He said the festival was well organized, with a single main gate entrance into the event. In a map layout of the event, he pointed out numerous exits available during the day as well as a large exit next to the main stage that opened at the end of each evening’s last performance. Two stages would have performances throughout the festival with each night’s final performances on the large stage, where attendees could see the Mandalay Bay Hotel in the distance to the right of the stage. On this final day of the concert, Sunday October 1st, Adam and May had attended performances beginning at 3 pm, took a break to return to their hotel, The Desert Rose, a time share set of apartments two blocks from the concert venue. There they changed into their evening attire, ready for the final performances of the festival, highlighted by Jason Aldean.
Back inside the festival gates, Adam and May slowly worked their way toward the front of the main stage. The basic rule for this is once you have arrived at where you want to be, you do not give up your spot. If you want drinks or food, you make friends with those around you and take turns getting what you want. Adam said they finally had made their way to about 8-10 feet away from the main stage, waiting for the Jason Aldean performance. He said Aldean began his performance around 9:30 pm. Aldean was beginning his fourth song and about 30 seconds into this song, they heard popping sounds. Many of the concert goers described it as sounding like a series of firecrackers. Adam said once he heard them, he felt they were not fireworks, and this would be validated as the crowd began to realize this. People began to be hit by the randomly fired shots, shots began to hit the pavement and screams began to ring out.
Adam and May said within 30 seconds of the start of the gunshots, the lights on the stage were cut, the venue where the crowd stood was illuminated, Aldean’s microphone was cut. They said they could hear Aldean yelling out to the crowd to “Get Down!” As the shots continued, Adam knew they had to move. People a short distance from them were shot. He said the opportunity came when there was a short break in the shooting, he thinks this might have been the gunman either reloading or moving for another weapon, at any rate he grabbed May and they ran toward the large gate that was closed during the concert. He said about 3 minutes had passed at this time, from the start of the gunshots until the time they started to run. He said he actually heard security guards yelling to the crowd that they thought this was part of the show and everything was alright. They made it to a police car and ducked behind the car. They could see thousands running in every direction, tripping over one another. May tripped and fell and Adam pulled her up as they continued to move toward the gate. They both said they could also see people helping other people in every way imaginable.
By this time, the large gate next to the stage that normally remained closed until the end of the concert, was now open. Outside of the gate, they were determined to get to the time share they had rented, 2 blocks away. Hundreds of people were in the street, E. Reno Street, which ran next to the venue. They ducked behind cars parked on the street. They could still here the popping sound of gun shots. Adam feels about 2-3 minutes had passed while they ran down E. Reno. He said they ran into three police officers and while they were moving down the street Adam would tell them he felt the shots were coming from above. By this time they had made it to the Roman Catholic Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer Church and hid against the side of the church. They were about ½ a block from their hotel at this point. The shooting would last between 10-11 minutes from the time it started. They said people were scattered everywhere along the street, looking for places to hide from the chaos. Arriving at their hotel, they made it up to their room, where Adam told May he needed to go back and see what he could do to help. They could hear sirens everywhere.
Just outside of the time share, he began to help people as best as he could. An ambulance pulled up and Adam asked the 2 medics what he could do to assist. He helped unload stretchers and backboards from the ambulance and carried them down E. Reno. Numerous ambulances and police vehicles began to arrive. He said he could hear the police radios giving directions and sending officers to locations to assist. Adam said they passed one man lying on E. Reno St. and the medics told him to leave him as there was nothing they could do to help him. They covered the man with a blanket. There were people with him, Adam said they were probably his friends. As they worked their way back to the venue, they discovered the police had sealed the area off and they were turned back. Back on E. Reno, the medics he was with, assisted a girl who had been shot in the leg. They bandaged her, wanted to transport her on one of the stretchers, but the girl would not go until she knew how her friends were. The ambulances were transporting 3 or more people in each ambulance.
After about 45 minutes, Adam felt he needed to return to see how May was doing. He discovered in the turmoil of going out to assist others, he had forgotten his phone and his key card to activate the gates to the time share. At the time share, the hotel workers had taken off. He fortunately found a glass door that had been busted in and was able to crawl through to go to his room. Checking on May, finding out who she had contacted by phone, he felt he should go back out to see what he could do to assist. Just outside of the time share, people were hiding around the hotel. This time, with his phone and key card, he let people in so they could get in the hallways of the time share. Once back out on E. Reno, he helped people who were hurt from efforts to get out of the concert. Multiple ambulances had arrived and were lining the street. He could also see 5-6 bodies on the ground that were now covered with blankets. Adam feels he stayed another 40 minutes or so before he returned to the hotel. The area had begun to clear out of spectators and was now filled with police, fire, ambulances and medics dealing with injured victims before transporting them to area hospitals.
Back in the hotel with May, they had called parents and were starting to get many phone and text messages from friends asking how they were. They felt sleep would be out of the question tonight, especially with their adrenaline pumping and the knots in their stomachs. As daylight approached, what they would discover is the aftermath of the shooting. Streets all throughout Vegas were shut down, Pictures from the inside of the festival area would show the result of people leaving everything they had brought in as they fled the area. Adam said traffic was unreal with cars at a standstill. They had planned on staying an additional day to dine at one of the Vegas restaurants and take in a Cirque du Soleil show, but they would discover that not only were they not in any frame of mind to do this, but Vegas would be dark with nothing open on the strip. Hotel billboards advertised thoughts and prayers for the victims and phone numbers for people to call if they were looking for individuals. As Adam said, with the results of this tragic event, “Vegas could not be Vegas and everyone understood why”.
Adam said one of the most tragic aspects of this horrible crime was the bodies of the victims who had been shot and were killed were left where they had fallen for quite some time while forensic experts determined the profile and story of this crime. He said he was told this was to determine if this all was the result of a single shooter or if there could have been other shooters with shots coming from other angles. He also said he had heard that the police thought for a while that there could have been other shooters at other hotels, part of this being echoes down the streets where other large hotels were, creating the feeling that shots might be coming from other locations. He also said it was reported that Paddock tried to shoot a gasoline storage tank close to where people were running toward the McCarran International Airport to get away from the concert venue.
I asked how they were feeling now. They both said they still felt a little numb, unable to believe what had happened. Adam said that question hangs over them of “Why am I still here and how lucky I am to still be alive?” They said they have experienced 3-4 days of nerves, anxiety and their mind keeps racing making it hard to sleep. May said she cried when she saw her family and felt she was a bit quieter. Adam said, “I find it helps talking about it. As horrific as the whole incident was, it was nice to see the humanity of the people coming together to help other people”. They both felt the security of the concert was more than adequate, it was Paddock’s ability to get the firearms into the hotel room that enabled him to enact this horrible crime. May wants to return to Vegas and hopes the festival continues. She said she refuses “to live in fear”. Adam said it will take him a little while to get to the point of returning to Las Vegas and would really have to think about going to an outdoor festival again. Both feel they will remember for a very long time what they and so many others went through on this night of horror.
Both Adam and May continue to wear the festival wristbands they were issued when the festival began. It is their way of remembering those who died and those who stepped up when needed.