Courage Amid Chaos
Clark County firefighter
"We didn’t know if he was going to make it"When paramedic unit Rescue 11 pulled up to the entrance of the Route 91 festival, firefighter Bob Stout didn’t have to go far — the victims were coming to him. As soon as he got out of the truck, a woman who’d been shot in the leg approached. He treated her and called for an ambulance. By the time it arrived, four more gunshot victims had arrived in people’s cars — one shot in the abdomen, two in the chest, and one in the head. Stout estimates he treated seven people before jumping into an American Medical Response ambulance with a seriously injured couple. The wife had been shot in the face, but could respond to questions and was in less danger than her husband, who’d been shot in the liver. The pair required more assistance than AMR’s lone EMT could provide, so Stout helped treat them on the way to Sunrise Hospital.
“Mostly, we just talked to them,” he says. “‘We’re getting there as fast as we can. We’re getting the IVs in. We’re getting all the fluid in you we can.’ Things like that.”
After pulling up to complete chaos at Sunrise, and waiting 20 minutes for the husband to be stabilized so they could get the ambulance gurney back, Stout returned with the AMR crew to the shooting scene. It was after 11 p.m., and most of the victims had been transported to hospitals. Stout joined Metro police in searching for survivors among the bodies that remained.
“We went through all the booths, the concession stands, we looked under the bleachers, the stage, inside port-a-potties,” he says. “We followed blood trails out into the parking lot and down streets. … We found no one alive.”
Like all veteran firefighters, Stout has witnessed his share of horror over the years. Still, he says, nothing in his past comes close to the surreal scene of October 1 — the wind blowing trash around, the smoke machine and stage lights still churning out special effects. Above all, the ride with the couple in the ambulance keeps coming back to haunt him.
“We didn’t know if he was going to make it,” Stout says. “He was a medical professional, so he knew he was in trouble. The conversation between them was pretty rough.” The couple is expected to recover.
Stout is confident that he’ll recover, too, with time, and with the support of his department and family. He has to, he says, because taking care of others is the best part of the job. And to do that, he has to take care of himself. Heidi Kyser
Photography by Anthony Mair
"Just our presence is comforting for them"Mendy Harlig — or “Rabbi Mendy” as the members of Chabad of Green Valley call him — was in the midst of his first good night’s sleep in months, he says, when the call came from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He’s part of a network of imams, priests, and other faith leaders who provide spiritual support to police during and after traumatic incidents. Started in 2005, the network now includes enough clergy to have at least two assigned to each Metro substation. That’s where Harlig went first on October 1, his substation at the Convention Center Area Command.
“The reason why the chaplaincy was so vital (that night) was, usually, when something like this happens, the officers have a debriefing afterward, but since there was so much going on, there was no time for debriefing.” In other words, debriefing had to be done on the fly.
From the substation, Harlig went to the scene of the shooting, then to Metro headquarters, Mandalay Bay, and Sunrise Hospital. He rotated among these sites for nearly 48 hours straight, offering moral support to everyone from doctors and police officers to MGM executives and secretaries — giving hugs, asking what they needed, thanking them for what they’re doing, but mainly just being there, since, as he puts it, a faith leader’s presence alone can be reassuring.
But he had some tough conversations, too, like the one with a police officer whose car was targeted by the shooter. “The shooter stopped shooting at the people, and started shooting at the police cars. So, in that way, (the officer) was able to draw fire away from the crowd. Afterward, he noticed how many bullets there were around his car. He hadn’t even realized how much fire he was receiving at the time, because he was so focused on the members of the public that he was trying to protect.”
The most anguished officers Harlig encountered were those who’d gone to the concert for a fun evening out with friends whom they saw get shot and, in some cases, die. These officers immediately switched into law enforcer mode, denying them the chance to process what had happened to them as civilians.
Harlig finds solace in his Chabad. In this form of Judaism, a husband and wife build each synagogue from scratch, personally recruiting new members. Harlig says that his religion has a prescription for work-life balance built in: daily prayer, self-study, time with family, time in community, and time away from the world’s distractions (Shabbat).
“One thing they say about staying mentally healthy is you have to have balance in your life,” he says. “Judaism gives me that balance.” Heidi Kyser
Photography by Anthony Mair
"I was where God wanted me to be"Paloma Solamente wasn’t at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on the night of October 1. She was shuttling tourists around on the south Strip, picking up extra money as a Lyft driver. That’s when she heard the gunshots.
She didn’t know exactly what was going on, but she saw people fleeing in a panic. She rushed to nearby Hooters, packed her car full of people, and drove them to safety. When she returned to the area, a man stumbled in front of her vehicle. His wife told her in Spanish that he’d been shot in the chest, and they tailed ambulances to Sunrise Hospital, running red lights along the way.
Afterward, Solamente opened Facebook Live. She had never used it before, but knew she needed to get the word out to as many people as possible to stay away from the Strip. It was 10:48 p.m., less than an hour after the mass shooting began.
“I just dropped, at Sunrise Hospital, a guy that got shot,” Solamente told her Facebook friends, her shock turning into tears. “Him and his family, they just jumped in front of my vehicle as I was driving.
“Please stay away from Mandalay Bay,” she continued, “stay away from Hooters, stay away from all of that area. Let the cops and the ambulances go through. We don’t know what is going on ... Please send your prayers to all of these people.”
Paloma returned home that night, unable to sleep. She was worried about the man she had just dropped off. She knew his name was William and his wife was Kimberly, but that was it. They had her contact information, but she didn’t have theirs. She hadn’t asked, out of respect for their privacy. Over the next couple of days, Paloma says she experienced a roller coaster of emotions, from anger to sadness to hopelessness. The first night she went out, the sound of a helicopter reminded her of gunshots, and ended her night. She had to tell her landscaper to stop coming — the noise was too stressful.
And then the call came. William was going to live.
The three reunited a few days later, and instantly had the rapport of longtime friends. They’re planning to get their families together, and even get matching tattoos. William calls Paloma his guardian angel, but she refuses the praise.
“I was just in the right place at the right time,” she says. “I was where God wanted me to be.” Kristy Totten
Dr. Deborah Kuhls
UMC Trauma Surgeon
Photography by Anthony Mair
"I think focusing on doing good for the patient allows us to maintain our composure"There are images that will stay with Dr. Deborah Kuhls for a long time. The lethal gunshot wound to the head. The woman who kept her friend alive by keeping her fingers in the bleeding bullet wound all the way to the hospital. And the moment when Dr. Kuhls had to cut open an airway for an obese patient who couldn’t be intubated. “Those are technically difficult. You’re not in the operating room, and it’s all feel,” she says. As the seconds ticked down, she managed to get a tube in and save the patient’s life.
On October 1, Dr. Kuhls had already put in a full day at the hospital. But when the first call came in shortly after 10 p.m., as the senior trauma surgeon on staff at UMC, she swung into action. She called in reinforcements and started directing traffic. Other physicians on the floor that night describe the scene as “controlled chaos,” with more people filling the building than they’d ever seen before, and Dr. Kuhls leading the team. This, she says, is when your training kicks in. “There are certain things that we do over and over again, like our method for quickly assessing an injured patient.”
With the exception of one military surgeon, none of the surgeons at UMC had experienced a mass casualty of this intensity. Traumatic injuries, yes. But the sheer number of casualties pouring in — over 100 gunshot victims — was unprecedented. By 8 the next morning, Dr. Kuhls had been working for 25 hours straight. “I think focusing on doing good for the patient allows us to maintain our composure, frankly, and continue to help people.”
It was only later that the news trickled in and they learned more about what happened on the Strip that night. Her eyes redden as she talks about it. “These people hadn’t done anything to anybody. They were just here to relax, go to a concert.”
On top of those losses were the victims who bled to death before they got to the hospital. So, along with Dr. Douglas Fraser, vice chief of trauma at UMC, and other surgeons in the department, she’s promoting a nationwide initiative, Stop the Bleed (bleedingcontrol.org), to teach civilians how to stop uncontrolled bleeding — think CPR training for bullet wounds.
It reflects her commitment to saving lives beyond the emergency room. “I have a tremendous appetite to be trained well,” she says, “and to train others in disaster management.” Sonja Swanson
Photography by Anthony Mair
"It’s going to be a slow burn here"It took a while — from the first news reports, to the YouTube videos, to phone calls from friends who are dispatchers and hospital workers — for the gravity of the Route 91 concert shooting to become clear to Dan Ficalora, a Bridge Counseling Associates therapist who specializes in trauma.
When it did: “I heard my supervisor’s voice in my head saying, ‘OK, if you can get to someone within the first 48 hours and debrief trauma, the likelihood of their PTSD symptoms coming up goes down dramatically.’ So, I went, OK, this first week is going to be critical. If we can mobilize as many (counselors) as possible, and get (people affected by the shooting) talking and processing, we can help them.”
Bridge opened its doors at 7 a.m. Monday, October 2, for free services to anyone affected by the shooting, and stayed open late that first week. It helped to organize teams of employees and industry partners to send to sites where they’d been needed. By noon Monday, the calls for help started coming in. Dan was among the first deployed that day. Since then, he says, he’s talked to dozens of first responders.
“Their being both heroes and victims at the same time is an incredible dichotomy to hear,” he says. “Sometimes they’re crying, taking a moment, taking a breath, and then saying, ‘Okay, I’ve got my 12-hour shift I’ve gotta go do. Thank you for talking to me.’”
One conversation with a police officer started out casually. Then Ficalora asked if he’d been at the shooting. Ficalora recalls what the officer said: “‘Yeah … I’m ex-military. I’ve done five tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. What I saw (October 1) was on par with, if not worse than, anything I ever saw in a war zone.’” That was the first evening, Ficalora says, and it clued him in on the intensity of what was happening.
He’s also been called to corporate sites to provide counseling for Strip employees — two to three shifts a day, a couple hours per shift, a steady trickle of people needing to talk. The most common thing he’s heard in those sessions is, “I don’t feel safe.”
“It’s going to be a slow burn here,” he says, as people process what happened. Over time, people will notice anxiety, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance — issues that need to be addressed with professional help.
In some ways, Ficalora has trained his whole life for this moment. His grandmother was “an old-school, lay-on-the-couch psychoanalyst,” and he always knew he wanted to work in a job where he could help people. During his 2010-2015 clinical psychology internship at a Medicaid-funded clinic Downtown, he began specializing in trauma.
“It was during the recession, so a lot of people were unemployed, desperate, depressed,” he says. “That population, in particular, was traumatized by the recession, by a family history of poverty, and domestic or family abuse.”
Although the current situation is different, he says, the same tools apply. He’s glad to be able to help, but says he wishes he could connect to more people.
“The stigma of mental health is what it is, right?” he says. “I wish more people realized how much just talking to someone could help them down the road.” Heidi Kyser
Photography by Anthony Mair
"I have to go help"On the night of October 1, Ashley Juste was watching the TV news in shock, nausea and disbelief. She texted an old friend at Sunrise Hospital, saying she hoped everything was okay — surely Sunrise’s emergency room was dealing with casualties. Her friend texted back: “There’s blood and bodies everywhere.” Never mind that Juste no longer worked there. Her first thought: “I have to go help.”
Ten months ago, Juste had left her supervisor position at Sunrise Hospital to join a private clinical practice. On October 1, that text from a friend pressed Juste back into service as a trauma nurse.
Even with her friend’s warning, Juste wasn’t prepared for what she saw when she arrived: in the corner of the employee parking lot, 20 gurneys, draped in white sheets. Twenty bodies.
“I was in shock,” Juste says. “I just thought, ‘If this is what’s out here, I can’t imagine what’s going on inside.’” It was horrific. “I have never seen so many people scared, injured, so much blood. It’s something out of a horror movie, or a war movie.” Doctors and nurses put on booties to keep from slipping on the blood. Cleanup crew members weaved in between patients and medical staff, mopping up as much as they could.
Juste got to work. Here, dressing a man’s gunshot wound to his forearm, dragging over a hamper to help him support his shattered limb. There, checking on a woman whose wounded right leg was tied to a surgical light to keep it elevated. Down the hall, setting up an IV for a man shot in the upper arm. In a nightmare scenario, protocol and discipline helped Sunrise treat over 200 patients that night. They even got help from some of the victims themselves, who pointed doctors and nurses to other injured concertgoers in need of more immediate care.
Juste is proud of her role and of the Sunrise staff, but regrets not being able to do more. “On a usual day when somebody codes … we run resuscitation for sometimes up to two hours trying to get people back. That’s one of the things we’re struggling with now,” she says. “We didn’t have that time or that opportunity for some of these people.” Carrie Kaufman
Photography by Anthony Mair
"Every square inch of that tent, we used"
The medical tent at a music festival is usually a sleepy place, providing shade and water to dehydrated concertgoers, or Band-Aids for skinned knees. When the rattle of gunfire tore through the night of October 1, the tent at the Route 91 Harvest Festival became both a sanctuary and a nightmare. Some concertgoers ran to the tent. Some crawled. Others were carried. Michael Glockner, special events lead for Community Ambulance, was on duty that night.
“We were just getting overwhelmed,” he recalls. “If they could sit, we put them in chairs. The criticals, we put on cots. But toward the end of it, we just had people laying on the ground. Every square inch of that tent, we used.”
Glockner and his team mustered the resources they had — belts, torn sheets and even stethoscopes became tourniquets. They sealed gunshot wounds with plastic. They dashed out to ambulances for IV bags and airway supplies. But there were other resources that Glockner and crew tapped into as well: Amid the chaos, their training, protocol, and procedure reigned. They weren’t just coping with dozens of victims, grievous injuries. They were also dealing with hysteria — victims crying for help, attendees who’d carried loved ones into the tent, screaming for aid. Desperate hands grabbing from every direction. It required, at times, a grim calculus and terrible honesty. “That was the hardest part, when you have to tell someone that you can’t help them anymore,” Glockner says.
Fortunately, his team had unexpected help. “We had people from all over the world, all over the country, who were medics, who were nurses, who came in and said, ‘What can I do to help?’ What our crew did, what our off-duty crew did, and what the public did, will always be with me. I’m so grateful and so impressed with the humanity.”
It wasn’t until early Monday morning that Glockner finally went home to his fiancée. At the front door, he stripped off his bloody clothes and put them in a trash bag.
“She hugged me, and she said, ‘I’ve got the shower going,’ and I walked in, and I just washed the night off, essentially. She made me a cup of tea, and then we just kind of stared at each other. We didn’t really sleep.” Andrew Kiraly and Carrie Kaufman
Nicholas Campbell and Olivia Vizzi
"‘If I got hurt, it would be better than her"Perhaps a child born on September 11, 2001, is destined to be a hero. That seems to be the case with 16-year-old Nicholas Campbell.
Campbell’s girlfriend, Olivia Vizzi, wasn’t really into country music when the two attended last year’s Route 91 Harvest Festival, but it was her boyfriend’s 15th birthday then, and she gave him tickets as a gift. The two had an incredible time and, like Campbell, she became a big fan.
So, this year, on the Friday of the concert, she surprised the Coronado High School sophomore and school basketball team member with tickets. They spent the weekend dancing and laughing and making new friends. They were only two feet from the stage when Jason Aldean began performing. Like everyone else, Campbell initially thought the gunfire was firecrackers. Then Aldean ran from the stage, and pandemonium set in.
“People in the back were clearing out. People in the middle were clearing out, but we had to wait awhile,” Campbell recalls. “There was nowhere to go, but get down and wait.”
Trapped, the young man dropped his body over Vizzi’s. “If I got hurt, it would be better than her,” he says. “It was kinda like, hey, if my girlfriend gets shot, she’s gonna freak out.”
In fact, Vizzi was already panicking, and Campbell thought the weight and shield of his body might calm her as well as protect her. It was during the second round of shots that the five-foot-nine basketball player was hit in the shoulder. The bullet penetrated his lung and broke two ribs.
During another break in fire, the two tried to run, ducking beneath the stage before they moved to a metal gate. Campbell told Vizzi to hop the gate. What about him? His lung collapsing, he couldn’t make it over. Instead, Campbell would be forced to play possum among the dead and dying for the duration of the shooting.
When the shots finally stopped, he stood to walk, but he was having trouble breathing and wouldn’t get far. That’s when another hero came along. A man, who told Campbell he was a Marine, made a tourniquet of Campbell’s drawstring backpack, lifted his 135-pound frame across his shoulders, and carried him to a car that would deliver him to UMC, where he was immediately fitted with a chest tube. “That hurt more than getting shot,” Campbell says of the procedure.
Asked if he would again play human shield to protect Vizzi, Campbell says — without an ounce of bravado — “Of course. I mean, I’ll be back (out of the hospital) in four to six weeks.” He hopes to be well enough to play at least a few games in the coming season. Meanwhile, Vizzi’s Snapchat story of the morning after said it all: “Thank you to my boyfriend for saving my life. He’s my hero.” Chantal Corcoran