LAS VEGAS — Country artist Jason Aldean was nearing the end of his set Sunday night on the Las Vegas strip when Katie Burgett started hearing loud pops.
“Everyone thought it was fireworks,” the Sioux City woman told the Journal Monday evening. “Then a few seconds later it did it again — two more pops — (Aldean) stopped and looked around and started running off the stage and everyone was screaming to get down.”
Burgett and her best friend had traveled to Las Vegas for Harvest Festival, the three-day country music mega concert that quickly turned into the site of the deadliest mass shooting in American history. A shooter rained gunfire down on the more than 20,000 spectators from the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay casino hotel.
Shortly after she heard the second round of shots, Burgett said she and a friend got low to avoid the hail of gunfire.
“We were seeing the bullets ricocheting off the metal we were lying near,” she said. “I was trying to pull my friend closer and people were freaking out and running and we kind of stayed behind a little ways because we didn’t know what to do.”
Eventually, Burgett and her friend decided to make a break for it. She said by the time they started running, most of the crowd had already dispersed and she described the situation as being like a “moving target.”
“We were running and a girl in front of us got hit,” Burgett said. “There was blood and bodies everywhere. We got into a tent and people were throwing tables around and the shots, they weren’t stopping.”
Burgett isn’t sure how but they escaped the venue. She remembers seeing cars pulling up and people jumping into them and the drivers speeding off and others just running away and screaming.
The pair eventually wound up at the Hooters Casino Hotel with another concert-goer they met on the run.
“We ended up with a gal who was by herself — she had lost her people — (she repeated) ‘I don’t know where they are at, I don’t know where they are at,’” Burgett said. “A little while later, a guy and a lady came running up to her and we were so happy, and then the guy looked at her and started bawling and said, ‘We lost so-and-so; she got shot in the head.’”
Some other Siouxlanders also got caught up in the mass shooting.
From a locked office on the ground floor of the Mandalay Bay, Kaitlyn Mohrhauser watched surveillance camera footage of heavily armed police officers responding to the shooting.
For four hours, the Sioux City woman and the man who was working at the jewelry store in which she took cover watched television monitors showing the camera footage, uncertain of what was going on and when it would be safe to come out.
"That was the scary part. We didn't even know when to leave," said Mohrhauser, who was staying at the Mandalay Bay with her husband, Joe.
Finally, Mohrhauser and the worker saw an officer enter the store, and they came out of the office. The officer arranged for Mohrhauser to be escorted to her room, about eight floors above the room in which police believe the gunman holed up and fired the shots that killed at least 59 people and injured more than 500 others who were attending the music festival across the street.
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The Mohrhausers had flown into Las Vegas Saturday to see a Depeche Mode concert that same night. They had dined at the Golden Nugget Sunday evening before returning to the Mandalay Bay. Joe was tired and went to bed. Kaitlyn went down to the lobby/casino area at about 10:15 p.m., Las Vegas time.
"I hadn't been there for more than a couple minutes when a heavily armed police officer came running in full speed and about 10 more followed him in and one of them yelled, 'There's an active shooter in the building, everyone take cover,'" Mohrhauser said.
Mohrhauser hadn't heard any shooting or seen any of the commotion outside, but she immediately ran to the elevator, which police had blocked. She turned and ran in another direction, ducking inside a jewelry store in the hotel lobby. They went to a back office and locked the door, watching the scene outside the store on the surveillance monitors.
"Cops with weapons were running past, one after another," Mohrhauser said.
Friends in Sioux City who were still awake and watching the news began texting Mohrhauser updates about what was going on. Mohrhauser posted a message to her Facebook page to let friends know she was OK. Knowing Joe was sleeping, Mohrhauser didn't call him out of fear he'd leave the room to come find her. Instead, she texted him, "I am safe. Do not leave the room" so that if she wasn't back when he woke up, he would see her message.
After Mohrhauser was returned to her room, she woke Joe up and told him what had happened.
"I kind of thought I was still dreaming," he said.
At 4:30 a.m., a police officer pounded on their door, telling them to stay inside. It was the last they heard from authorities. They poked their heads out at 9 a.m., and a security guard told them it was safe to come out.
By early Monday afternoon, Mohrhauser still hadn't slept, and she was amazed at the change in a city that's normally buzzing with activity.
"There aren't a whole lot of people around, and everybody's being really somber and being really nice to each other. You could really see an elevated level of kindness," she said. "It's just quiet."
The Mohrhausers planned to make their final night in Las Vegas a low-key affair before flying home Tuesday.
"Right now we're just interested in getting home to our family," Kaitlyn Mohrhauser said.
Burgett spoke to the Journal Monday night from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, where she was preparing to board a flight home to Sioux City.
Burgett still has her wristband from the show on and doesn’t plan to ever manually remove it. She said when she and her friend spotted other people wearing them at the airport they just stopped and hugged each other without any need to verbalize what they survived.
When asked what is it like to live through a national tragedy, Burgett did not mince her words.
“It’s absolutely terrifying and devastating,” she said. “The guilt that I am having now for running past bodies is hard. We just kind of keep losing it here and there. We’re both just really struggling.”