Las Vegas shooting: Amid chaos ‘we had one bad guy, and 25,000 good guys’

Las Vegas shooting: Amid chaos ‘we had one bad guy, and 25,000 good guys’

LAS VEGAS — On any other day, during any other emergency, Clark County Deputy Fire Chief Jon Klassen would tell bystanders to remain calm, stick around and let investigators do their jobs.

Oct. 1, 2017, was not that day.

Klassen arrived at the Route 91 Harvest music festival minutes after a hailstorm of bullets leveled dozens in the crowd of more than 20,000 people. Many were dying or already dead. And the rest, Klassen understood immediately, needed to get out.

“I was not telling everybody, ‘Stay here, help’s on the way,’” Klassen said in a Thursday interview. “I was saying, ‘Get the hell out of here. Go! If you can run, if you can carry, if you can get out, go.’”

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First responders from Clark County Fire spoke publicly Thursday to recount their roles in the most deadly mass shooting in modern American history. While many said they leaned on their professional training, they also spoke of swift improvisation — by themselves and others — in a moment of bedlam.

Belts became tourniquets, folding tables became stretchers, and trucks became ambulances.

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Firefighters from the Clark County Fire Department talk about the chaos and moments of heroism they experienced while responding to the mass shooting on Las Vegas Boulevard. USA TODAY

“There wasn’t a whole lot of direction out there,” Klassen said. “It was just people being good people.”

Assistant Fire Chief Troy Tuke was on his way to be a hospital liaison that night when his marked vehicle was flagged down by people in a pickup truck. Two in the truck bed had been shot, so Tuke offered to be their escort to get the patients to the hospital as quickly as possible.

Klassen said he was mobbed by concertgoers as soon as he drove up to the scene in his fire department vehicle. They banged on the hood of his car and begged for transport for their friend, their wife, their brother.

“I did not know when I was going over there what I was going to run into, which was Armageddon,” he said. “It was just running, screaming, crying, bleeding, carrying, shouting, corpses, panic.”

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Klassen knew he couldn’t transport anyone in his vehicle but told them he had a first-aid kit in the back.

“I’ll pop my back lid, grab what you need, do what you need to do,” he said.

Klassen’s role that evening was that of a director. He took over the east division of the venue, coordinating which areas, and people needed the most immediate ambulance and EMS services.

But he also went off-script and assumed a leadership role with non-employees. So many concert attendees from across the country approached him. They said, “I’m from New York. … I’m from California. … I’m a fireman. … I’m an EMT. … What can I do? How can I help?”

“To the point, it was like, ‘Just go find somebody that needs help and help them,’” Klassen said. “’Just go be nice to somebody. Help somebody who needs your help.’”

They did. Everywhere he looked, Klassen watched fellow citizens rescue one another. Six men shouldered a folding table they’d made into a makeshift stretcher. Others uprooted barricades to carry their patients. Klassen witnessed no fewer than three pickup trucks leaving the scene with CPR in progress in the truck’s bed.

To his knowledge, Klassen said, these people weren’t first responders. They were, as Klassen put it, “normal people.”

“But they were good normal people,” he said. “I saw the most amazing acts of beauty and just powerful things out there that night.”

Clark County Fire Department Chief Greg Cassell addressed reporters Thursday morning and underscored the preparations his and other local fire departments had undergone to train for such a scenario.

For years, its personnel worked as part of a fusion center with local law enforcement. They ran drills in schools, malls, hotels and hospitals — enclosed spaces where mass shootings have historically occurred. But they never planned on the type of open-air, scattered scenario they faced Sunday night.

The victims fled to airport property, hotels and streets sometimes several blocks away, their accounts and locations confusing 911 operators as to whether a shooter struck elsewhere.

Still, Cassell said, fire and ambulance teams applied their training and equipment accordingly. More than 200 patients were transported to area hospitals by fire and EMS crews, he said.

He lauded the department’s partnership with police in an incident command system — an operation that designates one or two people in charge to limit confusion.

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“This unified incident command saved lives,” Cassell said. “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the fact that we were standing toe to toe, shoulder to shoulder, with police officers to integrate our response was critical.”

Travis Haldeman, a fire engineer for Clark County Fire Department, was off-duty that night, attending the country festival with his wife, Haley, and friends.

Like everyone, the couple thought the initial burst of gunfire had been firecrackers. The gravity of the situation registered by the second round.

The two hopped over a metal barrier that was about 10 feet away to try and take cover. It was then that they decided to separate: Haley Haldeman would run to the nearby Tropicana resort, and Travis Haldeman would stay back to help the wounded.

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A motion graphic explaining how the events unfolded when Stephen Paddock opened fire from his hotel room on concert goers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival near the Mandalay Bay resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Ramon Padilla, Janet Loehrke George Petras, Jim Sergent USA TODAY

But the gunfire started again as soon as the two separated, so Haley Haldeman ducked for the nearest shelter in view — a small stage set up in the middle of the venue for a camera. She and an Anaheim firefighter and his wife would soon make a break for it, at last making it into the employee entrance of the Tropicana.

Meanwhile, Travis Haldeman went back over the barrier and assessed the carnage. Several people were already dead; others were pouring blood.

A man shot in the leg caught Haldeman’s eye. Someone had given the man a T-shirt to soak the blood, but it failed to control the bleeding. So Haldeman removed his belt, cinched it around the man’s leg, threw him on his back and took off toward the medical tent.

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As he ran, Haldeman said, about three bullets skipped across the pavement no more than 10 feet ahead of him.

Haldeman dropped off the injured man at the medical tent and went back for two hurt women who had caught his eye. One had been shot in the hip and couldn’t walk, the other in the shoulder. He carried the one with the hip injury back to the medical tent, while the other held onto his shirt.

Back at the medical tent, he and others went to work. They started IVs, bandaged up wounds, tightened tourniquets.

“We kind of all had our own few patients we were tending to,” he said.

One of his patients was an 18-year-old woman who had been shot in the lower back and was having trouble moving her legs. Travis tried to keep her calm and under control when, out of nowhere, her father appeared.

Her father was an off-duty metro officer who had come to assist the injured. He had no idea one would be his daughter, Haldeman said.

“It really speaks to how … big a city Las Vegas is, but really it’s just such a small community,” he said. “What are the odds of her father showing up in that medical team?”

The off-duty officer left for but a moment and reappeared carrying a backboard. The men loaded his daughter in the back of a pickup truck, and Haldeman sat by her side all the way to the hospital.

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While there, Haldeman rediscovered the man shot in the leg whom he helped get to safety. He then took the effort to help the man reach his family.

Other first responders’ had difficulty doing what they aimed to do.

Interstate 15 shut down while Tuke was trying to escort the truck carrying several gunshot victims to the hospital. When they turned a corner to reroute, the caravan got stuck in traffic. One of the patients died en route to the hospital.

Tuke said he had to leave the patients in the care of law enforcement and return to the chaos.

“Which is tough,” he said. “[But] there was really nothing to do for her.”

Still, the first responders interviewed said they were proud to be of some help that horrific night and proud to be part of the Las Vegas community.

“We had one bad guy, and 25,000 good guys,” Klassen said. “That’s pretty good odds. I’ll take those odds.”

Follow Megan Cassidy on Twitter: @meganrcassidy

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Las Vegas survivors have been through hell. And it’s not over.

Las Vegas survivors have been through hell. And it’s not over.

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From their hospital beds, survivors of the Las Vegas mass shooting describe being shot, heroes, and fighting to survive. USA TODAY

Now is about the time you’ve got Las Vegas fatigue. For the sake of your sanity, you turn your attention to other things, lighter things.

Now is about the time survivors of that attack are beginning to feel the shock subside and an onslaught of emotions — anguish, grief, guilt  — take over.

“There’s national recognition and solidarity around these big events, (but) that sense of attention and care and compassion seems to fade with the next news cycle,” said Seth Gillihan, a psychologist and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder researcher. “The country pretty quickly returns to its baseline.”

But survivors can’t return to their baseline. Those who escaped the bullets can go home, and the injured will leave the hospital, but they can’t go back to the lives they had.

“The world they knew before it happened is profoundly changed,” Gillihan said. “They’re probably going to have a different way of seeing the world, they may have a different way of seeing themselves, they may be critical of themselves for how they reacted during the event.”

Las Vegas survivors have been thrust onto a new trajectory, one that will feel worse before it gets better. They are joining an unfortunate fellowship of those who’ve endured trauma — but one that can at least provide guidance down this too well-trodden path.

This is how it starts

I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet,” said Megan O’Donnell Clements, a 33-year-old mom who ran when Stephen Paddock’s gunfire rang out Sunday.

I am just numb right now,” said Justin Zimmerman, who hit the ground.

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Survivor of the mass shooting at Las Vegas, Heather Melton, of Tennessee, is crediting her husband for her survival. Her 29-year-old husband, Sonny, ultimately died of his injuries after shielding his wife from the barrage of bullets. (Oct. 4) AP

If you’ve watched interviews with the Las Vegas survivors, you might be amazed by their poise, but those who’ve dealt with trauma personally or professionally say this is what the initial aftershock looks like: numbness. 

“If I’m being quite frank, the shock part was probably the easiest,” said Brandon Wolf, who survived the Pulse nightclub shooting that killed 49 in Orlando in June 2016. “I was almost machine-like in preparing for the funerals, in talking to the media and politicians. The despair hadn’t set in yet.”

People react this way because they’ve experienced “more than the nervous system can process at once,” Gillihan said.

“Most people who’ve gone through something this horrifying will have symptoms that look like PTSD initially. It’s only when they continue to linger that a diagnosis would be given,” Gillihan said.

Though rates of PTSD vary depending on the trauma, Gillihan said he would expect a “high percentage” to experience it in this case. 

“Survivors of sexual assault, for example, the majority will develop PTSD, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case for this as well,” Gillihan said.

While a mass shooting is obviously different from sexual assault or a natural disaster or combat, “we have one stress system and so it responds to different things in common ways,” Gillihan said. Part of the reason he would expect high rates has to do with the “interpersonal” nature of this attack.

“It’s something that was so unpredictable, senseless and intentional … when it’s done by a person, not a natural event, it adds another layer of trauma.”

This is how it persists

Whether or not a trauma survivor is diagnosed with PTSD, they may share a number of these feelings and experiences after the fact:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Being easily startled
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks or replaying the memory on a loop
  • Survivor’s guilt (“I thought maybe if I hadn’t asked my friends along, they might still be there,” Wolf said.)
  • Strong emotions: Fear, anxiety, anger, sadness
  • Not trusting the world, feeling unsafe and hyper vigilant

“I was really, really confident as a person before June 12. I didn’t struggle with crowded spaces, I was always the life of the party,” Wolf said.

Now, that is lost. “I immediately look for an exit when I’m in a crowded room. I get a tight chest if I’m in a space I can’t find a way out of. Sometimes I’m more afraid to sleep than I am to be awake because the things I dream about are really scary,” he said. “And you don’t know what to do. You seek therapy, you talk to people about it, but it’s like you’re trapped in your own mind.”

Knowing this, experiencing this, Wolf said, is why his “heart breaks” for the Las Vegas survivors. Just as he described a number of situations that “set him off,” Vegas survivors may experience similar triggers, Gillihan said, including:

  • Large crowds (Avoiding crowds is “almost a universal response” after trauma, Gillihan said.)
  • Concerts
  • News reports on violence or disasters (“It’s not tragedy porn anymore, it’s too painful,” Wolf said.)
  • Loud noises, such as a car backfiring
  • Gun shots on TV shows and movies

But survivors won’t need a trigger to have the memory.

“Part of the haunting quality of PTSD is that these memories live with us,” Gillihan said. “The memory can come up uninvited without any obvious triggers and these memories will just run through as your mind tries to process and make sense of them.”

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This is how it heals

On April 15, 2013, Jeff Bauman lost the lower portion of his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. In the years since, he has learned to compartmentalize.

“Sometimes I have nightmares and wake up to explosions, but it hasn’t been like that for a while,” Bauman told USA TODAY last year. “I want to show people you can overcome a tragedy.”

Even people with severe PTSD see dramatic improvement with treatment, Gillihan said. “No one has to suffer forever.”

However, survivors should know there’s a “process to what’s unfolding” and it doesn’t move in a straight line, psychologists say.

“How they’re feeling now won’t be how they always feel … it will change over time. It’s not static the way we respond to these things,” Gillihan said. “We can get frustrated with ourselves: ‘I should’ve moved on, there must be something wrong with me.’ But it’s important to give ourselves space, treat ourselves gently.”

That necessary space can be encroached upon, both psychologists and survivors note, when people who didn’t experience the tragedy have imagined deadlines of when someone should be “over it.”

“There’s a lot of things they say when you go through something like this — ‘life gets better,’ ‘you’re so lucky to be here’ … but the one I probably hate the most is ‘if you need anything, I’m here.’ The reason I don’t like that particular phrase is it’s not accurate,” Wolf said. “I was that person. But it never fails that life moves on, we go back to work, we go back to living our lives, the news covers something else and we stop checking in on those people … but that’s when they need it the most.”

Wolf believes the “time limit” outsiders place on healing focuses on the physical, when “it’s so much harder to deal with the haunting insomnia, the nightmares, the mood swings.” He recalled attending the GLAAD awards after Pulse with a friend who had been visibly injured in the attack.

“This woman walked up to me and said, ‘You have no idea how lucky you are to be standing next to such strength.’ And I turned and I saw my friend with his crutches and his boot. And she said, ‘That is a hero right there.'” Later that night, Wolf went back to his hotel room and cried. “Will she still see him as a hero once that boot is off but he cries himself to sleep at night? … People don’t know what it means to survive.”

But Wolf did find help through a mental health specialist and finding a good “coping mechanism” — in his case, activism and outreach.

“The thing that made me feel most at peace is finding my community … they are the ones who understood me,” Wolf said. “And they are the ones who made me survive.”

And Wolf has a message for Las Vegas survivors:

“You are not alone. As much as you’re going to want to feel alone and as easy at it will be to isolate yourself and wonder why not you — you’re not alone. And the only way it’s going to get better … is if you’re not ashamed to ask for help.” 

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An estimated 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women being twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. Here is an explanation of the definition and the symptoms of PTSD. USA TODAY

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Huge butterfly swarm detected by weather radar in Colorado

Huge butterfly swarm detected by weather radar in Colorado

Weather radar doesn’t just pick up rain and snow, it can also detect other objects such as birds, insects and even flying debris during tornadoes.

That’s what happened earlier this week in Colorado, where a weather radar there “saw” what turned out to be a 70-mile-wide swarm of butterflies. 

The butterflies in question were painted ladies, which are sometimes mistaken for monarch butterflies. The bugs have descended on Colorado’s Front Range in recent weeks, feeding on flowers and sometimes flying together in what seem like clouds.

At first, meteorologists thought they were birds, since “insects rarely produce such a coherent radar signature,” according to the National Weather Service in Boulder. “Migrating birds do all the time.”

Weather service meteorologist Paul Schlatter asked birdwatchers on social media what it might be, and soon had his answer: People reported seeing a loosely spaced net of painted lady butterflies drifting with the wind across the area.

He said the colors on the radar image are a result of the butterflies’ shape and direction, not their actual colors.

Radar works by sending out a beam of energy then measuring how much of that beam is reflected back and the time needed for the beam to return. If more of the beam is sent back, the object is said to have a high reflectivity and is indicated by a bright color.

Objects that return a small part of the beam have a low reflectivity and are indicated by darker colors.

In recent years, birds, ants, bats, termites, mayflies, grasshoppers, and beetles have all been spotted on radar. Birds last year were even seen taking refuge in the eye of Hurricane Matthew. 

While capturing animals on radar is just a fun byproduct of radar technology, more seriously, debris blown around by tornadoes can also be spotted. This gives forecasters high confidence that a tornado exists, ramping up the danger level of the warning to more people in its potential path, according to the Storm Prediction Center. 

Known as a tornado debris signature, it’s a very important tool, especially at night, in remote areas without spotters, and for rain-wrapped tornadoes that spotters can’t see safely.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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National Taco Day: Where to get free and discounted tacos on Wednesday

National Taco Day: Where to get free and discounted tacos on Wednesday

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Americans ate over 4.5 billion tacos in 2016. Time

Taco Tuesday isn’t the only day for taco deals this week.

Wednesday is National Taco Day and it’s a fiesta for taco lovers with many national taco chains marking the day with free tacos and specials.

According to the made-up food holiday’s website, NationalTacoDay.com, last year Americans ate more than 4.5 billion tacos.

Oct. 4 also is National Vodka Day and Blaze Pizza is celebrating its first-ever Noncon4mist Day with $4 pizzas after 4 p.m.

Here are the deals:

Taco Bell: At participating locations on Wednesday, the chain has a special “National Taco Day gift set.” For $5, get four classic Taco Bell tacos — Nacho Cheese, Cool Ranch, Fiery Doritos Locos Tacos and the Crunchy Taco — “gift wrapped” in a limited edition wrapper and specially boxed. Learn more about the deal hereTaco Bell also has teamed up with teen retailer Forever 21 to create a collection of bodysuits, sweatshirts and hoodies, which will go on sale Oct. 11 at select Forever 21 stores.

Tijuana Flats: Get $2 tacos and $2 Mexican drafts Wednesday at participating locations. Many locations of the fast-casual Tex-Mex chain have a Tuesday taco deal called Tijuana Tuesdaze where two tacos, chips and a medium drink are $5.99. Also, all locations have a take-home “Hardly Homemade” taco meal kit for $31.99. Find locations here.

On the Border: Mini tacos are 50 cents each when you dine-in Wednesday at participating locations. The chain also has a 20% off taco catering items through Oct. 8 with promo code Taco17. Learn more here.

Chuy’s: Crispy beef tacos are $1 with any order Wednesday at participating locations and get $1 off Mexican beer. And if you dress up like a taco, you earn a free meal.

Del Taco: New and existing members of Del Taco’s Raving Fan eClub will get a buy one Queso Crunch Taco, get one free coupon to use Wednesday at participating locations. Also for signing up for the rewards program at www.deltaco.com/ravingfan, get a coupon for two free grilled chicken tacos.

Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill: The chain is celebrating Applebee’s Neighborhood Appreciation Month all October long with $1 margaritas, also known as the Dollarita, at participating locations. Learn more here and find locations here.

Blaze Pizza: Not an official National Taco Day deal, but Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza has a pop-up pizza party after 4 p.m. Wednesday for its first annual Noncon4mist Day with $4 pizzas at more than 200 locations. Along with $4 dine-in and customizable pizzas Wednesday, customers will get a bounce-back coupon to receive $4 off a pizza and drink during a future visit, redeemable through the Blaze Pizza mobile app. Find locations here.

California Tortilla: Buy one taco, get one free Wednesday. The Blackened Fish, California Sunset, Korean BBQ and Crunchy BBQ Ranch street tacos are included in this deal and there’s a limit of five free tacos per person. Sign up for the Burrito Elito rewards program here.

El Fenix: Get $4.99 taco plates with two crispy or soft tacos at participating locations of the Texas-based chain with a coupon posted on its website. Print the coupon or show the digital coupon on your smartphone. One coupon is valid for up to 10 people in your party.  

 

El Pollo Loco: Buy one taco platter, get one free Wednesday at participating locations with a coupon posted on the company’s website. Taco platter options are Chicken Avocado, Chicken Bacon Cheddar, Avocado Tacos al Carbon and Shrimp Mango.

Fuzzy’s Taco Shop: Get $1 tacos all day Wednesday including most of Fuzzy’s Baja Tacos, including their breakfast tacos. Some exclusions apply.

Jimboys Tacos: Get one free taco for every taco purchased, up to three free tacos per guest Wednesday at participating locations. Offer applies to the Original Ground Beef Taco and Bean Taco only. The chain has 38 California and Nevada locations.

Hot Head Burritos: Buy two tacos, get one free Wednesday at all locations. Get the deal by walking into any location or if ordering online enter the code buy2tacos.

Margaritas Mexican Restaurant: Order the two pound, 12-inch Taco Gigante for $12.99 Wednesday and receive a voucher for a free Taco Gigante to use on your next visit. In October, the chain with locations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania has a Taco Gigante Challenge and if you finish the entire taco you get a place on Margaritas Wall of Fame and bragging rights. Learn more here.

Rubio’s Coastal Grill: The San Diego-based company with 200 locations throughout California, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Florida is celebrating National Taco Day a day early. On Tuesday, participating locations will have The Original Fish Taco for $1.75, The Fish Taco Especial for $2 and The Original Fish Taco with Mango Salsa for $2.25. The specials are dine-in only. Learn more here. Also join Rubio’s Beach Club for a free taco and other perks here.

Taco Bueno: Get a free taco with any purchase Wednesday. 

Taco Cabana: From 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, get 50 percent off a chicken fajita taco at participating locations. Dine-in only and one per person. Learn more here.

Taco John’s: Get a free taco, crispy or soft shell Wednesday at participating locations of the chain which has trademarked the terms “Taco Tuesday” and “Wake Up Wednesday.” To get this deal, show a coupon that will be available Wednesday on Taco John’s websiteFacebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat pages.

More deals: Check locally owned restaurants’ Facebook and Twitter accounts for additional deal announcements.

Kelly Tyko is a columnist for Treasure Coast Newspapers and TCPalm.com, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. This column reflects her opinion. Read her Bargainista tips at TCPalm.com/Bargainista and follow her on Twitter @TCPalmKelly. Sign up for her weekly newsletter at www.tcpalm.com/featured-newsletter/bargainistabest.

 

 

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