▶ FAM­ILY

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - CAR­NAGE ON THE STRIP - Con­tact Anita Has­san at ahas­san@ re­viewjour­nal.com or 702-383-4643. Con­tact Brian Joseph at bjoseph@ re­viewjour­nal.com or 702-387-5208. Con­tact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@re­viewjour­nal.com or 702383-4638. Re­view-Jour­nal news­room as­sis­tant Kerry Blanchfi

tend­ing to them. They needed help.

Dan reached Alexa, Eric and Jake by phone. The kids were OK, he felt some relief.

Still, he had not heard from Susan. He had taken her phone dur­ing the show be­cause his own was low on bat­tery power. He re­al­ized her phone was still in his pocket.

She was surely help­ing peo­ple. She would be OK, he told him­self.

He could still hear shots be­ing fired. He ran around the cor­ner and al­most im­me­di­ately saw a blond wo­man on top of a man, her head pressed against his chest. There was blood on his cheek. The wo­man was scream­ing, sob­bing.

She re­fused to leave him. Dan and an­other man strug­gled to tear her away from the man’s body and get her to safety.

The next hours were a blur.

Dan helped carry a man with a bul­let wound in his back to a makeshift triage area. The man kept say­ing he could not feel his legs. He and others took off their shirts and used them to ap­ply pres­sure to wounds.

He re­turned to the field where he saw a man ly­ing still on the ground. An­other man came by and de­ter­mined that the vic­tim had no pulse.

A T-shirt was draped over the man’s face, a ges­ture that had be­come a way to mark the dead.

Even­tu­ally, Dan made his way to an­other end of the makeshift triage area. The wounded were car­ried on pieces of a metal perime­ter wall. Fes­ti­val signs and lad­ders were also be­ing used as gur­neys and stretch­ers. They were be­ing loaded into per­sonal ve­hi­cles and rushed to hos­pi­tals.

Dan spot­ted a group of peo­ple car­ry­ing a wo­man out of the fes­ti­val grounds on a piece of the red bar­rier wall. She had brown hair and a sheer light-blue shirt. She wasn’t mov­ing.

Draw­ing on his mil­i­tary train­ing, he talked to her to keep her awake.

He walked be­side the group car­ry­ing her, put his head close to hers and be­gan speak­ing.

“Honey you’ve got to stay with us, all these peo­ple are here and they love you and they are try­ing to help you,” he told her.

He could feel her breath­ing. It was shal­low, but she was breath­ing. Oh God, maybe this is work­ing, he thought.

“You’ve got to stay with us, OK?” Dan con­tin­ued. “You can’t leave. You’re not al­lowed to leave.”

The group ar­rived at a black crew cab truck. There was al­ready an­other wounded body in the bed of the truck with three or four other peo­ple. A wo­man in the back of the truck shouted for them to hurry, they only had five min­utes. The group strug­gled to get the wo­man’s body in­side the cab — an­other wo­man try­ing to help got pinned be­tween the gurney and the ve­hi­cle door dur­ing the process, Dan re­called.

Fi­nally, they got her body in­side and the car sped off. Dan did not know whether she would live or die.

Susan spot­ted a big pickup truck with its driver’s side door hang­ing open. She ran over to an in­jured man, who was re­ceiv­ing CPR. She said: There’s a truck. Let’s get him in there.

Susan jumped into the driver’s seat. She punched the start but­ton, but noth­ing hap­pened. Fran­ti­cally, she looked for the keys. Then a young man ran over and said the truck was his. Susan told him the peo­ple needed to go to the hos­pi­tal. I know, he replied.

Susan slid over to the pas­sen­ger seat while a wounded man and wo­man were loaded into the back and others piled in.

The truck sped off. Bar­rel­ing north, the driver honked the horn while Susan leaned out the pas­sen­ger win­dow and waved her arm and screamed “Stop!” as the truck blew through in­ter­sec­tions.

Po­lice cars with their sirens blar­ing raced in the other direc­tion.

Two thoughts passed through her head. One: I hope we don’t get hit. And two, if I don’t hang on I’m go­ing to die.

Alexa had not known her youngest brother Eric was run­ning be­hind her un­til they took shel­ter in a sound pro­duc­tion tent.

She grabbed him. The two hud­dled un­der­neath a pi­ano where Jeremiah had used large mu­sic equip­ment cases to form a bar­rier around them.

Tucked un­der­neath the pi­ano, the sib­lings held each other as gun­fire be­gan again.

When it stopped, Jeremiah started to leave to go help others. Eric and Alexa both yelled for him to stay.

“I promised your Dad I would keep you safe,” he told them. “I prom­ise I’ll be back.”

While Jeremiah was gone, Alexa talked to her fa­ther. He told her he was safe, but he wasn’t with her mother and he had her phone.

Eric over­heard Dan on the phone say­ing he was no longer with Susan. Pan­icked, the teen broke down.

“Mom is dead, Mom is dead,” Alexa re­called him scream­ing over and over again.

Alexa be­gan to sob, but stopped her­self. She needed to keep Eric calm.

“She’s OK,” she told him, not sure she be­lieved her own words. “She’s go­ing to be OK.”

Susan’s pickup ar­rived at Sun­rise Hos­pi­tal and Med­i­cal Cen­ter. Emer­gency staff rushed to the back with a gurney.

They loaded a life­less wo­man onto the stretcher. Her arm dan­gled off the side, limp. A man with her started scream­ing as staff wheeled her in. Susan thought she was dead.

In a daze, Susan fol­lowed them into the hos­pi­tal, and tried to get the man to calm down. She fol­lowed them as far as the en­trance to a triage area. Susan never knew what hap­pened to her.

She went back out to the truck. What about the other wounded man, she asked some peo­ple milling about. He didn’t make it, they said.

Fi­nally, Susan felt she’d done what she could. And then it hit her: Oh my God. My fam­ily.

She hadn’t seen them since the shoot­ing started.

Dan could not count the num­ber of dead bod­ies he’d seen at this point while try­ing to help the wounded. Some im­ages he knew would never leave him: The young, thin girl whose dead body lay in a wheel­bar­row or the man star­ing into the dis­tance, hold­ing a dead wo­man’s head in his hands.

But Dan also could not put a num­ber on the amount of self­less acts he had wit­nessed. Peo­ple pass­ing out wa­ter, giv­ing away shirts — some­one no­ticed Dan was with­out one and gave him a tank top — per­sonal ve­hi­cles be­ing used as am­bu­lances. Some were lead­ing prayer circles for the fallen.

Ev­ery­one was help­ing some­one, and it was prob­a­bly some­one they had never met.

Eric walked with Alexa and Jeremiah to­ward the Luxor. It was the clos­est

ho­tel to them and Jeremiah sug­gested the three try to take cover there away from the fes­ti­val grounds.

The teen was pre­oc­cu­pied with thoughts of his mother. He knew his fa­ther was OK, and they had spo­ken to Jake, who told them he had got­ten out of the grounds safely.

But where was his mom? Was she alone? Was she dead?

The last no­tion was not one he could live with. He could not imag­ine life with­out his mother.

He be­gan to sob.

***

Pan­icked about her fam­ily, Susan went back into the hos­pi­tal to fig­ure out where they were.

Susan felt guilty. The whole ride to the hos­pi­tal she had been fo­cused on help­ing the wounded. How could she not think about her kids?

In the emer­gency room lobby, she asked to bor­row some­one’s phone. She im­me­di­ately dialed Dan, who told her he was still at the con­cert venue. Ev­ery­one is OK, he said, but I can’t talk now. Call me back later.

When he hung up, Susan thought : Is he telling me the truth? I need to get back there and see for my­self.

***

Jake, the mom and the daugh­ter had made it out­side the fes­ti­val grounds to Trop­i­cana Boule­vard. They were safe. Jake’s phone rang, his mom’s num­ber flashed across the screen. It was his dad’s voice.

Dan told him his mother was safe and had been help­ing peo­ple at the hos­pi­tal.

“Where are you?” Jake asked. Dan was still at the venue. There were more peo­ple to help.

He said he needed to go, and hung up.

Jake had been run­ning on adren­a­line all night, and now he lost it.

He bolted back to the con­cert grounds — to­ward his fa­ther — but a burly, bearded man stopped him. He grabbed Jake and threw him back­ward.

The weight of it all hit him, and Jake fell to his knees in tears.

***

Alexa, Eric and Jeremiah walked in­side the Luxor, which was si­lent. There were no guests in the lobby, no staff work­ing on the casino floor.

They took the el­e­va­tor to the fourth floor, Alexa re­called. Why the fourth floor, she could not re­mem­ber. It was a ran­dom choice.

Ex­it­ing the el­e­va­tor, they stood in the quiet hall­way, aim­less.

Mo­ments later, a cou­ple walked down the hall­way. They asked the three if they wanted to come in­side their room. They gave them wa­ter and sheets to get warm.

The cou­ple had just got­ten mar­ried that morn­ing and they were headed out to get dessert when the shoot­ing oc­curred. They didn’t have any food, ex­cept a bag of Her­shey’s kisses, which they of­fered to the three. They also of­fered them refuge for the night.

They thanked the cou­ple, touched by their kind­ness.

By now, Alexa had also learned that Ri­ley and Christina were safe. She looked out the win­dow to a view of the fes­ti­val grounds.

He­li­copters were cir­cling the area and she could see the tent where she thought her fa­ther was help­ing peo­ple. She talked to him on the phone and this time he told her their mother was fine.

“Dad says mom’s OK,” Alexa told Eric.

But he still did not feel at ease. He wanted to hear his mother’s voice.

Mean­while, Susan tried hitch­ing a ride back to the venue, but the streets were blocked. Po­lice sent her to a nearby Mo­tel 6, where she broke down cry­ing. She got a free room, 8355 Dean Martin Dr, Las Ve­gas, NV 89139 where she waited out the night, watch­ing the news.

Jake knew his fam­ily was safe, and the fam­ily he had helped to es­cape of­fered to let him stay the night in their ho­tel room at the Hil­ton Grand Va­ca­tions. He tried to sleep on the pull-out couch, but he could only stare at the tele­vi­sion as de­tails of the shoot­ing emerged in the news. Within the day, the death toll would climb to 58, along with the shooter, who had taken his own life.

***

Dan even­tu­ally found him­self at the Hoot­ers Ho­tel, stay­ing there only for about an hour be­fore his sis­ter, a Las Ve­gas res­i­dent, picked him up some time be­fore the sun came up.

They drove to Sun­rise Hos­pi­tal. They searched for Susan for about a half hour, but they could not find her.

After they left the hos­pi­tal, Susan made con­tact. She bor­rowed a se­cu­rity guard’s cell­phone at the nearby Howard John­son ho­tel and called Dan’s sis­ter.

From there, they picked up Jake and even­tu­ally made their way back to De­lano Las Ve­gas, where they had been stay­ing.

It was mid-morn­ing when the fam­ily fi­nally re­united, nearly 12 hours after the shoot­ing. Eric and Alexa went through a walk­way from Man­dalay Bay to the De­lano where their par­ents and brother were wait­ing on the other side.

Alexa rushed to her fa­ther, fell into his arms and be­gan to cry.

Eric walked to­ward his mother. She still seemed to be in shock. So was he. He hugged her tight. It was the first time he felt a sense of relief since the shoot­ing.

Jake wanted to com­fort his lit­tle brother. But he could not find the words. He stood off to the side of his fam­ily, speech­less.

The fam­ily went up to the room. They sat to­gether and prayed. But every time Jake closed his eyes the same haunt­ing im­age from the night reap­peared.

He saw the face of the wo­man who had fallen next to him when the shoot­ing be­gan, her brown eyes star­ing back at him.

Epi­logue

Eric spent the rest of the day after the shoot­ing scour­ing the in­ter­net, try­ing to track down Nick. Even­tu­ally it worked and the two fi­nally made con­tact. Alexa and Jeremiah have kept in touch. Susan thinks al­to­gether, the fam­ily has found at least eight peo­ple they met that night.

But Dan still has ques­tions about the wo­man he tried keep­ing awake as she was be­ing car­ried off on a makeshift stretcher. He is also con­cerned about the man who could not move his legs. He won­ders whether ei­ther of them made it. He thinks about them of­ten.

As with the Watkinses, many fes­ti­val­go­ers that night be­came bound to those they had known only mo­ments be­fore the gun­shots rang out. Some found each other later. Others are still search­ing.

Watkins fam­ily

The Watkins chil­dren. From left, Eric, Alexa and Jake.

Watkins fam­ily

The Watkins fam­ily, at Christ­mas in 2015. From left : Jake, Dan, Susan, Alexa and Eric.

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