Coronavirus

Route 91 Survivor Mike Cronk On His Best Friend's Shooting, Being Labeled A 'Crisis Actor'

Mike Cronk, Route 91
Courtesy of Mike Cronk

Cronk (right) and McIntosh at Route 91 on Sept. 29.

"I'm a part of history. I would rather not have been a part of history."

His best friend was shot, a stranger died beside him -- and then conspiracy theorists labeled 48-year-old Mike Cronk, a retired teacher from Tok, Alaska, a “crisis actor."

This was my third year at the Route 91 Harvest festival. Sept. 30 is my birthday, so Saturday got a little blurry. We didn't drink on Sunday, which probably saved the life of my friend Rob [McIntosh, 52, of North Pole, Alaska].

On Sunday, Rob and I were up front. The first shots went off and sounded like speakers crackling. I hunt, I know what gunfire sounds like, but at a concert, you’re not thinking, “Bullets?” As soon as the second round hit, Rob was shot. I looked over, and he’s got these big blood spots on his shirt. I have a picture of me lying over Rob, looking at Mandalay Bay [Resort and Casino] -- I knew where the shots were coming from, but there was nothing you could do. In Alaska, out in the woods, we have a lot of bears, but I have a gun, so there’s a sense that I can protect myself. This is probably the first time in my life where I felt helpless.

At that moment, there were so many things we didn’t know. I got a security guard to help me move Rob, and then he ran off to help someone else. So now we’re trying to figure out where he’s bleeding. But Rob’s a tough guy, so he’s like, “I feel a bullet hole, and my fingers are in it.” By now, three other people are with us; we put shirts in his wound and told him not to move.

The fifth or sixth round of shots, some guy told us to get Rob over the fence and [take cover] under the stage. I jumped over, got Rob over, and we slid him under the stage. Then we carried him to the back, where there was a [utility] cart with a guy, who brought Rob to a triage area.

That was like a war zone. It was utter chaos. People were just losing their minds.

As Rob’s lying there on a table, I noticed blood coming out of his left arm. We had thought he was hit three times, but he had turned as he was shot and the bullet entered his right pec, exited, re-entered his left, exited and was lodged in his arm. We had to get him to the hospital.

But there were no ambulances, so we carried him into the middle of a road. There’s a truck in the street with wounded, so we were like, “Let’s get him in here and get him to the hospital.” We jumped in, and Rob’s lying next to this young kid, Quinton [Robbins, a 20-year-old from Henderson, Nev.]. We take off, but can’t go anywhere. Cops kept stopping us: “You can’t go down there! Active shooter!”

We had wounded, and we’re stuck in traffic.

Finally, we drove over the median, all bouncing around, down another road. An ambulance was on the outskirts, so I screamed, “We have wounded!” It pulled over, and we got Rob and Quinton in there. But there’s also a lady hit in the thigh really bad -- she was not looking good -- so I was holding Quinton’s hand and the paramedic asked me, “Can you help me get him out of here?” I was like, “Oh? OK.” I end up sitting on the sidewalk with Quinton, and he’s gone. He died. Rob’s gone away in the ambulance. It was so surreal, I couldn’t even cry.

The guy with the truck came over, checked Quinton’s pulse and shook his head. I’m like, “I know.” He goes, “I’m not going to leave him here. I’m going to take him to the hospital.”

So I pretty much just sat there, shirtless -- I had given mine to Rob. All this stuff was going through my mind. I wandered over to a corner gas station and sat on a rock. There’s a news crew and [TV reporter] Matt Gutman from ABC. He starts talking to me because I was just there. That’s how the TV interviews started.

I guess because I didn’t cry in them, people decided I was a “crisis actor.” To this day, Google my name and people all over the world claim I’m a “crisis actor” -- “one of the best.” But I was interviewed within an hour of getting Rob in the ambulance. I was still numb. Right before I did an interview with [ABC’s] George Stephanopoulos, I got a text saying that Rob was definitely going to be OK, so I was actually smiling -- I was so happy because my friend was not going to die.

A day or two later, I made a public Facebook post saying that Rob had made it through his surgeries. That’s when I first saw the conspiracy stuff -- strangers saying Rob and I made the whole thing up. I had to shut my phone off. It was nonstop. Then we posted a picture of Rob, me and his son in the hospital and these self-appointed medical experts -- I’m obviously being sarcastic -- attacked Rob, saying, “There’s no way he’s shot.” That’s probably what pissed me off the most. After that, it never stopped.

I’m pretty thick-skinned, but I’m human, and it hurt. Initially, I was going to respond and tell them where to go. But once I realized these people were crazy -- that made it easier.

Coming back to Alaska was hard. I was thankful I retired from teaching in May. I don’t think it would have been possible to go back. At first, I didn’t want to be around people. There would be things I would want to do -- my former students were in a basketball tournament, for example -- so I’d shower, dress up, start my truck and sit there. And I couldn’t go. By then, everybody had seen me on TV, and I couldn’t deal with getting hugged 800 times. I appreciated people’s concerns, I truly did, but at that time, I didn’t want to relive it over and over again.

That security guard who first helped me? He actually got killed. I didn’t know that until I watched the Country Music Association Awards [tribute] like a month-and-a-half later. I was like, “Whoa, no, stop -- turn back. That’s his face.”

The Parkland [Fla.] shooting really hit home. I taught for 25 years, and [the victims] were students. That was a situation where all the signs were there and the government that’s supposed to protect us did nothing. I’m a gun guy -- and I believe we can do things to make it harder for bad people to get guns -- but mental illness will play a big part in our future. The Las Vegas guy? He was just out of the blue. He wasn’t online. That’s what hurts the most: [Parkland] was totally preventable.

I saw some [Marjory Stoneman Douglas] students called crisis actors. I’m an adult; I can deal with it. But calling teenagers crisis actors? That’s as low as it gets.

I was texting Rob last night -- he’s doing really well -- and we’re figuring out a time to go back to Vegas and walk through the whole scenario, where we started and where we ended up. We need closure. Quinton’s from there, and I didn’t find out until after I left Vegas who he was. I want to see his family. I told his uncle that if Quinton hadn’t passed away, the young lady hit in the thigh wouldn’t have lived. I truly believe that. His life saved a life.

Now, I have a much greater understanding of what our soldiers go through. I saw utter chaos. I saw triage. I saw people dead and dying. I’m sure they see worse.

I’m part of history. I would rather not have been a part of history. How about something awesome instead?

As told to Camille Dodero. 

This article originally appeared in the April 14 issue of Billboard. 


THE BILLBOARD BIZ
SUBSCRIBER EXPERIENCE

The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.


To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.