It was just 11 minutes — roughly the length of three country singles. But that window of time ended 58 lives, and changed countless others.
Nearly five years have passed, but the effects of the mass shooting at Las Vegas’ Route 91 Harvest festival on Oct. 1, 2017, continues to reverberate. SiriusXM host Storme Warren, who was the MC at the concert, maintains a “text message relationship” with a trauma therapist who works with the Navy SEALS. Jason Aldean and Dee Jay Silver, who were among the artists who performed that day, admit to bouts of survivor’s guilt. And hundreds of people move through their lives with scars from the attack, such as concertgoer Natalie Grumet, whose visibly resewn left jaw is a daily reminder that the paramedics doubted she would make it after her teeth were blown out.
“They said that it looked like a grenade had gone off from the inside of my mouth,” she recalls in 11 Minutes, a new four-part documentary. “You could see the gums and teeth and bones and chin sticking out, and I’m trying to not pass out, keep it together.”
11 Minutes, premiering on Paramount+ on Tuesday (Sept. 27), recounts the horror of that surprisingly short torrent of bullets, the bravery of Las Vegas police who thought they might die — but attempted to bring down the killer anyway — and the long-tail aftermath, including both unimaginable loss and survivors’ unexpected new friendships.
“People were genuinely involved in taking care of other people, and to a degree that I couldn’t fathom,” Warren says. “The friendships that were made that night are undeniable. And they were made for a reason.”
The documentary is not easy to watch. A surprising amount of live footage from the night — gathered from the Las Vegas police, local CBS affiliate KLAS-TV and ticket-holders’ cellphones — captures the popping sounds and the confusion, the blood and the bodies strewn across the bowl, in great detail. And it reveals that Aldean’s bassist, Tully Kennedy, likely owes his life to the instrument that provides his paycheck.
“Had he not been wearing that bass, the bullet would have hit him in the gut, for sure,” Aldean says on camera.
Executive producer Susan Zirinsky has seen terror before. She worked on a 9/11 documentary and covered the 1982 war in the Falkland Islands and the 1991 Gulf War. Despite the destruction levied in those kinds of events, the worst behavior by a minority of people can bring out the best in the majority, and she felt it was important for 11 Minutes to highlight that resilience, along with the gut-wrenching parts of the story.
“We’re at a point in our society where people talk about division and divisiveness,” she says. “There were 20,000 people at that concert, and it was all about saving people to the right and to the left. It didn’t matter who you were, what religion you were, what political party you were, what color you were. It was stripping men and women down to their basic humanity.”
Concerts tend to unite people, but it doesn’t work that way for everyone. In one of the most difficult storylines of 11 Minutes, concertgoer Jonathan Smith — a Black man who was raised in Los Angeles’ South Central neighborhood — reveals that a fellow attendee confronted him at the start of the festival, saying: “I didn’t know your kind liked this music.” So it stung when Big & Rich led the crowd in a round of “God Bless America.”
“There was a little irony in it, considering it’s this uplifting, patriotic song,” Smith says onscreen, “and I just had somebody tell me I didn’t belong here.”
Smith successfully escaped the venue when the shooting began, but went back in the bowl to help lift others over a wall to safety. He was shot in the neck but survived, and is recognized at a reunion by some of his fellow attendees as a hero. But his tale ties in two major issues in country music: Decision-makers in the genre are attempting to make country more inclusive, and the business is facing significantly greater security costs, along with fears of a repeat disaster.
The movie doesn’t offer any solutions — “This is not an advocacy film,” Zirinsky notes — but it’s hard not to recognize that the financial, emotional and human costs are borne mostly by the majority. Bump stocks were banned, and a recent Congressional act placed some incremental limits on gun access.
“I thought that things were going to change. I honestly did,” says Jennifer Simms, a Sunrise Hospital nurse who helped treat Smith’s wounds, during the film’s final minutes. “You wonder how many victims there have to be in order for laws to be changed.”
In addition to the 58 who died in Las Vegas, 869 were wounded, and 11 Minutes painstakingly devotes six minutes of the end credits to a list of the American cities that have suffered mass shootings in the last five years — including El Paso and Uvalde, Texas; Highland Park, Ill.; and Nashville — and naming every victim.
“That was the hardest part for me,” Warren says. “I wasn’t expecting it. And when I saw that scroll, I’m just like, ‘Oh, God, it’s still going?’”
While elected officials haven’t found a solution, 11 Minutes is a reminder that many ordinary Americans rise to the occasion when called. Heroism, in fact, is often revealed under the most dire circumstances.
“Tragedy does bring out extraordinary things in people,” says Zirinsky. “You never know how you’re going to react.”