Ben Carey is a former member of the bands Savage Garden and Lifehouse who currently plays in the country-tinged southern rock band Elvis Monroe, which performed at the first edition of the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas four years ago. On Oct. 1, the night of the mass shooting during a Jason Aldean performance at the festival that killed 59 people and injured more than 500 others, Carey was in attendance as a fan alongside best friend and bandmate Bryan Hopkins, and was in the crowd when the shooting began. Here, Carey tells the story of his frantic flight to get away, the chaos of the situation as it unfolded and the aftermath of an unthinkable tragedy.
Ben Carey: We were hanging backstage and we went out front, about 50 yards from the stage, to watch the show. Jason [Aldean] had been on stage about 20 minutes — he was approaching his fifth or sixth song — when we heard two shots, crack-crack, that none of us paid attention to. I kind of tapped Bryan and said, “The pyro didn’t work.” We’re there celebrating music, you’re not thinking it’s a gunshot. Maybe five seconds later there was another burst, and I thought, “What kind of idiot would bring firecrackers to a festival?” And then I realized it wasn’t firecrackers.
At that point, Jason Aldean ran offstage. The gentleman in front of me fell; I looked to my left and two girls went down, one motionless on top of the other; and I grabbed Bryan’s arm and screamed, “Run!” I immediately turned and headed for a friend’s wife, but she wasn’t there; I was going diagonal to the traffic of the herd and I got knocked over, got up, turned around and I couldn’t see Bryan. I started running with the crowd, otherwise I was going to get knocked over.
We got funneled between VIP and the beer tent backstage, which is about eight feet wide, so it’s like a herd of cattle being funneled. I’m heading toward the side of the venue, but we got pinned up against the security fence as the people trying to escape are piling up. I yelled, “We have to break the fence!” As many guys as I could see, 20 or 30, we all jumped together on it and flattened it with the power of people. And at that point everyone spilled out onto the street.
I was jogging, trying to make a plan. I couldn’t see Bryan, and the gunfire was going crazy. To my left, there was a squad car with an officer in combat gear with a rifle, and about 20 or 30 people huddled on their knees as tight as they could be behind the car against his back. I saw people falling, the bullets flying and ricocheting; you could hear the high-pitched whistle as they flew by. So I started running.
Nobody knew where the bullets were coming from, they just knew people were getting shot. The horror of it was, I was waiting for a bullet. I was running zigzag because that seemed to make the most sense to not get shot. A parking lot on the left was relatively empty and a guy was screaming at me, “Get down, get down!” and I dove into the gutter and buried myself as close as I could under the concrete. That did not feel good; I felt like a sitting duck.
I scaled the six foot fence next to the parking lot and ran like an Olympian when there was a break and the shooter went to reload. I was trying to put as much distance between me and the noise. I called my girl and said, “There’s a shooter, I’m running, I love you.” Cut through another fence, jumped that and ran out onto Tropicana Avenue and into the MGM lobby, trying to reassess the situation. Someone ran into the lobby screaming, “Shooter!” and the hotel went into pandemonium, a stampede of people, and I ran down the concourse toward the arena.
In my mind — even though people were tripping and falling, cell phones flying everywhere — they were getting shot. I ran to the end of the alleyway and had a decision to make, left or right. Everyone was going to the Signature so I went to the pool — I figured I was getting myself away from the crowd, and the shooter would be aiming for the crowd — so I jumped that fence and ran all the way to the Harmon and was able to call and tell my girl I made it out. We called a friend at the Mandarin and I ran across and went up to his condo and collapsed.
It didn’t really set in how far I’d run, or what I’d escaped, what the sounds really were, until the next day. It’s just pure luck that it didn’t hit myself or my best friend. Bryan has a distinctly different version of the events; he went in a different direction and ended up in a freezing container backstage. We’re both extremely lucky. We don’t have unique stories; there’s 22,000 other people who dealt with this tragedy. Some of us were extremely lucky, some of us were not. I’m fortunate to be breathing, to come home to my family.
My whole career, 20-plus years, I’ve been in those situations [performing on stage]. I just can’t believe how poor Jason must be feeling. It was an unbelievably humbling, surreal experience. It was horrific. It’s life-changing. It’s something I’ll never forget. I’m in decent shape for an old guy, but my girl looked at the timeline from when I called her to when I got to [my friend’s condo] and she was like, “Oh my god, you ran fast.” I mean, like my life depended on it — literally. For the first time in my life, the reality of the saying “fight or flight” — I truly never understood the meaning of “fight or flight” until [that night]. Not even when it was happening.
I went by Mandalay Bay yesterday and took pictures of their windows. I don’t want to lose the focus on what is important, and that’s the families that lost people, the families of the injured people. The rest of the stuff is out of our control.