As gunshots fired down upon the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas during Jason Aldean‘s set on Oct. 1, concertgoers went from having the time of their lives to running for their lives. At least 59 people died and 527 sustained injuries in what has become the largest mass shooting in United States history. The people who survived won’t be forgetting those who didn’t.
Morgan Starnes, 23, social media manager for a Vegas PR firm and recent graduate of the University of Oregon, was enjoying the concert with a friend that night. Here, she recounts her terrifying experience to correspondent Adrienne Gaffney.
I had gone to the concert with one of my best friends from college. We were actually supposed to go in a bigger group, but tickets to the concert sold out really fast so a lot of people who were planning on going were unable to get their hands on tickets because they were being sold at a major upcharge. So it was just the two of us.
When you’re in an environment like that everyone’s really friendly and you make friends with a bunch of different people. On Saturday night we met these two girls and ended up going out with them later in the night and meeting up with one of their friends after the concert had ended. We met up with them again on Sunday. Right after Jake Owen went off, a couple of us had to use the restroom so we left and two of them moved up a little bit further in the crowd. We came back for Jason Aldean and we were unable to find them — we were a little bit behind them. It was me and my friend Kat, who I had come with originally, and one of the girls we had met the night before.
I don’t know how many songs he was into his set. I kept hearing two or three on the news, but I think it was maybe like the fourth song into his set. The song had just started. We were just having the time of our lives. I was taking all my Snapchats that wouldn’t send through because I didn’t have service. And all of the sudden we hear like pop pop pop pop pop. I thought it was cherry bombs. I initially thought it was part of his set — I was like, oh, that’s fancy that he has fireworks. Then we thought it was cherry bombs because we didn’t really see any lights or anything like that. There was just a lot of confusion and he kept singing for probably at least 10 seconds, and then all of a sudden I’m looking up on the stage and the screen blacks out and he drops his guitar and runs off of the stage.
We weren’t right by the stage, but the way the concert’s set up is there’s a stage and then there’s a standing pit where everyone’s standing listening to the music, and then farther back there’s people kind of cruising around, there’s chairs. We were in the standing area, maybe 30 feet from the stage. So were in the mix of it, people all around me, I’m probably halfway from the back of the standing area to the stage. So we hear all those pops, he runs off the stage and then we start to see smoke and everyone freaks out, and then we hear the pop pop again and everyone drops to the ground screaming. Then we stand up again, there’s just a lot of confusion going on. And then we hear the pops again and we drop again. And then I stood up again and I heard the pops again, and then I dropped again. By the time I was on the ground that time I looked around, and the two girls that I was with, my friend Kat and the girl Ashley that we had met before, they were gone. I had lost my phone. My phone had fallen out in the heat of it, and I had fallen on top of someone who had been shot.
The shots stopped again and I ran for my life. Just all of us started running, screaming, running. I ran away from the strip side over to the parking lot side. And the shots are still going on, and every time they go on we dive to the ground, like I dove into rocks. Then I finally get to the cars, and every time the pops are going on we’re hiding behind cars. I’m all by myself and I’m just holding on to these groups of people, holding on to random people. Huddled behind cars, like 10 of us just huddled together. I just kept hearing, “When you hear the shots, drop, when you don’t hear the shots, run.” And I just kept repeating that to myself, so I just kept running.
I finally found a girl that was by herself [Megan] as well and I kind of just grabbed onto her and we ran through the parking lot. So many fences had been torn down, so we’re just running through fences, and someone had broken through a glass wall or broken through a thicker fence and we ran onto the airport runway. We ran through a bunch of private planes. The festival was close to the airport, and close to that airport is a section for the private planes to land. We ran onto the runway and at that point there are a ton of us on the runway, but we had kind of separated out so we’re kind of all just running amok, all over the place.
This girl that I’m with, we finally see a car. He’s patrolling the runway, we flag him down and he drives up to us and he is screaming at us. He’s like, “We have a plane about to land, what the fuck are you doing?” Thinking that we broke onto the runway. Like what are you crazy people doing, what are you drunk people doing? Just so mad at us. And we did not say anything, we just hopped in his car. He is radioing to whoever he can and is like there’s people on the runway somehow. I don’t think he really understood what was going [on]. We’re just in a state of panic. I don’t know what I said to him but we were like, “There’s a shooting, we are not the only ones on this runway.” Finally he stopped his car and people just swarmed to the car. There’s probably like 30 of us gathered around this car. A couple more people hopped inside.
I wasn’t crying at that point because I was just in such a state of shock. Everyone is around this car, in the car, and maybe 10 minutes later someone came over. It was some kind of Allegiant [Air] headquarters. He was like, “You’re going to head straight towards that door,” so we all headed into this locked building. They gave us food, they gave us water, just tables to sit at. We were in there probably for 30 minutes. People are covered in blood that’s not their own. Everyone’s just so panicked, and this girl probably got five of us together and started saying a prayer. I’m not religious at all, but that was when I lost it, that was when I started crying.
Finally they had some buses come get us from the airport rental car area. So we all boarded buses and those buses took us to the airport. We get off the buses and go into the airport because we don’t know what else to do. I mean, we can’t call a taxi or anything like that. We’re running around the airport in obviously something no one would wear to an airport, I have dirt and blood on me and we’re hysterical. Everyone’s getting off their planes with their suitcases and is like “La di da di da…” no idea what is going on.
I used the girl that I was with’s phone to call my parents and my parents were actually able to go get my friend that I was with before they were able to get me. [It was] probably like an hour before they were able to get me. So they had gone to pick her up and let me know that she was safe with them. Then they finally came to pick me and the girl that I was with up at the airport probably two hours after it had happened. Two hours later I finally saw my parents. I told the girl that I was with, who was staying at Mandalay Bay, I was like, ‘Just stay at my house tonight.’
In the midst of it I used her phone to I think try to call my mom, but my mom’s phone number is one different from mine so I called my phone number. One of the girls I was with, not my friend Kat but the girl that I had met the day before, Ashley, had picked up my phone when it dropped on the ground, somehow. She had my phone and she answered. She had been staying at the Excalibur [and] had made it back there, and when I called her she told me that the girl she had been with, that we had met on Saturday night, her best friend, had been shot.
I obviously didn’t sleep at all that night. I took Kat to the airport in the morning. I took Megan back once we had heard that the Mandalay Bay had opened up. The police escorted her back to the hotel. Shortly after that I went to go pick up Ashley, and she and I drove to hospital to visit her friend Shelby, the one who had been shot.
I was at the hospital all day yesterday. Last I heard there were still 33 people in critical condition at the hospital that we were at [the concert]. It’s been by far the worst day of my life and I know of so, so, so many people’s lives. The support that I received from so many people around me, that’s what’s going to help us get through this. Through this and all of the dark days ahead. We’re just so lucky to be alive. We’re so blessed.
One of my friends texted me and was talking about how brave I was, but I’m not brave at all. I ran for my life. Other people stayed to help people who were injured and were dying. I’m just trying to keep it all in perspective. It’s just really, really, really hard. I still haven’t really slept that much and I haven’t really eaten that much. I’ll just get waves and I’ll just start crying.
When we saw Shelby yesterday, she’s in pain, obviously. She’s in good spirits. It’s hard. [The bullet] hit her in the bicep and the force of it broke her arm and her collarbone. She’s been waiting for surgery, but since she’s in stable condition she’s not a top priority, especially since they’re so understaffed. I heard that they had signed a waiver allowing doctors from out of state to come over to Las Vegas with all that’s going on. I don’t really know how that’s going to work.
She was supposed to have surgery at 11 a.m. this morning, and I talked to Ashley and she told me that they were postponing it and that she might not even have surgery. That they might just heal her as best they can and leave the bullet in, and I could not imagine that. That made me sick to my stomach. Obviously it’s already a part of us and engrained in us forever based on what we went through, but I couldn’t imagine physically having a bullet from this lodged in me.
We’re all just shaken to our core. I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to the way we used to be, as carefree as I used to be, when something like this happens. But however we cope and however we heal we’ll become our new normal. We have no choice but to just pick up and go on. But it’s really hard, and I just think about the people who weren’t as lucky as I was.
I met a girl at Stagecoach earlier this year, which is another country music festival. We went in the same group to Stagecoach, and I forgot that she had gone to Route 91. She texted me in the middle of the night on Sunday. A guy who was shot fell on her and her sister and she was covered in blood. She doesn’t think that he made it. It’s so hard to think about someone that could have saved your life but lost theirs. So she’s having a really hard time with it, and I couldn’t imagine that. I think about the woman that I fell on who was shot. It’s unfathomable.
I received so many messages of support, so many people that are praying for us and just sending love and well wishes. It really makes you realize how much people care about you, and even when horrible things like this happen how much good there is in the world. So many people put their lives in jeopardy — all the first responders and concertgoers that stayed to help people out who were hurt.
It’s going to take a really long time. This city is really shaken. I’m from here, this is my hometown. You see things on TV but you never think it’s going to be you. You never going to think it’s going to be your home. It’s so terrifying.