‘Lucky to be alive’: Toronto woman recounts running for her life during Las Vegas shooting
A Toronto woman says she made the decision to run for her life after a lone gunman opened fire on a crowd of thousands of concertgoers at an outdoor music festival on the Las Vegas Strip Sunday night.
Las Vegas police responded to a call of an active shooter near the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino just after 10 p.m. local time. Country music star Jason Aldean was performing at the end of the three-day Route 91 Harvest Festival when the gunman opened fire across the street from the 32nd floor hotel room.
“The first round of shots happened and no one really knew what it was or where it was coming from and your first reaction is you think it’s fireworks, you think it’s some type of celebration,” Heather Graham, 32, told Global News Monday.
“As soon as we saw Jason Aldean get taken off the stage really quickly that’s when everyone dropped to the ground.”
VIDEO: Dramatic cell phone footage shows moment of Las Vegas shooting, chaos
Police said Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, opened fire on about 22,000 people before police stormed the hotel room perched above the strip and found the suspect dead. At least 58 people were killed, including two Canadians, and more than 500 injured in the attack.
Graham said a friend jumped on top of her as terrified concertgoers stayed on the ground to avoid the gunfire.
“People were actually begging me to stay,” she said. “And after the first round happened we heard a pause for a minute and I just took that time and I ran.”
Police said the suspect had access to at least 10 rifles in his hotel room. On Monday, officers searched Paddock’s home in Mesquite, about 140 kilometres from Las Vegas.
Police shut down Las Vegas Boulevard and authorities from across state and federal ranks converged onto the scene as dozens of ambulances ferried those struck by gunfire. Nearby Interstate 15 and flights at McCarran International Airport were also halted.
Graham said one of her girlfriend’s is currently in surgery with bullet fragments in her hand and a bullet lodged in her back, while another hid under the stage and survived.
“It’s definitely one of the scariest things I’ve ever gone through in my entire life,” she said.
“You don’t know where you’re running, if you’re running in a good place or if you’re running into more danger — you just don’t know at that time because no one knew where anything was coming from.”
Graham said the sound of gunfire was “constant” and “nonstop” and when it did finally end it was because the suspect was reloading.
“I was trying to stay down on the ground but I also knew that if someone was coming and shooting anywhere, wherever they were coming from, sitting in one spot I didn’t think was going to be a good idea,” she said.
“I just knew if I was going to die, I was going to die running. And I ran, and I didn’t stop until I got to my car … It was scary at first because you don’t know if you’re running to an area that there could be someone else waiting there at the other end.”
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Graham said she then found one of her girlfriends, whom she attended the concert with, waiting by her car.
“And then we hugged each other, we cried, and I looked at her and I’m like, ‘We need to get the hell out of here — right now.’ And we drove home,” she said.
“I’m very happy that we’ve accounted for all of our friends that we were with.”
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Graham said she attends country music festivals all the time and “no one would expect it” to happen there.
“It’s just sad, you hear about these things all the time and you never think it’s going to happen somewhere where you actually are — and it did, I was front row,” she said.
“It’s scary and it sometimes makes me question why I’m still here. But you have to just keep moving forward, right? Letting this affect you any more than it already has — he’s winning. So you just have to just kind of move on with your life and do what you can to just continue living.”
During a Monday press conference, the FBI said Paddock had no connection to an international terrorist group after the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack without providing evidence.
Global News confirmed at least two Canadians were killed and two others were injured in Sunday’s shooting.
Global Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland said in Question Period the government is working with U.S. officials to identify any Canadians hurt in the attack.
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Jordan McIldoon, 23, a construction worker from Maple Ridge, B.C. was identified as one of the victims early Monday morning.
Jessica Klymchuk, 28, an educational assistant, librarian and bus driver from Edmonton, Alta., was identified Monday afternoon.
On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump condemned the attack as an “act of pure evil.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the “senseless and cowardly act of violence.”
Among those killed were two off-duty police officers who were attending the concert. Two other on-duty officers were wounded, including one who is in critical condition, police said.
Sunday’s shooting came more than four months after a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, that killed 22 people. Almost 90 people were killed by gunmen inspired by Islamic State at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris during a performance by Eagles of Death Metal in November 2015.
The attack is the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. In 2016, a gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub.
Graham said her heart goes out to those killed and injured during the shooting and she is just trying to “keep going forward” after the traumatic event.
“I’m lucky to be alive, I’m very happy I ran, I’m happy I had that natural instinct to move and not stay put — every second counted at that time,” she said.
“I can’t say that I won’t ever go to another one again because I’m a big country fan and I love live music but it definitely makes you wonder — are you ever really safe?”
With files from Tom Hayes, Adam Frisk and The Associated Press
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