LAS VEGAS — Two country singers on the bill at the Route 91 Harvest Festival have described a scene of terror that felt like a “war zone” as a shooter in a Las Vegas hotel rained gunfire down on thousands of music fans.
Police said at least 58 people died and at least 515 people were injured during the shooting Sunday. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Country singer Tyler Reeve says he was backstage when a volley of shots rang out Sunday night during a performance by Jason Aldean. He and other singers took cover in a trailer while bullets struck tour buses, equipment cases and the stage.
SWAT teams using explosives stormed the gunman’s hotel room in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino and found he had killed himself, authorities said. The attacker, Stephen Craig Paddock, a 64-year-old retiree from Mesquite, Nevada, had 16 rifles and a handgun, they said.
“I don’t think many people realized right away what it was, but right when I heard it, I grabbed my buddy that was next to me and started running toward a production trailer,” Reeve told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday from Las Vegas.
Reeve and others lay down on the trailer floor and turned all the lights off.
“As we were lying in this trailer, I was thinking, ‘This can’t really be happening,’ and it just went on and on. I can’t even describe the feeling, just absolute terror,” Reeve said.
After about 45 minutes, Reeve and his friends left the trailer and ran through the streets to the MGM Grand Casino.
“It was just shoes and clothing and blood and bodies,” Reeve said. “It was a war zone.”
Dylan Schneider, another singer who also performed Sunday, says he was watching Aldean’s performance near the front of the stage when he heard what he initially thought were fireworks. But as the shooting continued he and his manager ran for cover under nearby bleachers.
“On top of the bleachers all you heard was banging,” Schneider said in a phone interview Monday from Las Vegas. “People running around and everybody screaming.”
He said the crowd scattered in all directions, unsure of where the gunfire was coming from.
“No one knew what to do,” he said. “It was literally running for your life and you don’t know what decision is the right one.”
From under the bleachers, he said he could see people lying on the grass. Schneider said he and his manager ran to the Tropicana Hotel and Casino where they spent several hours in a convention room with hundreds of other people.
“I just feel so terrible that this had to happen at something that was supposed to be a good time,” Schneider said. “I am thinking of all the families. I know what it’s like to wonder where that person is, or wonder what is going on, cause we were doing that ourselves.”
Josh Abbott, the lead singer of the Josh Abbott Band, had also performed that day and went back his hotel room in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, a few floors below where police found the attacker dead.
“I had just left and was in the Mandalay Bay on the 20th floor with my fiancee during the shooting just a few floors away,” Abbott said in a statement. “The band & crew were on the concert grounds and saw people get shot. Some of my crew members were hit with shrapnel, but not injured. We are deeply disturbed by this horrific act of violence and send our thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families. It was a long awful night but we are blessed to be alive and healthy. Hug your loved ones tight.”
Caleb Keeter, a guitarist for the Josh Abbott Band, posted a statement on Twitter about his reaction to the shooting.
“I have been a proponent of the 2nd Amendment my entire life,” Keeter wrote. “Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was.”
Keeter said while members of their crew had legal firearms on their bus, they didn’t want to be mistaken for attackers.
Keeter said the attacker “laid waste to a city with dedicated, fearless police officers desperately trying to help, because of access to an insane amount of fire power. Enough is enough.”
Reeve said he doesn’t want this shooting to stop other musicians from performing or fans to stop going to concerts.
“I know the music community will survive and we all love each other and we’re strong,” Reeve said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to get through it together.”
Duo Big & Rich played the festival about 90 minutes before the shooting and did not witness the carnage. They said the shooting would undoubtedly bring changes to concert venues, but it wasn’t going to alter their immediate plans, which include playing a show in Phoenix on Tuesday.
“One thing that is not going to change is we are going to continue to get on the stages and we’re going to continue to go out there and do what we do. We are not going to let the fear overcome us,” Big Kenny said.
“We are not going to stop what we do,” John Rich said. “I mean the whole point of these guys when they blow up concerts or start shooting people at concerts or whatever their devilish ideas are that they do, their whole point is to smash us down into a corner where we’ll stop doing what we do.
“While I think grief and mourning is all that I’m feeling right now, we do know that down the road this guy does not win,” Rich said. “We don’t let this guy win.”