Las Vegas Survivor: "I Don't Know If I'll Ever Feel Safe Again"

Photo Courtesy of Michaela Gallo.

On Sunday night, a man opened fire at thousands of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. With at least 58 people dead and more than 500 injured, the attack is considered the deadliest U.S. mass shooting in recent history. Michaela Gallo, a 26-year-old from Orange County, CA, was at the festival when the attack took place. This is her experience, as told to Andrea González-Ramírez.

My friend Michalynn and I were having the time of our lives. We'd been planning to go to the Route 91 Harvest Festival for eight months. The night before, friends who are part of a band made our dreams come true by inviting us to join them on stage for their set. I can't even explain the high we were on.

We had just walked backstage when I heard what I assumed was firecrackers going off. That’s really stupid. Why is someone lighting up fireworks in a crowd like this? I thought to myself. It even smelled like fireworks. But then I realized that the smell was actually gunpowder. Whispers spread through the crowd: Those are gunshots.

Jason Aldean stopped performing mid-song and ran off stage. Bullets ricocheted off of the metal equipment. We fled, seeking cover behind a nearby tour bus. I lost track of Michalynn. A man running towards me fell to the ground just five feet away. I thought he had tripped, but then I saw the blood: he had been shot in the leg. Someone called for a belt to use as a tourniquet. I took mine off and I threw it in their direction. We kept running. I ducked underneath another bus, waiting for the gunfire to stop. But it kept coming. It went on for about 20 minutes in all. It didn’t even sound real — it sounded like a videotape.

Eventually, someone yelled Run to the buses! I was already next to a bus, so I wasn’t really sure what they were talking about. But I followed the crowd and sprinted ahead. A girl running alongside me was shot in the neck. She fell to the ground. I don't know what happened to her.

Photo Courtesy of Michaela Gallo.

I ended up crouched down next to an amazing guy who grabbed my hand and tried to calm me down. Look at me, look at me. It’s going to be okay, he said. My phone had died, but his still had power. I didn’t have Michalynn’s number memorized, but I know my mom’s by heart. I called her and told her that there was an active shooter and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I just wanted to tell her that I loved her. I couldn’t say much more. I told her that I would call as soon as I got to safety and asked her to try to get in touch with Michalynn if she could.

It turned out the guy with the phone was the bass guitarist for Luke Combs, one of the performers at the festival. His name was Delaney. When the coast was clear, Delaney brought me to their bus and introduced me to a production manager named Todd and the bus driver, Chase. There were probably 30 of us inside in all, just waiting for word it was safe to leave. They asked everyone if we were hungry and gave us coffee, water, clothes, whatever we needed while we waited for the all clear. If I can take something out of this that is good it was seeing the love and outpouring of help that people were willing to give to complete strangers.

Throughout all this, I still had no idea what happened to Michalynn. When I finally reached her, she said she was safe, seeking shelter in an apartment complex. When they were evacuated, she came to find me on the bus. I looked at the window and I saw her running towards us. We hugged and cried.

For hours, we had no idea what was going on. Someone had a police scanner, but the chatter was total chaos. We didn’t leave the bus until 8 a.m. in the morning. It was surreal walking around the Strip in someone else’s pajama pants and our cowboy boots. It was dead quiet — I’ve never seen it that quiet before. There were no taxis, no Ubers, no one was allowed in because it was all a crime scene. We couldn’t even go back to our hotel because it was all blocked off. The driver of the tour bus offered to drop us as close as he could.

I’m so thankful that Luke Combs’ band took us in, and that Delaney, Todd, and Chase showed us so much support. Honestly, I don’t know where I would be without them. I’m very lucky that we got out unharmed when so many didn’t. So many people are still looking for their loved ones right now.

I don't know if I'll ever feel safe again at a major event like this. I’m torn. On one hand, I’m absolutely terrified: One minute, I was going through an experience that was supposed to be fun and then the next, escaping, running for my life. But on the other hand, I don’t want to let fear win. I don’t want to let the shooter win by saying I’m not going to have fun, that I’m not going to make memories with the people that I love because he made me scared.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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