Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Three Weeks: How Vegas Has Affected Me

Three weeks have passed since the Las Vegas event that turned 22,000+ lives upside down. More than 22,000 are affected and I hope everyone can see that. It has been a struggle for three weeks to get back to normalcy, and honestly, it's a far cry from that. I am trying to focus on the positive each day. Our lives are not the same they were, nor do I foresee them to change back. The past may be the past, but as it says in Deuteronomy 4:9, 

"But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren." 

In context, I believe God is telling us to never forget so that we learn from what happened and that we do not get complacent. I also believe he wants us to share our experiences so that others can learn, so our children can learn and prepare themselves. 

Kymberli and I were there together in Las Vegas. We were fortunate in that for many reasons. We worked together to get to safety and experienced the worst thing we have ever had to deal with. For those who had spouses, partners, or family at home; life has been difficult for them because they have no one to understand exactly what happened. There are others who want to offer their advice or try to relate, but it's not the same. Those of us who were there are forever bound by the trauma. With that said, we are handling this in different ways. I feel I have many other things I need to do, work on, or complete. I have a very difficult time focusing on Las Vegas each and every day. I want to focus on getting better, getting to the woods, and enjoying nature. I do not want to talk about it all the time. For me, I have good days and bad. Most days I am OK, but I have had quite a few with high anxiety followed by stress. I would never wish this on anyone. It's awful and it is out of my control. So I pray. I try to occupy myself with other things that I love like my family, archery, or hunting. Some days it works and some days not, yet I still try.

Melissa Ramirez

Kymberli handles things much different than I and I am thankful for that too. If she hadn't been so thorough we would not have known that the woman we helped was Melissa Ramirez. Melissa lost their life that night and it breaks my heart every time I think about it. We had not looked at her face, nor had we talked to the two men with her, and Kymberli needed to know who she was. It was eating her up inside. This is the Cliff Notes version, but Kymberli reached out on the Go Country FB Support Forum and through weeks of detective work, others sharing their stories and photos, contact with her familia and the two of us talking, was able to put everything together. We had helped carry Melissa V. Ramirez, a 26-yr old young woman from Southern California. With her assiduity and determination, Kymberli was able to put things together for herself and for Melissa's family. They needed these details as much as Kymberli did. I am glad she was able to do all of that. Personally, because I was there and I was created differently, this makes me more anxious and testy. It's like reliving it over and over - every - single - day. It's also very hard because I want to support my wife and help her get through this, but I also know I need to help myself. I feel selfish when I say that, but healing isn't always easy. To say this is an internal struggle would be an understatement.

My heart goes out to the Ramirez family. May God bless and watch over your family and help you through this. I pray for peace and the time to grieve for you all. I look forward to the day we can meet and learn more about Melissa and the person she was. God has us all here for a reason and I know it will come to light as time goes on. We were bound together for a reason and my faith tells me to trust in God. Indeed, I will do that. We are #VegasStrong and will continue to support each other.

For those of you who have been afraid to call me, email me, or text...please do not be afraid. I'm still Al Quackenbush, lover of the outdoors, hunting, archery, sarcasm, and dumb jokes. In fact, these are the times I could use those the most. It may be hard, but think of it as that mountain in the distance. It looks too tall to climb over and it may be tough, but it's the only way to get to that next mountain.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Route 91 Harvest Festival Shooting in Las Vegas: My Story

I've shared my story a few times, but I wanted to give my full side so you can read exactly what happened from my point of view in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017. Please keep in mind that this is how I remember our experience and that it happened very quickly. I feel that writing this will help me come to terms with things.

Kymberli and I snapped this photo in our resort the night of the shooting. Image copyright Kymberli Quackenbush.

On October 1, 2017, my wife, Kymberli, and I were at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas with some friends. We had enjoyed some great country music and were singing along with Jason Aldean about 100 feet or so from the stage when the first shots rang out. My wife asked if that was real and I shook my head in disbelief because I thought it was either faulty pyrotechnics or sound. When the second barrage of gunfire erupted and Jason ran back down the stage, I told my wife and others around me to get down as we had no idea where the shots were coming from. A larger woman in front of me was extremely scared and didn’t want to go to the ground because she was afraid of not being able to get back up. Another man and I told her she needed to get down for her own safety and that we would help her back up. We were on the ground for a few seconds when more gunfire erupted and we immediately helped her up. Kymberli and I knew we had to get out of there as I realized we were in direct line of fire of the bullets. Only God kept us safe. He kept me completely calm (no idea how that happened) and I went into crisis mode and told my wife to go.

This is the general area where we ran. The mid-section is a blur to me.

Kymberli and I worked great as a team and I am super proud of her. We held hands and I kept my body between hers and the area where the shooting came from. People were falling all around us and at the time I didn’t know if they were shot or going to ground to protect themselves. As I think back at how they were falling, I am saddened to realize they were probably shot. We kept running toward the front corner of the grounds to get to a close exit and to be protected. Kymberli reached out to help some of the fallen and I told her to keep going as we had an eight year old at home we needed to worry about. It was at this point I realized we were both still holding our beers, I dropped mine and I told Kymberli to drop hers as it wasn’t worth it. She immediately dropped hers and headed for the opposite end of the VIP bar. She was great at spotting a barrier. She and I took cover behind the bar when another couple ducked in behind her. Another burst of gunfire that sounded closer, louder, and like it was coming our way. I was convinced there was a shooter inside the area. The other woman asked her man if it was real, he looked at me and asked if it was real. I looked at him and said it was real and that the reports were from an automatic rifle. At this point there had been around 200+ shots. Kymberli asked me what we should do and I said we needed to get out of there and go now. 

Kymberli grabbed my hand and darted for the opening where others had knocked the chain-link fence down. We watched helplessly as a woman fell and her camouflage purse caught inside a window in the fence. Kymberli immediately reached for her and said, ‘We need to help her!’ I saw the threat of being trampled and told her we needed to go and again, that we had an eight year old at home. Just then her friends helped pick her up and we took to the asphalt to get out. I looked up to see a man putting his belt around a persons leg as a tourniquet. The severity of the situation started to hit me.

Image copyright Kymberli Quackenbush.

As we ran I never felt fear. I was surprisingly calm and focused. I can honestly tell you I have no idea where that came from, but that God had intervened. I have zero, and I repeat, ZERO military, tactical, or emergency training. None. I was simply in survival mode and wanted to get my wife to safety. I kept telling people not to panic, don't shove others and simply move far away from the area. As we ran, we were getting further away, but we had the VIP area and food trucks between us and the shooter. It was a small barrier, but a barrier nonetheless. Once it opened, we found a police car where at least four first responders were there shielding people and telling everyone to get down.

We turned right and took off running at a sprint. When we made it to a concrete wall, people were climbing up and scaling it best they could. They were falling all over and there was a chain link fence on the opposite side. Kymberli thought we we have to go over it and I told her to stop. I stopped and stood still to assess the situation. Simply put, it was situational awareness taking over. I calmly told her we needed to find an exit and that we would not be going over the fence. In less than three seconds I saw a break in the fence and pointed saying, ‘There is our exit. Go!’ We got there in a few seconds and two women’ bodies were laying there. Both women were bloody and unconscious and looked to have been shot, but I didn't stop to check. I have no idea how they made it that far. They were not moving except for two people trying to pull one girl through the opening of the fence. People were panicked and shoving and falling over one another. I grabbed a bigger guy by his collar and pulled him back telling him he couldn’t panic. I told everyone that if we didn’t panic and went through calmly we could all make it. It worked as a steady stream of people began through the fence. Kymberli made it through either right before or right after the two people pulled their friend through. I don't remember which was first. She looked at the woman and said, ‘Al, we need to help her! We need to help her!’ I told her, ‘No! We need to get to safety.’ I love my wife and wanted her safe, but I knew she was right. We needed to help these people get their friend to safety. She had a boot on her right leg and nothing on her left but her sock. Her lifeless body was being dragged along the asphalt. I grabbed her right leg, Kymberli her left and we lifted her up with the two others. They never said a word and never asked for help. They were determined to help this person. I looked around and saw the closest protective barrier was a concrete pillar against a building wall. I told everyone we needed to get her there and we moved quickly. We carried the woman to safety behind the pillar. Her friends stayed and yelled for a medic. She was not responsive and we got out of there. We wanted to help more, but again I was reminded of our daughter. The shots continued even after we were out of earshot and we kept moving.

We found a female security worker from the venue who had made it out, but her brother had not. She was very worried and began crying. Kymberli hugged her and said he would be OK. We prayed with her for her bother’s safety and for the others. We reached Koval Lane by the airport and kept moving. We walked to the corner of Koval and Tropicana by Rebel Oil. Kudos to the Rebel Oil manager who offered shelter, water and any assistance we needed. The event security woman (forgot her name) called her mom. Kymberli called her mom to tell her what had happened and that we were OK. We said our goodbyes.

We kept moving and we knew we needed to try and get an Uber back to our resort. We walked toward the MGM and I contacted Uber. We were so fortunate to be able to get an Uber back to our resort before the lockdown. We stayed in the lobby to catch the news and do what we could. We felt safer and knew my mother-in-law and daughter were upstairs safe in our room. We stayed in the lobby because wanted to help others if we could. Kymberli consoled many who had been displaced from their families and were injured from jumping the fences. I spoke with others about the weaponry, safety of others, and watched the events unfold on the news.

There were EMTs (from Alaska) and military personnel in the lobby who offered assistance. The security team on the Wyndham Grand Desert Resort was on point and was awesome. Thank you all!

It was heinous and sickening to be a part of. I am still in disbelief. I thank God for protecting us, our friends and getting us all out safely. Without his protection and guidance I don’t know if we wold have made it. I feel very lucky for us to have made it out without an outward scratch. Inside I am torn up and continuing to pray for those who were injured and for the families of those lost.

I would like to say that the first responders were incredible and were there very quickly. I've never seen a team of LEOs and emergency personnel come together so quickly. Much love and kudos to you and your families for putting yourselves in harms way. Thank you.

Also, to the civilians who sacrificed themselves, put themselves in harms way, and went back in to help others. You guys are awesome and it chokes me up at how you went back to save others. Thank you all! Brave and selfless is how I describe you all. God bless.


Kymberli’s recollection of the night

Having a FANTASTIC time with Al and friends. Jason came out in a great mood, sounded great, and even joked how he wouldn't be dancing like some of those other country artists. About four to five songs in we heard what sounded like fireworks (to me). They kept going and he kept singing and I looked around thinking a pyro act had gone wrong. There was a brief pause and it started again. I could see Jason looking around and I heard the sound of his music start to get lower. I was waiting for him to say something about someone shooting off stuff and start the song over again. That didn't happen. I then heard people yelling "Get down!" and the crowd was like a wave and dropped down. I asked Al if that was gunfire and I cannot remember his answer. I remember everything seemed so quiet. Everyone was confused. Some thought it was gunfire, some said it was fireworks. People could not agree what it was. Then it happened again. We got even lower and I just braced myself. I think I knew it was gunfire at that point, but it was unbelievable at the same time. I couldn't understand how it could be happening. 

As soon as there was a break in the shots, we started to run. I remember holding Al's hand and running, bracing myself thinking I was going to get shot in the back. I remember him saying a couple of times "We have an 8 year old daughter." It was to 1) not have me stop and help everyone which I was starting to do and 2) realize I had to listen to him and try to keep calm. We made it to a bar and hid behind the bar. More shots and they sounded even closer. Al now thinks it was just the echo of the material the bar was made of. Again, I braced myself thinking a bullet was going to ricochet off me. This was the point where I almost could have lost it if it wasn't for Al. He stayed calm and either said "We need to run." or "We need to go." We grabbed hands and went to turn the corner. A girl fell and a bunch of us tried to grab her. When I saw others helping her better from behind, we kept going. 

Then I saw what I felt like might be the end. People were scaling chain link fences. It was mayhem. My mind started racing about how to be careful when it was time to scale the fence. People were falling and getting hurt. People started pushing each other. Al told them to stop pushing and to stay calm. He must have accessed the situation in a hurry because he found is a small opening in the fence to go through - the opposite way of the people scaling the fence. When we got out of that we came across two guys dragging a girl. There was blood everywhere. All I could think about was how scraped up the back of her legs must have been getting and I couldn't watch it anymore. I told Al we needed to help. We each grabbed a leg and her body was so heavy - like lifeless. I didn't look her in the face because I didn't want her to be dead. It kept me distant from the situation in a way. We got her to a building and helped place her there and her friends looked like ghosts and one yelled "Medic!" That's all we could do for her, so we ran again. 

I don't know at what point we took cover behind this police car, but shots were fired again. The amount of shots were unreal. I still couldn't believe this was happening. We got to the street and we're calming down a girl whose brother was still inside. She called her mom, I called my mom. We got across the street to a gas station and they were offering water and shelter. We kept walking to get as far away as possible. We were able to get an Uber before Uber heard what was happening. We came back to our hotel and just sat and comforted people who were hurt or crying. I shared my portable charger with a woman from another hotel. The staff was AMAZING. The first responders were amazing. For the most part, people came together.