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Surviving the Largest Mass Shooting in Modern US History

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

As the main act was about to go on, the crowd in front of the stage began to swell and frenzy with excitement. My sister, Allie, was with me. Everyone was standing shoulder-to-shoulder, spread across the artificial turf that was laid over the pavement. Allie and I had been staggering turns using the restroom throughout the night, so we wouldn’t lose our spot right next to the stage. It was my turn to relieve myself, but I decided to hold-it so that I could hear the opening songs of Jason Aldean’s set. We all sang Guns N’ Roses’  “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” while waiting for him to go on stage. Soon, Jason appeared on stage as the final act for the three-day festival. The crowd screamed.

Allie and I felt the music. This was our moment of serenity, our temporary escape.

We loved the feeling of dancing and singing at the top of our lungs. There was a man to the left of us in a blue shirt and a pair of navy-framed glasses. He didn’t like our singing, which only prompted Allie and I to sing louder and be more exaggerated with our dance moves. A few songs went by, then suddenly a few ‘pop-pop-pop’ sounds went off.

I knew the sound wasn’t fireworks. My mind tried to fathom the idea that firecrackers bought just off the strip had been ignited, but my body told me that it wasn’t.

I felt my heart pound, and when I looked at my sister, there was a sense of knowing. Yet, she said to me, “Fireworks,” and we both agreed, despite how we felt. Jason (ever the showman) looked confused, but continued to sing.

About thirty seconds later, the pops turned into rapid fire. A voice yelled out, “Get on the ground!” We simultaneously dropped, holding our heads as close to the pavement as possible. The man in the blue shirt stretched his arm across us, a gesture that I will never forget. My ears rattled as the gunshots rang out, continuous and unrelenting. The crowd screamed.

My sister and I held hands. She kept repeating, “Keep your head down, Kace, keep your head down.” As we were all huddled down on the ground together, I was having trouble breathing because my face was pushed so far towards the ground. I told myself to focus on taking long, soothing breaths. I anticipated getting hit by a bullet, and I told myself that my body would be able to handle it better if I was relaxed when the round hit.

I turned my head to face my sister. She put her head up to see what was going on and I yelled, “Get your head down!” She screamed, “Kace, that girl is bleeding! Her head is bleeding!

Her face… she’s bleeding!” The tremor in her voice made the situation an apparent reality. This wasn’t some terrible nightmare, this was happening.

Some people were crying, some let out bloodcurdling screams as bullets rattled around, hitting numerous people in our area. I could feel something wet on my leg and I wasn’t sure if it was from a spilled drink, or blood from the girl who was shot next to me.

I felt boots stepping on my body. People were running to escape, trampling over anyone who was on the ground-- the animalistic response toward flight instead of fight.

As my body ached, I focused my mind and spirit.

I prayed aloud, “God protect everyone here. Put your warrior angels around us. Keep us safe.” I gripped my sister’s hand and repeated, “I love you, Allie, I love you, I love you.” She squeezed my hand and said, “I love you too. Listen, we are going to be okay. We are going to get out of this.”

“We’re sitting ducks!” someone cried out. This ignited a group of us who were huddled down on the ground to take action. Allie and I got off the ground and hopped the fence to go to the stage where the artist trailers were located. My leg got caught up on the fence. A woman in a white floral dress on the other side of the fence grabbed my arm. “You have to do this! You can do this!” she said, as she pulled me over. She ran with her group after she helped me.

We could hear more gunshots as we hid on the side of one of the trailers. A middle-aged man, who was there with his wife, flagged us to get under the stage. Allie and I ran as fast as we could with our heads down. We made it to the man and his wife beneath the stage, where we had a concrete wall to shield us. We had our legs stretched out and he told us to “pull your body in as tight as you can. Keep your head as close as you possibly can to this concrete. You have to protect your vital organs.” We followed his instructions.

At this point I called my parents to let them know what was going on—

“We are in the middle of a mass shooting. Allie and I are together and currently okay.”

My mom instinctively started singing to me my two favorite songs from childhood—“You Are My Sunshine,” and “Yes Jesus Loves Me.” I sang along with her, amongst the sounds of screams and distress coming from those around me. With carnage and chaos surrounding, I was able to gain a feeling of faith through the sound of my mom’s voice.

The air under the stage grew still. My mom commented on how quiet it seemed, then we heard people yelling, “Let’s go, police are here!” I hung up the phone. I sent several text messages in a family group message that said, “Love you so much. Love you love you love you. You are the best family ever.”

Allie wanted to stay under the stage, but I thought we should evacuate. I grabbed Allie’s hand and we followed a small group of about seven people exiting from beneath the stage. It was chaos, unadulterated madness. No one knew what to do or where to go. Officers seemed lost in the confusion and offered little help. One of the concert staff members, a blessing, pointed us to an exit.

We began to run through the parking lot, which was littered with bloody clothes, shoes, and miscellaneous items lost amidst the mayhem. My heart raced as I ran, and I felt faint. This wasn’t unusual for me. I was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome a few years prior, and had suffered from regular lightheadedness, palpitations, nausea, tremulousness, chest pain, and syncope. I was wheelchair-bound in late 2014, when the condition was causing frequent fainting spells. Allie turned to me, “Come on Kace. We’ve got to run. Moving targets are harder to shoot.”

She had just attended a mandatory class about gun safety and shootings for her job. She said, “We need to avoid the safe zone where they are sending people for shelter—that is where the shooters usually go next.” As we ran, I saw people hiding behind bushes, underneath cars, behind trees, crying out in the open. We told everyone to keep moving.

I gravitated towards the Hooters back building, spotting two double doors to what looked like an office space. We ran to them, but they were locked. We started to run further forward to a parking area, when we decided to call my brother. He didn’t answer, so we left him a voicemail to let him know we were okay. We spotted another door outside the same building. “It’s going to be locked, let’s keep running,” Allie said. I ran to the door to try it. It was unlocked--finally a feeling of tangible hope.

It was just Allie and I inside the building. We ran down the hallway, trying each door inside until we found an unlocked room at the very end of the hallway that had several cubicles, storage boxes, tower fans, and old computers in it. We assessed the room for supplies, hoping for an IPhone charger or some water. “Figures, they’re Android users,” Allie said, as she held up a charger, in disdain. We knew we would need to preserve our phone batteries, so we made two phone calls. The first call was to our parents to let them know our current status. The second was a phone call made by Allie to her local Las Vegas friend, Kylie, to arrange our evacuation.

Behind the cubicle, we remained quiet, waiting patiently for our rescue. I found a post-it and pen, and wrote a thank you note to the person whose cubicle we were using as shelter. I hadn’t gone to the bathroom as planned earlier during the concert, thankfully. That decision would have separated my sister and I during the fatal gunfire. So, behind our cubicle, I peed in a trashcan—thankful that we made it out of there still together.

About thirty or forty minutes after, more survivors rushed in -- some families with children, some strangers who had lost their friends. I found an unlocked janitor’s closet near our cubicle, and we put the children in there and hid them behind equipment. Soon after, Allie got a phone call saying that Kylie was just two parking lots down.

We knew we had to run. We ran to the Motel 6 lot where we thought Kylie was located. As we ran, we were flooded with rumors and misinformation from people on the street that there were multiple shooters, some dressed as police officers, and that they were still actively shooting on the strip. Immediately, officers were yelling at us and pulling our arms to get inside. We were packed into a small room in the Motel 6. “We are on total lockdown. No one is leaving this room,” an officer said. Allie received a message from Kylie saying she was in the next lot over. My sister turned to me and said, “All we have to do is run. Kylie is in the next lot. That is our way out.” So we ran. My cowgirl boots became weightless as I saw our way to survival.

When we reached Kylie in the next lot, strangers were pleading to pile into the truck. So Kylie and her boyfriend loaded the bed of the truck as well as the cab with survivors and drove us all to safety. After over an hour of running, hiding, and strategizing, we were finally on our way to freedom. My heart pounded sitting inside the truck. Shaking, crying, and holding hands—my sister and I looked at each other. We had made it out alive, but our lives would never be the same.

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My sister and I were at Route 91 together. I threw my body over my baby sister and her friends before we ran for our lives. Thank you for sharing. You are not alone. ❤️Marisa instagram @rismarano

#alwaysdifferentforeverstronger #route91

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