FIRST RESPONDER: ‘YOU COULD FEEL THIS WAS BIG.’

FIRST RESPONDER: ‘YOU COULD FEEL THIS WAS BIG.’

(CAPTION: FIRST RESPONDER HEATHER RAASVELD: ‘YOU COULD FEEL THIS WAS BIG.’) PHOTO: NORM CLARKE

 

Heather Raasveld, a first responder, was home in her bed “with wet hair and in pajamas” when she got a call from a girlfriend late on that fateful Sunday night.“My friend said, ‘Promise me you won’t go,” recalled Raasveld, a 44-year-old mother of two youngsters.

“I turned on the TV and told my husband, ‘I’ve got to go.’ He said O.K. but make sure you kiss you babies before you leave.

“My six-year-old got up and knew something was wrong.

“I drove as fast as I could to the station (Medic West) in North Las Vegas.

“It was so odd. I live in Centennial Hills (in the northwest area of Las Vegas). It was so eerie driving to the station because nearly everybody on the road was going in the same direction. You could tell this was different. You could feel this was big.

“We have probably 60 ambulances at our station and so many people reported (for duty) we ran out of them.

“Highway Patrol had everything blocked off so there was a steady stream of lights and fire vehicles (on the way to the crime scene.) Reds and blues. We were dispatched to Russell Road and Las Vegas Boulevard.

“At that time we thought the shooting was continuing. We had to stop and retreat. We didn’t know at the time it was over.

“They pulled us out because there was a possibility that something could happen and wipe us all out.

“When we were cleared we put a lot of super-injured people on buses and spent quite a bit of time at Desert Springs Hospital. It was so crowded, you couldn’t find a three foot-by-three square to put somebody down.

“We went back and forth to the (crime) scene several times. We even went out to de Lima (St. Rose Dominican Hospital-Rose de Lima campus in Henderson at Boulder Highway and Lake Mead).

“It was so crowded even janitorial service was trying to assist. Even the orderlies who moved the gurneys. Everybody was doing everything they could.

“The hospitals were so worried about some sort of mass (terrorist) incident they had armed guards with automatic weapons. They were scoping everything out.

“We finally left the venue about 4:45 a.m. Peoples belongings were scattered throughout. And the cell phones didn’t stop ringing.

“When we got back to the station, there was quite a scene of camaraderie. They had started cooking for us, pushing food out but it didn’t seem like anyone wanted to eat.

“We were debriefed and urged to talk to crisis management. We had to check each other to see if it was O.K. to get in our vehicles because of all the blood. We were walking in an inch of blood. You either washed your boots with high pressure spray or you went home in your socks.

“If there is one thing I can stress is law enforcement and EMS (Emergency Medical Services), we are a family. You can’t separate us. We will support each other no matter what.

There’s a lot of sadness and despair within the crews. We have a saying in our line of work, ‘Nobody fights alone.’

“People say we don’t have culture or soul (in Las Vegas). The people in this city came together.”

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THOUSANDS GATHER AT LAS VEGAS SIGN TO PAY REPECTS TO THE FALLEN

THOUSANDS GATHER AT LAS VEGAS SIGN TO PAY REPECTS TO THE FALLEN

(CAPTION: THE CROSS OF BAILEY SCHWEITZER, THE YOUNGEST VICTIM.) PHOTO: NORM CLARKE.

 

The Viva Las Vegas vibe has dramatically changed at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign.

Once a mandatory stop of camera-mugging tourists who wanted to memorialize their trip to America’s playground, the site of the iconic sign is now somber.

Palpable grief has replaced joie de vivre, the French term for the joy of living and the lifeblood of Las Vegas.

The mood changed Wednesday with the arrival of 58 wooden white crosses to commemorate the 58 victims of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history on Sunday.

Here are some stories, gathered over six hours during two visits, from people who were at the sign to pay their respects:

Near the end of the long line of white wooden crosses, Ed and Gloria Avila of Las Vegas, and some strangers, were taking matters into their own hands.

They had found the crosses of Ed’s niece, Denise Cohen, of Carpenteria, Calif., and her boyfriend, Derrick “Bo” Taylor. They were among the few couples who were killed together by the hail of automatic gunfire.

Someone pointed out to the Avilas’ that Cohen and Taylor’s crosses were separated by some distance and suggested they put them together.

“I said, ‘Let’s do it,’” said Avila, a 66-year-old retiree and former member of the special forces in Vietnam.

“We had people walk back, pick up Bo’s cross and the flowers and move it up next to Denise,” he said.

“Everybody started clapping, happy they were together again,” he said.

Tears of agony streamed down the face of his wife, who was on the verge of collapse when someone steadied her.

Cohen was 58. Taylor, 56, was a 29-year veteran of the Nevada Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Hours later the Avilas went to an area in downtown Las Vegas that was being turned into a park in memory of the fallen.

“We made sure Denise and Bo’s photos were placed next to each other on the memory wall,” he said.

Avila added, “We wanted them together, they wanted to be together and now they are together.”

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THE YOUNGEST VICTIM

About a dozen crosses away, the largest group of mourners gathered around the cross of 20-year-old Bailey Schweitzer, the youngest victim.

Her devastated mother, Krissy, was on her knees, embracing the cross as Wiz Khalifa’s song “See You Again,” featuring Charlie Puth played on endless loop on a small speaker placed at the front of the line.

She pressed her face against a picture of her daughter, and, with a free hand, tenderly and repeatedly caressed the photo. One of the words on her t-shirt was “Blessed.”

The mother and daughter from Bakersfield, Calif., had attended the Route 91 Harvest Festival country concert together.

At one point, a television cameraman moved in to capture the excruciating scene. Bailey’s grandmother angrily confronted him and the cameraman moved on.

A few minutes later, a man in his 40s saw me standing about 25 feet away, in a suit, and walked toward me. Judging from his demeanor, and what had just transpired, I was certain he was going to request no photos be taken. I was wrong. He wanted to know if the crosses could be purchased.

They will remain at the site for 40 days and then be given to the victims’ families.

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‘PEOPLE ARE HURTING’

A familiar face appeared among the thousands who made the sad pilgrimmage to the famous sign-turned-memorial.

It was international Hall of Fame boxing referee Joe Cortez. He was there to sign a yellow over-sized boxing glove hanging at the base of the sign, above dozens of votives, bouquets of flowers and assorted items honoring the victims.

Earlier in the day, he said 15 prominent boxing figures had signed the glove. Visible signatures included boxers Mike Tyson, Leon Spinks, Earnie Shaves, Livington Bramble, referee Richard Steele and Michelle Corrales, president of the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame.

“I’ve never seen so many people at this place,” said Cortez. “People are hurting.”

He recalled that a major boxing match at Madison Square Garden in New York was cancelled after the 9-11 terror attacks in 2001.

“It was rescheduled and people came back and walked past the World Trade Center with smoke still coming out of the ground.”

Las Vegas will survive the horrific tragedy, said Cortez, who turns 74 on Friday.

“We might get knocked down, but we always get back up,” he said.

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‘IT WAS THE LEAST WE COULD DO’

Amid the wave of humanity showing unprecedented community support were two nurses with American flags in their hands.

Sabrina Webb, 40, and Rhonda Piazza, 47, were still in their hospital scrubs.

They had placed flags on every cross.

“It was the least we could do,” said Piazza, “and it still doesn’t feel like we did enough.”

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TERROR AT THE TOP OF MANDALAY BAY

When I returned to ask the Avilas a question, a woman in a blue shirt and tattoos walked up.

She respectfully waited until the conversation ended and then hugged Avila and said, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

When she walked away, I asked Avila if it was a friend.

No, he had never met her, he said.

I caught up to the woman and asked if she was at the concert when the gunman, Stephen Paddock, began his murderous volley.

“I was at the top of Mandalay Bay in the Foundation Room,” said Kristi Moore, 45, referring to the ultra private lounge on the 43rd floor.

She and two friends were there in hopes of meeting country star Kane Brown and hanging out with him.

They were at a VIP table on the open-air balcony when loud, massive gunfire erupted below them. The killer was on the 32nd floor armed to the teeth with modified weapons that spit out nine bullets a second.

Like many others, she thought it must be fireworks, then she came to a terrifying conclusion: “Vegas is under attack.”

Suddenly uniformed men burst onto the scene, pointing their weapons at the patrons.

Moore vividly recalls seeing horrified patrons throwing their drinks and “even paper napkins” at the the intruders, who were loudly ordering the patrons to get on the floor and stay facedown.

At one point, Moore lifted her head to look around and “a rifle was pointed at me.”

After the armed men cleared the area, they identified themselves as SWAT team members.

“They said we were in the safest place,” said Moore.

But no one was allowed to leave and “we stayed in the Foundation Room until 7:30 a.m. They gave us coffee, French Fries and a chip and dip. I didn’t eat.”

Their ordeal wasn’t over. The elevators were still on lockdown. They had to walk down 40-some floors

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FLAG-BEARING COWBOY PAID HIS RESPECTS WITH 6 1/2-HOUR VIGIL ON STRIP WITH HIS HORSE

FLAG-BEARING COWBOY PAID HIS RESPECTS WITH 6 1/2-HOUR VIGIL ON STRIP WITH HIS HORSE

(CAPTION: RAFAEL SARABIA SHOWED UP ON THE GRIEF-STRICKEN STRIP WITH HIS HORSE AND OLD GLORY.) PHOTO: NORM CLARKE.

 

The mystery of the Mandalay Bay cowboy, spotted on his horse and bearing the American flag on the Las Vegas Strip, has been solved.For more than six hours on Friday, the rare sight of a cowboy, striking an iconic pose across from Mandalay Bay, got a lot of attention.

It turns out Rafael Sarabia, 55, was making a statement yards away from the site of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Fifty eight people were killed at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. A Mesquite, Nev. resident, Stephen Paddock, was found dead in a Mandalay Bay suite after apparently firing thousands of rounds into the crowd of 22,000 country music fans.

“All I do this for is to put a smile on people’s faces,” said Sarabia, a longtime police volunteer from rural Mountain Springs, local about halfway between Las Vegas and Pahrump.

Sarabia was greeted with horn-honking approval, salutes to his flag and photo requests.

“A lot of people approached me in tears. Some took off their hats in front of the flag. Some stopped to pet the horse. One girl told me, ‘You put a smile on my face for the first time this week. I cried, a lot,” said Sarabia, a country music lover who described himself as a patriot.

After parking his horse trailer near a McDonald’s south of the crime scene, he had to take a circuitous route away away from the Strip due to the heavy traffic.

Along the way, several policeman approved of his mission. “Metro was super to me,” he said, referring to the Las Vegas Metro Police Department. “One said, ‘People need to see this. This is making people feel good.” To his surprise, one of the men in uniform was Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, who “told me to get closer” to the Strip and said “Thank you for doing this.”

It was a heady moment for Sarabia, who, as a kid, delivered the Las Vegas Review-Journal to showman Liberace and dreamed of being a cop. “I was a paperboy so I could rent a horse,” he said. His father is from Spain and his mother is from Bigfork, Mont. One of his four dogs is named “Deputy.”

Passersby offered to buy him food during his noon to 6:30 p.m. vigil, he said. A nearby liquor store brought water to Sarabia and his horse, Sonja Red.

After ending his stint on the Strip, Sarabia put his horse in a trailer and insisted on showing a reporter a parking lot adjacent to the concert venue.

“See those two dozen cars and that motorcycle? They belong to victims,” he said.

“No way that scumbag son-a-bitch is going to kill off a piece of Americana,” said Sarabia.

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WYNN HAD LONG RESISTED METAL DETECTORS: INSTALLED THEM A YEAR AGO, OUT OF PUBLIC VIEW

WYNN HAD LONG RESISTED METAL DETECTORS: INSTALLED THEM A YEAR AGO, OUT OF PUBLIC VIEW

(CAPTION: A MEMORIAL AT THE BASE OF THE WELCOME TO FABULOUS LAS VEGAS SIGN FOR THE VICTIMS OF THE MANDALAY BAY TRAGEDY.) PHOTO: NORM CLARKE.

 

In a bizarre twist of timing, resort mogul Steve Wynn revealed a year ago that Wynn Las Vegas was one of the first megahotels in the city to install metal detectors.

“My company has metal detectors and devices at every entrance of the building for employees and guests that are non-visible to the public,” he told ABC affiliate KTNV-TV, Channel 13.

“We have done extraordinary things to make sure that we protect our employees and our guests at the hotel,” he said.

The interview aired on Sept. 30, 2016, one year and one day before the Mandalay Bay shootings, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Visitors at the Wynn Las Vegas were met this week with security metal detection wands.

Why did it take so long?

Gaming companies have balked at the idea for a number of reasons. The powers-that-be have always wanted tourists to come here as an escape from the problems around the world.

Being greeted by metal detectors would send the wrong message and slow the check-in process. So it’s remained a free-flowing experience, and likely will remain so.

However, there are metal detectors in place at a number of major venues like the 4,200-seat Colosseum at Caesars Palace, where Celine Dion performs and other entertainment venues.

How has this tragedy affected the community compared to the Nov. 21, 1980 MGM Grand fire that killed 87 and injured more than 400?

That was caused by an electrical failure. This was the work of someone with pure evil and malice in mind.

Las Vegas has rallied around this tragedy like no other time in its history. Thousands have attended candlelight vigils at churches and along the median on the Strip, near the crime scene and far down to the north end.

I was flown in from the San Diego AP to cover the MGM fire. The first story I filed was about the response by the Barbary Coast, now the Cromwell. Because of its close proximity to the MGM, hundreds took refuge in nightclothes or wrapped in blankets.

The Barbary Coast shut down all gambling operations to assist the wave of humanity. They were given comped meals, beverages and rooms.

It marked one of the rare times a Las Vegas casino suspended gaming operations since the funeral of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

The owner of the Barbary Coast? Michael Gaughan, now the owner of the South Point. He was one of the first of many hotel owners to offer comped hotel rooms to the victims’ family members at the South Point.

Will safety concerns give tourists pause about visiting Las Vegas?

That was one of major concerns after the MGM Grand fire. I was covering the fire for the Associated Press and was assigned to do that story.

I asked a pit boss in Caesars Palace for a response. “The only thing stronger than gambling is garlic,” he said.

Wednesday I interviewed a bachelor/bachelorette party of 12 from Newcastle, Australia. They had taken a limo to the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. “We want to show our respect to those affected,” said bride-to-be Selina Jacobs, “but we don’t want Vegas to lose what Vegas is. It’s spirit and uniqueness.”

What was the credit limit of shooter Stephen Paddock, meaning he had to play at a certain level to receive high roller perks.

I’m told MGM Resorts International shut down access to the computers with that information “right away.”

How pervasive are surveillance cameras in Las Vegas?

A longtime local gaming executive said, “We knew every single move visitors made, from check-in to their room. If the shooter had an accomplice, as Sheriff Lombardo is hinting, they know.”

One of the biggest fears of law enforcement over the years is the growing number of soft targets in Las Vegas, like the growing number of outdoor venues?

“I wouldn’t go to a pool party now, would you?” said the former executive. “ The long-held resistance to metal detectors “has got to change,” he said. Days after 9-11, Las Vegas media was given a tour of the surveillance center at Bellagio, which had the newest technology.

Asked if the parent company had metal detectors at the hotels entrances or facial identification technology (as featured in “CSI Las Vegas”), a company spokesman said no.
“That might have been too much then,” said the former executive, “ but in view of what’s happened here, I think people would feel safer now.”

What happened to the many cell phones recovered near bodies and left behind when the crowd stampeded?

An eye witness at the crime scene told me they were collected by law enforcement “Hoping 1. They could extract video and photo evidence. 2. Identify victims and 3. Contact information for loved ones.”

Most chilling images, besides those gunned down, crying for help?

Seeing women late in pregnancy, running for their lives, and their unborn child’s, said a rescuer.

Will concerts ever be held again at the country venue?

In my opinion, MGM Resorts International will think long and hard about that. They can anticipate considerable pushback.

Before seeing the terrifying video from Sunday night my lasting connection with the venue came on Sept. 21, 2013.

It was a blistering hot day session of the iHeart Festival at what was then called the iHeart Village. Miley Cyrus did four songs. I only remember the last two: “Look What They’ve Done to My Song” and the first live rendition of her No. 1 single “Wrecking Ball.”

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HEARTBREAKING SCENE: CELL PHONES RANG FOR HOURS AFTER VENUE CLEARED; PLUS THE GESTURE BY A ‘NOBLE COWBOY’ TO HONOR DEAD & NOTES

HEARTBREAKING SCENE: CELL PHONES RANG FOR HOURS AFTER VENUE CLEARED; PLUS THE GESTURE BY A ‘NOBLE COWBOY’ TO HONOR DEAD & NOTES

(CAPTION: ISRAEL CABANAS RESPONDED TO THE DEAD AND DYING –  PHOTO: NORM CLARKE)

UPDATE: A source described this unbearably sad scene after the Highway 91 festival: Amid the carnage following the shooting and street closures, the only sound heard, other than departing airplanes, was the eerie cacophony of vibrating cellphones and ring tones going off all night long. Also: I received this from a reader: “There were people on scene that were picking up any and all phones they found. They threw them in the back (of a truck)…and handed them off to Metro  (LVPD). Hoping 1. They could extract video and photo evidence 2. Identify victims via photos 3. Contact information for loved ones.”

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UPDATE: Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo confirmed in an earlier press conference that in excess of 10 suitcases were found in the room, indicating that’s how the arsenal of  assault weapons got in the room.

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So many dead covered the blood-stained music venue on Sunday that Israel Cabanas looked for any way to respect the victims’ privacy.“Many were wearing cowboy hats, so we put their cowboy hats over their faces,“ said Cabanas.

The 33-year-old Mexican singer was at the final night of the Route 91 Harvest country music festival with a credential as a guest/worker, “just to help, but it was mainly as security,” he said.

He turned into a first responder when a sniper firing from the 32nd floor of a Mandalay Bay suite transformed the venue into a killing field. Stephen Paddock went back and forth between two knocked-out windows to rake the 22,000 fans with an arsenal of assault weapons that left 59 dead and at least 527 injured – the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

“We thought and hoped they were just fireworks,” said Cabanas. But there was something distinctly different in the sound. “We realized they were high-caliber weapons.”

Then he saw people “crawling and dragging themselves, crying for help.

“I thought, ‘God, how can I save these people?’ We tried our hardest,” said Cabanas, who goes by the stage name of El Charro Noble (the Noble Cowboy).
He was among many who helped turned crowd-control railings into makeshift gurneys.

“I kept telling the injured, ‘Stay calm, stay calm,’ but I was having trouble staying calm. It was just so surreal.

“What started as a beautiful night ended as a total nightmare. I didn’t sleep last night,” he said.

___

After many stampeded out of the festival grounds, they poured into the nearby Tropicana hotel, just north of the venue,

“A lot of bloody people ran through valet,” a valet attendant said.

The Trop turned into a temporary refuge for about 2,000 who fled the shooting scene, a hotel rep confirmed.

Some hotel occupants at the hotel said there was a rumor that a bloody body was found near Tropicana and Karen Avenues, but the hotel rep could not confirm it.

___

Update: Sheriff Joe Lombardo confirmed at a press conference on Tuesday that bodies were found blocks away from the festival site. He did not identify where they were discovered.

___

Pickup trucks were pressed into duty as ambulances in the rush to get injured to hospitals.

Savannah Stallworth was working at the concert when the gunfire erupted. She and two friends made it to Stallworth’s truck and ended up taking two trips to a hospital with injured concertgoers in the back.

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Ashley Farkas, executive director of public relations at MGM Resorts International Corp., was among the wounded. She is recovering from a gunshot wound to her left shoulder. Former Las Vegas PR publicist-turned-People magazine writer Mark Gray was at the concert and wrote a harrowing first-person piece for Rolling Stone. Also there: Well-known Las Vegas PR brothers and businessmen Cory and Craig Nyman, who were interviewed Monday by CBS national correspondent Anthony Mason.

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Las Vegas attorney Cory Hilton weighed in with his theory for a possible motive behind Paddock’s shooting spree. Hilton told ESPN 1100 on Monday that Paddock lost a slip-and-fall LAWSUIT against the Cosmopolitan three years ago. Hilton suggested it might not be a coincidence that the shooting came close to the third anniversary of Paddock losing the case, Oct. 3. According to court records, Paddock alleged he slipped in a puddle of liquid and sued the Cosmopolitan for $100,000 in 2012. Hilton raised the possibility that the setback left Paddock disillusioned with Las Vegas.

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