They were relishing the best trip of their lives, sharing a few drinks on the 36th floor of The Signature at MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas on Sunday night, when chaos erupted below them.
“It sounded like a gang war; hundreds of shots,” recalled New Glasgow resident Leah Samson, who was accompanied by her husband, sister and brother-in-law.
From just a few blocks away, on their hotel room balcony, they watched the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history unfold. A gunman had opened fire on a crowd of more than 22,000 who had assembled at the Mandalay Hotel for a country music show.
Samson was speaking from her hotel room on Monday, where the foursome had been under lockdown orders for several hours, remembering when the first shots were fired at about 10 p.m.
“We’re shaken up but we’re definitely OK. It was a beautiful, warm night and we were in our hotel room sitting on the balcony and the shots started. We heard everything. It was crazy, it felt like it went on forever. We could hear the concert from our balcony.
“But it didn’t register what we were hearing at first. It almost sounded like a popcorn machine, the way the shots were firing. I said, ‘I think that’s an automatic weapon.’ It sounded like more than one.”
From there, things got deadly serious.
“Then we just heard sirens. I can’t even put a number on the amount of emergency vehicles that were coming in, like the entire strip was just sirens. Helicopters were flying all over the place, so we knew something serious was going on.”
They had arrived in Las Vegas from Nova Scotia on Thursday, and were enjoying a trip of a lifetime. Just a few hours before the shooting began they were having a blast at a hotel pool party. A visit to a popular nightclub was next on their to-do list.
“We heard the overlap of music and shooting, and then the music stopped and the shooting continued. It went on for a couple of minutes but it felt like an eternity. Our jaws were wide open. We could see everything.
“We sat on the balcony for hours, trying to process what we had seen. We were Googling for more news updates, then we all climbed into bed together and watched the news for the rest of the night. We were thankful to have each other close by, that’s for sure.”
Meanwhile, Halifax resident Allie Burtch and her family found themselves among the chaos.
They had just finished watching a show at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino and were only a few blocks away from the Mandalay Bay Hotel. The Burtch family was stranded, roughly three-and-a-half kilometres from their hotel.
“People were running around in hysterics,” Burtch texted from her hotel room on Monday. “I knew something must have happened. So we find out there was a shooting, but he hasn’t been caught yet, as far as we knew.
“We start walking faster to the hotel and we have to go to catch our monorail to take us to our hotel. As we are walking there, a guy pushes past us and says ‘Run, he has a gun!’ So we start running, make it to a hotel. Security is everywhere and they won’t let us in because we are not staying at that hotel.
“There are couple of taxis there, so we try to get into them, but they are full. Finally one comes to let people out, so we try to get into that one, but he won’t let us in because he’s too scared and says he’s not taking any more people tonight, and takes off. Finally, another taxi comes and he takes us to our hotel. Very nice man. It was very scary.”
Their hotel was still under lockdown when The Chronicle Herald reached Burtch.
Samson and her travelmates had planned to watch a Cirque du Soleil performance at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, where the gunman opened fire. But at the last minute they opted for the nightclub route and intended to see the theatrical show on Monday.
“Who knows what would have happened?” said Samson. “We would have been in lockdown inside that hotel. It would have been a very scary ordeal.”
It was the first time she and her husband Kyle had been to Las Vegas. The trip was planned to celebrate her sister’s and brother-and-law’s birthday on Monday.
Monday morning, Samson could see signs of life in the city from her balcony. A few people were in the hotel swimming pool and vehicles were beginning to fill the streets below.
They’re scheduled to return to Nova Scotia on Tuesday. With all the flight delays, Samson said it’s too early to tell whether they’ll arrive on schedule.
“You think about how lucky you are to live in a country like Canada. These mass shootings…it’s an obvious problem here.
“It’s one thing when you watch it from TV, but this is horrifying. Can you imagine being a family member or a friend of any of those people? He had multiple weapons in his room. How does this happen? It’s so unsettling that this could happen.”