Aberdeen natives describe chaotic scene as Vegas gunman opened fire on concert goers

An unexplained but powerful anxiety made Heather Gibbons leave the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas Oct. 1 and return to her room in the Mandalay Bay Resort overlooking the concert. Her husband and their niece tried to convince her to stay, but the instinct to leave was strong.

A short time later she listened, terrified, as a gunman 16 floors above her rained thousands of bullets down on the concert venue she had just left and where family and friends still were.

Gibbons, formerly from Aberdeen and now living in Sammamish, was part of a group of about a dozen current and former Harborites who attend the country music festival yearly. Gibbons and her husband, Brant, shared their stories with The Daily World. Others were contacted, but the memory was still too raw for them to comfortably share their experiences.

“I ended up having an anxiety attack, a real uneasy feeling that said ‘go now,’” Gibbons said. “I told my husband and niece I had to leave right then.” Her husband walked her to the venue exit and she returned to the hotel, just after Jake Owen’s performance and before headliner Jason Aldean took the stage.

Gibbons’ room at the Mandalay Bay overlooked the concert, and she arrived back at the room about 9:50 p.m. About 20 minutes later, “I heard two single pops, like boom boom and wondered ‘what was that?’ Then I hear what sounds like a machine gun. I’m looking around trying to see people with guns and notice Jason Aldean isn’t playing anymore. The shooting would start and then stop for what was about 30 seconds, then start up again.”

Back at the concert venue, Brant had returned to the stage area and found his niece, Ashley Pettis. They decided to move back into the main crowd, but hung back farther from the stage than they had the previous two days. He had been recording Jason Aldean’s performance, but wasn’t filming when the shots started.

“I heard the first couple of shots. I ducked down, and was the only one who did,” he said. “I stood back up and then people started to take notice, looking around. Jason was still kind of performing and I noticed the screen on the right side of the stage was acting weird, making me think there were technical problems. That’s when Jason ran off and everybody ducked down.”

Heather was filming out of her hotel window, which overlooked the festival stage. She took a two-minute video where the shots can be heard clearly. The video also shows the terrified look on Heather’s face reflected back from the window as she cautiously peers out, staying as low as she could. She had no idea where the gunfire was coming from at the time, “whether they were shooting at windows,” and — of greater concern — no idea if her husband and niece were safe. She is clearly sobbing on the recording, and confused as to what was happening. The time stamp on video said she started filming at 10:12 p.m.

“It went on for quite a bit longer,” about two more minutes after she stopped filming. The sounds of police and emergency vehicles filled the air within minutes.

At the concert, Brant and Pettis lay on the ground, unsure where the shots were coming from. Brant figured it was a “Columbine-type thing,” with gunmen walking through the crowd.

“There was a pause in the shooting and everyone got up and ran to the far side of the venue, away from (the Strip,” he said. “There were more shots and everybody dropped down again. To my left a girl was crying that she had lost her mom and sister. I told (her she had to) just get out of here. There was another pause and everyone got back up and ran. There were people crowded behind a police car for cover.”

Brant decided the best thing to do was get as far away from the Vegas Strip as possible. “There was a road with rebar fences on it. We found a crack in the fence and crawled through. I remember everyone agreeing, don’t panic, we don’t need to trample anyone.”

By now, Gibbons was hunkered down on her bedroom floor at the hotel, terrified and unsure about her family and friends. Soon after the shooting ended, Brant was finally able to ring her.

“My husband called me. He was screaming,” she said. “You could hear my niece screaming. They were running as fast as they could to get as far from the area as possible. I told them to run, run, run.”

They fled to the MGM Grand hotel, about a mile and a half down the road from the Mandalay Bay.

“I felt like we needed to get away from the crowd, so we broke off and just hunkered down in the MGM to catch our breath,” said Brant. “We walked a little way to a food court area with a bar and were watching what was going on on the television.”

Just as the pair was catching their breath, “everyone started running down the escalators.” There had been a rumor the gunman was now in the MGM Grand, creating a panic. At the time, Brant had no idea if the shooter was still active, so for his safety and that of his niece he elected to get as far from the scene as possible, trusting his wife was still safe inside her hotel room. They found an Uber driver in the parking lot and told him to “take us away. We need to get a room, lock the door and be hidden.”

As Brant and his niece fled, Gibbons lay flat on the floor of her hotel room. During this time she received several concerned phone calls from friends and family, including one from her best friend Jennifer Durney, from Aberdeen who was supposed to attend the festival with Gibbons and the rest of the local group but had to cancel. While the two were talking, Gibbons heard “a loud boom” at about 11:15 p.m.; she found out later that was the moment authorities had burst into the shooter’s room 16 floors above hers.

The Uber driver took Brant and his niece to a Hyatt near the University of Las Vegas campus, another mile and a half from the MGM Grand. Because of the chaos around the Mandalay Bay, the uncertainty of the situation, and the fact that the hotel was on lockdown most of the night kept the couple apart, but they spoke by phone much of the night.

“We were watching the news there, talking to Heather through the night,” said Brant. “We tried to sleep, but didn’t get any sleep at all.”

After a grueling night, Mandaly Bay finally sent word the hotel was taken out of lockdown and guests could come and go freely. Around 9:30 a.m., Heather was finally reunited with her husband and niece.

“I remember from my room as the sun rose, there was a calmness about it, but I could see the victims, they were under sheets and I did watch the coroner van come get them,” said Heather.

The three of them were on a plane later on Monday heading for home.