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Las Vegas Survivor Grateful 'We Made It Out Alive'

daniela gelay and daniel buzzard

Oct. 11, 2017 -- Daniela Gelay hasn’t decided what to do with the jeans she was wearing at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas. Her mother washed them. The blood came out. But the events she lived through that night left stains no detergent could remove.

Gelay’s boyfriend, Daniel Buzzard, had surprised her with passes to the 3-day festival for her 22nd birthday.

By the third day of the festival, which ran Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Gelay says she was tired and almost didn’t go; but she didn’t want to waste her boyfriend’s generous present.

About 4 p.m. that Sunday, they made their way from their hotel back to the concert venue, which was about a mile away.

Gelay says food and drinks at the venue were pricey, so they stopped along the way at Hooters for a $5 bucket of beer and one last chance to rest their feet before what they knew would be hours of standing and walking between the festival’s giant outdoor stages. They met up with two of her boyfriend's family members and made their way to the concert.

She was most excited to see Jason Aldean, who was headlining that night.

They started the evening far away from the stage in the back of the crowd. But as people would leave or the bands would take a break, her group pushed forward to be up front for Aldean’s show.

Gelay says Aldean had started the fifth song of his set -- she doesn’t remember what it was --when she first heard the sound she can’t forget.

Tat-tat-tat. Tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat. The first shots cracked over their heads.

“We were like, ‘What is that?’ ” she says.

The two guys in front of them guessed that it might be a BB gun or fireworks. But they weren’t worried. Others didn’t seem to even hear it.

“But we noticed that it was something,” she says.

The second burst of bullets spat down on them for a full 11 seconds.

Aldean froze mid-song, clutched his guitar to his side, and ran off the stage. Gelay says that’s when the crowd seemed to catch on that something was wrong.

“Everyone realized it was gunshots. Everyone dropped to the floor. It was mass panic,” she says.

Gelay says a girl that had been standing behind them a few seconds earlier was on the ground.

“I didn’t see her face or anything, but I saw she was laying on the floor and people around her were turning to her and trying to help her,” she says. “I don’t know if she made it.”

Her boyfriend said “get down!” He lay down on top of her to shield her from the bullets, which were coming at them in long, terrifying volleys with unnerving pauses in between.

“We were all really scared. I was crying and looking at my boyfriend and telling him that I loved him a lot.”

Gelay says they were pinned to the ground for three to four rounds of fire. Everyone around them was still on the ground, and people were yelling at each other to stay low and stay put. They were in what people later called "the dead zone" on the right front of the stage.

Nobody knew where the shots were coming from or that being low to the ground wouldn’t protect them from the shooter, who was perched high above them on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel.

Gelay says she remembers the exact moment her boyfriend told her to run. “He said we have to get out of here.” 

The shooter had stopped again. The pattern was a long pause. They figured they had 15 seconds to move.

There wasn’t a clear path. People were still lying on the ground. Some were injured. Some were just too scared to move.

“We were trying to maneuver around them. I remember a lot of pushing and shoving,” she says.

To get out, they had to cross in front of the stage to get over fences on the other side -- the side farthest from the Mandalay Bay.

They went over two fences to escape. David Becker, a photographer who was covering the concert for Getty Images, snapped a picture of Gelay and her boyfriend fleeing for their lives.

The shooting continued for over 10 minutes. It seemed to never end.

“We ran for like a mile. I was barefoot at this point. I lost my flip-flops. I ran barefoot. We were just running,” she said.

Eventually they made it to the Desert Rose Resort, a low, stucco-covered complex that sits about a mile from the festival.

“This really nice lady said, ‘You guys can come hide in here.’ There were probably 20-30 of us hiding in this woman’s apartment,” Gelay says.

A man came in with a gunshot wound in his arm. “He said he was an EMT. So he knew he was OK. He knew the bullet was lodged in his arm. I think someone made a tourniquet to tie it off.”

Even injured, the man went around the room, checking on other people, asking if they were OK.

Gelay says the shock started to set in. She was shaking all over. Then she noticed the blood on her pants.

“I started feeling to see if I was shot. I knew I had a whole bunch of adrenaline going through me and maybe I didn’t feel it. But eventually we realized it was other people’s blood,” she says. She wasn’t physically injured.

Gelay, who is getting a degree in criminal justice at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says she feels like she’s doing OK. But things are different now.

“I can’t hear any loud noises. They freak me out,” she says., Someone recently lit firecrackers outside the car dealership where she works. “I almost started crying. My hands were shaking,” she says.

Her boyfriend went to a bar with his friends the other night, just to get out of his house and be around people again. He asked Gelay to go with him, but she says it felt overwhelming.

“I just don’t think I can be in public gatherings like that with a lot of people,” she says. “It’s hard to trust people. Do you have good intentions? Do you look suspicious? I know it’s bad to think like that, but I don’t want to put myself in that position again,” she says.

Gelay says she has watched the news coverage and the videos of the shooting for hours on social media. “I can’t stop watching it. I want to see if it’s something I remember,” she says, “But the moment that I hear the gunshots, I can’t watch. They are piercing to my ears.”

Thankfully, all their friends and family also made it out alive.

She hasn’t been to any of the memorials or vigils. She doesn’t want to be anywhere near the Strip.

And she feels bad, like she and her boyfriend didn’t do enough to help others get out. A combat veteran friend told her that’s called survivor’s guilt.

“We both wish that we could have helped people. We’re very grateful that we made it out alive, but we just have that survivor's guilt that we made it out alive and other people didn’t,” she says.

WebMD Article Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on October 11, 2017
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