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From the Archives: San Diegans recount terror of Las Vegas mass shooting

On Oct. 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire from a room at the Mandalay Bay casino hotel in Las Vegas on a crowd of 22,000 country music fans at a concert below, leaving 58 people dead, including 42-year-old San Diego attorney Jennifer Irvine.

More than 800 people were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. History. The gunman, 64-year-old Stephen Craig Paddock, killed himself before officers arrived.

The following day, San Diegans who had attended the concert shared their stories with The Union-Tribune.

From The San Diego Union-Tribune, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017:

San Diegans recount mayhem, terror

As Jimmy Howell ran for his life from a country music concert in Las Vegas, he called his mother, who lives in the San Diego community of 4S Ranch.

“I said, ‘I love you and I don’t know what’s going to happen,’ ” he said Monday morning, shortly after getting off a plane at San Diego International Airport.

He and his girlfriend were at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Sunday night when a gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas strip. In the minutes that followed those first gunshots, he said, a blissful concert dissolved into terror and chaos.

Hundreds of feet away, Kylie Steagall and her mother, Sherry Steagall, hid from the gunfire in bleachers toward the back of the outdoor venue.

Kylie Steagall, 22, sent her father a single text.

“Shooting I love you,” it read.

Moments later, her mother reached Cliff Steagall on the phone. While he waited for his daughter’s plane to land Monday (his wife was expected to arrive later that day), he said he remembered the exact words his wife said to him.

“She said, ‘I love you. I hope we don’t die. They’re shooting.’ ”

Before the barrage of gunfire ended, at least 59 people had been fatally wounded – including San Diego attorney Jennifer T. Irvine – making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. San Diego resident George Sanchez and an unidentified off-duty San Diego firefighter were among the hundreds who were hurt. Their injuries were not life-threatening.

The gunman, identified as Stephen Paddock, was found dead in his hotel room, surrounded by 23 firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

On Monday, San Diegans who had attended the concert began returning home, many of them still struggling to comprehend what had happened.

Howell said he and his girlfriend were near the stage, watching singer Jason Aldean perform, when they heard one or two pops around 10 p.m.

“We thought they were poppers, like the ones you throw on the ground … and then, in seconds it popped off,” he said. “Just pop, pop, pop, pop and everyone was on the floor.”

He threw himself over his girlfriend, Holley Myers, and told her to cover her head as the mayhem erupted around them, he said. The shots came in bursts.

Myers said she couldn’t tell where the gunfire was coming from.

“Everywhere we went, it felt like it was following us,” she said.

When the shooting stopped, the couple ran. Myers said a stranger helped her over a fence.

“I remember asking him, ‘Please, just take me away,’” she said. “He told me, ‘You just need to run.’ ”

The couple managed to get a cab to the Rio hotel and casino less than a mile away from Las Vegas Boulevard, and booked a room. It would be a while before they could return to the Excalibur Hotel, where they had left their belongings.

“It was a good 45 minutes to an hour before we felt safe, where we felt like my life might not end right now,” Howell said.

Also among the concertgoers were several San Diego County law enforcement officers, including 16 San Diego police officers. None were injured.

San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said some officers helped administer first aid to victims.

“We’re now hearing stories of how they transitioned from concertgoer back to first responder,” Zimmerman said. “We heard stories about how some of our officers rendered aid and helped with tourniquets and did everything they could to save lives last night.”

Staff writers Karen Kucher and Morgan Cook contributed to this report.

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