LAS VEGAS — Thousands of country music fans became sitting ducks in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history on Sunday night.
Fifty-nine people were killed and another 527 were taken to hospitals when a gunman fired hundreds of bullets into the Las Vegas Strip crowd at a Jason Aldean concert, police said.
The gunman, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, unleashed a hailstorm of bullets from the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said.
Inside his room, they found a cache of weapons, including 10 rifles, the sheriff said.
“We believe the individual killed himself prior to our entry,” Lombardo said.
The massacre started about 10:08 p.m. PDT at the Route 91 Harvest festival, Lombardo said.
Taylor Benge was enjoying the concert with his sister when he heard a relentless onslaught of “200 to 300” bullets.
“My sister, being as noble as she is, threw herself on top of me and said, “I love you, Taylor,” the 21-year-old said.
“Even after an hour and 30 minutes, I didn’t know if I was safe.”
Police said they believe Paddock acted alone.
“Right now, we believe it’s a sole actor, a lone-wolf-type actor,” the sheriff said.
But why the massacre happened remains a mystery.
So far, the massacre has no known link to overseas terrorism or terror groups, a U.S. official with knowledge of the case said.
And a woman described as a “person of interest” after the attack is not believed to be involved in the shooting, police said in a statement.
Aldean posted a statement on Instagram saying that he and his crew were safe.
“My Thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved tonight. It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night. #heartbroken#stopthehate,” he wrote.
View this post on Instagram
Tonight has been beyond horrific. I still dont know what to say but wanted to let everyone know that Me and my Crew are safe. My Thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved tonight. It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night. #heartbroken #stopthehate
Two Las Vegas police officers are being treated at a local hospital for injuries they suffered during the shooting, Lombardo said. One is in critical condition, and the other sustained minor injuries.
In addition, the sheriff said there were off-duty officers attending the concert who might have died. The identities of those officers have not “Right now, we believe it’s a sole actor, a lone-wolf-type actor,” the sheriff said.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said on Twitter that a “tragic & heinous act of violence has shaken the #Nevada family” and offered prayers to all those affected by “this act of cowardice.”
Aldean, his wife Brittany, his band and crew were able to get off the stage safely and unharmed. But fans described chaos after the barrage of bullets.
Rachel De Kerf filmed her escape from the venue using her cellphone, starting just after the first shots were fired.
She described ongoing gunfire, and played out the video she had recorded during which more than five minutes of gunfire were intermittently audible.
“The gunshots lasted for 10-15 minutes. It didn’t stop,” she said. “We just ran for our lives.”
De Kerf’s sister, Monique Dumas, said that everyone instantly crouched when they heard the shots.
“The band was rushed off the stage, the floodlights came on the crowd, and you see on the right hand of the stage the person who was injured, so they’re calling for medics, calling for security, then there was gunfire again,” Dumas said.
“It seemed there was a pause in the gunfire and the people in the yellow shirts were telling the people to ‘go, go, go, go’ … the gunfire never ended, it seemed like it went on and on and on.”
SiriusXM Country radio host Storme Warren was on the side of the stage as Aldean was performing when the shots rang out.
“I thought it was fireworks going off and maybe it mistriggered, and then it happened again. And when it happened the third time, we knew something was wrong,” Warren said.
Warren said he heard “more than 50 shots fired and probably in the hundreds.”
“The shells were hitting the deck of the stage when I was on it,” he said, adding that he could still hear the shells as he went under the stage for protection.
A concertgoer told KLAS that everybody was lying on top of each other trying to get out of the shooter’s way.
“Everybody’s hiding everywhere, they’re hiding under the bleachers and the stanchions, anywhere they could and everyone is telling us to ‘run, run as fast as you can,'” she told KLAS.
“And my husband and I ran out toward our car, and there were people hiding underneath my car for cover and there was a gentleman who was shot and he said, ‘Can you help me?’ And so I put him in my car and I had like six people in my car, people without shoes, running, just to get away.”
Facebook has set up a crisis response page to help people determine whether their loved ones are safe.