HOME SAFE - From left, Penhold Firefighters Mackenzie Johnston, Danielle Meeres and Sean Pendergast, recently returned home from Las Vegas. They were in attendance of the Route 91 Harvest Festival where the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history occurred. photo submitted

Penhold firefighters return home safe after Las Vegas shooting

Group recalls terrifying events of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history

Three Penhold firefighters are recalling their terrifying experience of escaping the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday.

Sean Pendergast, captain of the Penhold Fire Department, and his fiancé and Penhold Firefighter Danielle Meeres, had just met up with friends Mackenzie Johnston, a Penhold senior firefighter, and Laura Johnston to attend the final act at Route 91 Harvest Festival.

“We were standing between the seating area and the main stage when it started. Gunshots in rapid succession. I had recognized the sound quickly but had dismissed it,” said Pendergast.

“My initial thought was that it was gunfire but on the other side of Mandalay Bay, maybe in the casino. After a few seconds we started making comments that it must be fireworks, the concert was still playing. After 10 to 20 seconds and three or so bursts of gunfire, the concert stopped, the lights came on, and a massive wall of people were heading towards us. There was panic, people running in all directions.

“Dani took my hand and we started running, we had plowed over what used to be a bar and were quickly behind the bleacher area with dozens of other patrons running between fences and stands.

“A girl had fallen over and people were beginning to fall on top of her, she was being trampled. We weren’t sure if she was shot or concussed from the fall but she was dazed for sure. Dani and I started yelling, ‘Stop, stop, stop,’ we got the crowd to stop pushing forward, Dani was focused on the girl, she kept telling her, ‘We have to get up, come on get up!’”

He added the woman finally responded and the pair helped her up and started running again.

“As we were walking we heard the shooting start again, again we started running this time across Tropicana Avenue to the MGM. We stopped behind a trailer to catch our breath, assess and decide further action.

“At this point we have no idea what has happened, we are worried that it has been a mass shooting, how many gunmen? They could come into a casino at any moment and start shooting. This was the last time we heard gunfire. We entered the MGM to see if there were any people needing help, we crossed the strip into NYNY and again across Tropicana Avenue to Excalibur.

“There was a tent set up in the intersection with dozens of ambulances, police and fire – this was 20 minutes after it started, an amazing response from police, fire and EMS. We tried to talk to some police to offer assistance. They only wanted people evacuating.”

Among all the chaos, Pendergast said him and Meeres lost track of their friends Mackenzie and Laura.

“We were separated from them very shortly after we realized that it was in fact gun fire,” said Mackenzie.

“We could hear bullets hitting the ground and at one point I yelled to Laura, ‘Get down’ and she dropped in place, there was a lull in shots and I yelled to her to get back up and we took off through a gap in the food trucks, this is when we had lost Sean and Dani,” he said.

“As this was happening we saw a young woman with a gunshot wound in her chest area. The rushing crowd would not allow us to get over to help her and she was already being assisted so we moved on towards the exit. The shooting didn’t stop until we made it to the back doors of the Tropicana Hotel.

“We both felt relieved to be inside and away from the shooting so we stopped and caught our breath. Then suddenly everyone started screaming and running back the other way because it was rumoured that a shooter had entered the front of the casino.”

After missed calls and texts, Pendergast and Meeres learned Mackenzie and Laura were on the roof of the Tropicana. Pendergast and Meeres headed that way.

“We ran up the stairs (of the Tropicana Hotel) to find a man on an office chair with a bullet wound in his knee being helped by two others. Dani presented herself as an Intensive Care Nurse, she took control of his leg and they started to lift him down the escalator.”

Pendergast continued towards his friends as Meeres assisted the injured man.

“Max had said they were up some scaffolding. I found it, climbed up and called their names. They came over right away. We descended the scaffolding and all of the sudden people started running in from the casino.

“We all ran into a rooftop storage area to hide. In here Max took a phone call from Dani, we started to make a game plan. We were going to get off the roof, find Dani and get as far away from the strip as we could,” he said.

“One guy in the room with us starting yelling and panicking. I tried to calm him down, said there are dozens of ambulances and an operations tent outside the hotel and they wouldn’t be staging in a danger area.

“How would you know?” he yelled. “We are firefighters,” I said back.

“The room calmed and two girls came up to us to ask if they could come with us far enough to get into their hotel room that was in the same casino we were on the roof of.

“I said sure, and told everyone else that shelter in place is a good idea right now, let someone know where you are and stay put, the only reason we are leaving is to find my fiancé.”

Pendergast and Mackenzie dropped the two girls off at their elevator door and went to search for Meeres. After reuniting they headed to the Hooters Hotel.

“There was crime scene tape and a dead body out front. We walked towards the casino and were given water by an employee.

“We stopped here for a bathroom break. Deciding there was too many people here, we went east again. We made a stop at a beer store to buy two jugs of water and a pile of granola bars. Travelling east we found the Grand Canyon helicopter tours building. There was a concrete alcove behind some bushes. We set up camp here for a few hours to text our families, drink some water and rest a bit,” said Pendergast.

“Three hours after the initial gunshots we flagged down a cop outside of the Grand Canyon tour building. The cop said we could start making our way back to our hotel and that it was under control. We started walking, ran into a police check stop, they diverted us first to the north side of Tropicana Avenue, then told us we couldn’t go down Tropicana at all.

“They were confused and unsure. We went north weaving around all the road blocks and swat crews until we finally made it back to the strip at the Monte Carlo. This was as far south as they would let us. We went inside to find the refuge area, it was full, no towels, and no blankets left, three apples and no water.

“We left there, going north again. Once we got to the Aria (hotel) we could get a taxi. The taxi driver took us to the Marriott where we bought a room and tried to get some sleep. In the morning we woke up, were able to return to the Excalibur to collect our things, and went to the airport to fly home.”

efawcett@reddeerexpress.com

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