When Aaron Breitenbach walked back to his hotel room in Las Vegas at 3 a.m. on Monday, it was silent, except for police cars and ambulances.
Breitenbach was in the city with his wife and friends when a sniper took to the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and began shooting at a crowd of 22,000 watching a concert nearby.
“Instead of the 24 hour hustle and bustle, there were just small, silent groups of displaced people like ours trying to find their way home,” he told the Wichita Eagle on Monday afternoon.
To be clear, Breitenbach said, we “were never in danger and our experience is inconsequential and incomparable to those who were at the concert (some of whom we talked to at the airport),” but he experienced some of the hysteria following the shooting, which began at 10:08 p.m.
“It’s hard to put into words how it felt,” he said. “Other than the area directly around the shooting, police presence today wasn’t much different than normal, but last night there were police officers or vehicles lining the strip.”
His group was away from the strip at the time of the shooting, he said. One couple in their group returned to their hotel, Elara by Hilton Grand Vacations, in enough time to see a long line of ambulances approaching from the east.
“At that time we didn’t know the severity of the attack, but it became clear there was tremendous suffering just down the strip,” he said.
Mandalay Bay is about 4 1/2 miles south of where Breitenbach’s group stayed.
“The rest of our group was holed up further to the north at the Flamingo waiting for word it was safe to return to our hotel,” he said.
Police said the suspect, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, a resident of Mesquite, Nev., killed himself before a SWAT team burst in the room. Officials discovered at least 10 rifles in his hotel room, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said.
He killed at least 58 people and injured more than 500 while Jason Aldean played during the Route 91 Harvest country music festival, police said. It’s the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history.
The sheriff has set up a GoFundMe for victims. Within six hours, more than $900,000 had been raised. The initial goal of $500,000 was raised to a million shortly after the account exceeded that amount.
But while the situation continued to unfold, confusion still swept through the city. It wasn’t immediately clear if there was more than one shooter.
“There were false alarms, and that contributed to the fear in the air,” Breitenbach said. “But there was quickly a strong police presence that lined the strip.”
Though his flight had been delayed, Breitenbach should return to Wichita on Monday.
“Overall, there is a strong sense of thankfulness for health and safety, tremendous sadness for those hurt and killed, a desire to get home to loved ones, and appreciation for the law enforcement and first responders who ran toward danger to save lives,” he said.