When London resident Jane Beathard landed at the Las Vegas airport Sunday night, she had no idea of the tragedy that was about to hit Las Vegas and the nation less than an hour later.
Beathard, an outdoor writer and contributor to The Madison Press, splits her time between living in Madison County and Las Vegas, and had flown west to her home there Sunday evening.
“Our plane landed about 9 p.m.,” Beathard said in a phone interview Tuesday from Las Vegas with The Press. “We took the bus to the park-and-ride. We decided to take the I-15 to our street instead of the outerbelt. We were on the I-15 just behind the Mandalay Bay about 10 before 10 p.m., and the first shots were at about 10:08 p.m.,” she said. “We must have missed it by about 20 minutes.”
Just after 10 p.m. Sunday, a gunman killed 59 people and injured nearly 600 in the deadliest mass killing in modern American history. He opened fire with automatic weapons from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino hotel into a nearby crowd of more than 22,000 country concert-goers on the Las Vegas strip.
The gunman took his own life before a SWAT team broke into the hotel room.
Beathard said this concert has been held there for the last four years bringing to Las Vegas a number of major acts.
“We came home and turned on the TV and all at once the news cut in on the end of the show. At first it was total chaos; no one knew what was really happening,” she said.
She said that at first, no one realized the scope of what had happened. “There have been incidents on the strip in the past, but nothing on this scale.”
Like everyone else, I was just so totally shocked at the number of people killed and many still in critical condition,” she said. “I think it was the sheer numbers,” she said, that shocked her.
She said a few years ago she had met the police spokesperson in Las Vegas at a media conference. “He told me that the city is considered a big target for terrorists because they know some of the 911 hijackers had spent time here. They are never below a yellow alert.”
She added that the University Medical Center there had a mass casualty drill just six weeks before. “It is the only Level One trauma center in the state,” she said. “They had been working on ways to improve their mass casualty response.”
She said that overall, she spends her time in Las Vegas in the fall and winter, and returns to London in the spring and summer. “Las Vegas is more of a vacation home. I spend about a third of my time here.”
She said that after the shootings Sunday night, she has spent a lot of time answering messages, calls and emails from London area friends checking on her health and safety.
“I have to give the police a lot of credit for determining where the shots came from so quickly. There’s a lot of distance between the Mandalay Bay and where the concert was,” Beathard said. “You would look for a shooter in the crowd, not on the 32nd floor of a hotel.”
On Monday, Beathard said she went to get a prescription and nearby was the city’s largest blood donation center. “The lines of people waiting to give blood was down the street, and there were officers directing traffic,” she said because the numbers wanting to donate was so large. “They were estimating the wait to give blood was five hours.”
She adding that there were cash donations for the families being accepted and that had already reached the two and half million dollar goal.
“There are still people trying to locate family members,” she said.
Beathard said that the shooter, Stephen Craig Paddock, would have passed any background check. “He had no history of mental illness. He just appeared to be a gun collector. He had explosives in his vehicle, explosives in his house and about 19 guns. All of the guns were legal here,” she said. “Nevada has among of the most liberal gun law in the nation.”
She said it was obvious the shooter had planned it well ahead of time. “How he got all the guns into his hotel room is another thing authorities are looking at. It’s my understanding that he just kept his ‘do not disturb’ signs on his door the whole time so the maids would not enter.”
She wondered if this tragedy will change how hotels handle their security, making access more restricted.
“We have been wondering about how close we were to this. And we think about the fact that we passed by that hotel about 20 minutes before everything happened,” she said.
Reach General Manager/Editor Gary Brock at 937-556-5759.