Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Cindy Glasson
Reporter Photographer 

Thermopolis women reflect on emotional Vegas shooting

 

October 19, 2017



These days you can’t turn on the evening news, read a newspaper, magazine or surf the internet without witnessing some kind of tragedy, from earthquakes and hurricanes to mass shootings.

Here, in Thermopolis, we are insulated from a lot of the outside world, safe and secure in our small town where we know our neighbors.

But that doesn’t mean we are immune to tragedy.

Four local women, along with two of their friends, found that out first hand on Sunday, Oct. 1 as a gunman opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest Fest in Las Vegas, leaving 58 dead and 546 injured.

Heather Herring, Nancy Hetland, Chanda Wells and Sarah Cox were in Las Vegas for the three-day festival along with Wells’ sister Lia’, from Denver and another friend from California, Erica Rodas.

What started out as a girls’ weekend away ended with 47 hours of fear and confusion.

The group attended the country music festival on Saturday, standing together in the center, just 10 rows back from the stage, a place they were very glad they were not in on Sunday.

Herring and the Wells sisters were in the crowd on Sunday night, still center of the stage, but further back from where they had been the previous night, something they are very thankful for today.

Hetland and Rodas had decided not to go to the concert right away, but instead had taken a taxi across town to get tattoos, a decision that kept them out of the line of fire.

Cox was actually at the airport, sitting on the runway awaiting take off when the gunman opened fire.

According to Herring, she was taking a video with her cell phone of Jason Aldean on stage when she heard what she thought was fireworks.

“It was that pop-pop-pop sound,” she said. “It really didn’t sound like gunshots. It was more like someone had lit a whole string of firecrackers and they were going off.”

In the video Herring has on her phone, you can hear the shots and even see Aldean look to his left before you hear someone in the crowd next to Herring say, “That doesn’t sound right.”

That was the end of the video.

Herring said she heard the sound a second time, ducked and took off running.

There was nowhere to run, really, with the crowd in chaos, heading every direction. That is when she became separated from the Wells sisters.

Herring ran toward the 10-12-foot fence surrounding the venue where some men were pushing against it, trying to get one section open to escape.

“They finally got the fence down and I fell,” she said. “I didn’t realize until later that I was all scraped up and had a huge bruise. I just needed to get out of there.”

When they got through the fence, they found 15-20 people hiding behind a police car on the street.

Continuing to run, Herring said they had to climb another fence, this one a wrought-iron one that surrounded an apartment complex. Once inside, they found themselves in a cul-de-sac.

“This whole time the shots sounded like they were right behind you,” she said. “It was probably reverberation off the buildings, but it sounded so much closer.”

There was nowhere to hide.

The people in the apartment complex had no idea what was going on and weren’t letting anyone into their apartments out of harm’s way.

Some of the crowd headed toward the Hooter’s Casino and Herring found herself running through the back door into the kitchen and through to the casino floor.

“There were people hiding everywhere,” she said. “They were hiding under the tables and the slot machines.”

Herring ended up being pushed into an elevator with a few other people and landed on the fourth floor. A couple preparing to vacate their room at the hotel let Herring and the others into their room and they immediately pulled the beds apart, setting the mattresses against the windows and the door.

“Everyone was so calm,” she said.

For the next five hours, Herring stayed in the room with the others, charging cell phones, some falling asleep from the sudden drop in adrenaline.

When they were finally cleared to move around, Herring said it was a bit eerie getting off the elevator. The first thing they saw was a woman’s legs in the aisle between two banks of slot machines, a man lying next to her.

“Our first thought was they were dead,” she said. “As we got closer, though, we realized they were just asleep. People were sleeping everywhere on the floor.”

What had happened to everyone else?

While fleeing the concert, Herring had called Hetland and told her not to come back to the venue.

Hetland said she could hear the gunshots and screaming over the phone.

When Hetland found out she was at Hooter’s, she had their cab driver take them there. Unfortunately, by the time they arrived, the hotel was on lock-down, forcing them to take shelter in a coffee shop next door, Coco’s.

A police officer was inside Coco’s and let them inside where they found people hiding under tables. One woman had been shot.

“SWAT eventually cleared us,” Hetland said, “and we went with the cop to the Red Cross set up down at UNLV (University of Las Vegas). It was a three-mile walk to get there.”

It was there, at the Thomas and Mack Center, that the group was finally reunited. In an amazing coincidence, the Wells sisters had been close to the others throughout the ordeal, they just hadn’t seen each other in the chaos.

All agreed Las Vegas and the Red Cross were very well prepared for the situation.

They were greeted by people who had arm fulls of phone chargers. There were blankets, food and water for everyone as well as grief counsellors. They also did a good job of keeping everyone appraised of what was going on.

Eventually they were allowed to get on a bus that took them from UNLV back to their hotel – Mandalay Bay.

The hotel was still on lock-down and they had to return to UNLV to wait things out.

Finally, about 9 a.m. Monday morning, the group went back to the hotel and after several attempts to get inside, managed to find an open door at the back of the property near the loading dock.

Packing as quickly as possible, even leaving some things behind, they found a cab to the airport to try to catch their noon departure.

“The people of Las Vegas were amazing,” Herring said. “We were trying to get out of there as soon as possible, and here these people were having to come to work. Some were crying.”

While Rodas and Lia’ Wells took another airline, the remaining ladies barely missed their flight back to Casper.

The airline stepped up and sent them home via San Diego and then Salt Lake, first class, free.

Hetland’s husband, Brandon, met the women in Salt Lake, driving all night to get them home.

47 hours.

Looking back, Hetland said there was someone to help them every step of the way.

When Herring realized she was alive and her kids were safe at home, that is when she ‘lost it.’

“My LightsOn kids are keeping me grounded,” she said. “They remind me life is supposed to be fun. I am so grateful and thankful to be here.”

Cox is carrying a bit of guilt with her for not being there when they needed her.

“If I had still been in the airport and not on the plane, I would have been back there in a heartbeat,” she said.

She shudders to think what would have happened if the shooting had taken place on Saturday instead of Sunday.

“If it had been the night before,” she said. “We were only 10 rows back in the center.”

The girls don’t know why it happened.

They now have an assurance that it wasn’t their time, that a higher power is in charge.

“We were all supposed to be there,” Cox said.

Herring is still amazed there weren’t more people killed.

“There were some serious injuries,” she said. “There were so many little kids there on Sunday, up on their parent’s shoulders. People in wheelchairs. Its scary to think people risked their own lives to save these people.

“For whatever reason, we have a second chance. We’re traumatized. Why are we all here? Its very humbling. We were so close to not coming home.”

 

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