CHICAGO (CBS) — Survivors of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history said they’re “grateful to be alive,” and the images of the massacre in Las Vegas will forever haunt them.
As Chicagoans returned home from Las Vegas on Monday and Tuesday, many were coming home forever changed due to what happened at the Route 91 Festival outside the Mandalay Bay Resort late Sunday night.
“I have never seen nothing like that in my life,” said Will Jones, who has served with the Cook County Sheriff’s Department for nearly two decades.
Jones was in the Mandalay Bay Resort watching a show when 64-year-old Stephen Paddock broke out windows of his hotel room on the 32nd floor, and opened fire on the crowd below. At least 59 people were killed and more than 520 others were injured. Thousands of others who were at the concert ran for cover, or simply ducked or laid flat in hopes of surviving the rapid-fire assault.
Authorities placed Mandalay Bay on lockdown while police searched the building. Five hours later, Jones walked out to see the carnage outside.
“Sick. I was sick,” he said.
Scott Lee returned to Chicago in a wheelchair after he was shot in the leg in Las Vegas, but he still felt fortunate, knowing all too well that other people who were shot did not survive. While he wasn’t ready to speak on camera about surviving the massacre outside Mandalay Bay Resort, he was eager to get home to begin what likely will be a long recovery.
Fellow survivor Elisha Seng was still wearing her three-day pass for the music festival after arriving back home in Chicago. The mother of two said she doesn’t plan on going anywhere for a long time.
Seng said, when the shooting started, like many others she thought it was fireworks. Then she saw a woman right behind her get shot, and drop to the ground bleeding profusely.
She said she and her friends dropped to the ground for what seemed like forever, as bullets continued to fly overhead in rapid-fire succession.
“We saw so many people hurt, and that didn’t make it. The image of the woman who was shot, I mean she was standing right behind us, and she was just gasping for air, and she just collapsed. It was horrible,” Seng said.
When she looked around while lying on the ground, Seng saw more and more people getting hit by bullets. She said the smell of blood filled the air as people laid dying. That’s when she and her friends decided to run for it.
By then, many people already had cleared out of the concert area, so they were able to exit the danger zone fairly quickly.
Now, Seng can hardly believe she survived. She said she’s just looking forward to being able to hug her children again.
“The shots were going. We were down on the floor for like 15 minutes. I mean, at least that’s what I thought it was, and then we finally just, I’m like, ‘We’ve got to make a run.’ There was too many people dropping by us, so we ran, and I just wanted to get home to my kids. So we’re just grateful to be alive,” she said.
Cindy Lazov wasn’t at the festival, but was nearby when hysterical survivors began streaming past her to escape the gunfire. They described a scene of complete chaos on the Las Vegas Strip.
“Everyone started just losing their minds, running for their lives,” she said. “Honestly, I got so sick to my stomach, I threw up. I threw up on the spot. I couldn’t, I couldn’t … it was … I’ve never felt this way. It’s a shock. I’m still shocked. I’m so sad. It’s a different kind of depression, because I’m actually sick to my stomach.”
Even though she was wearing pants, Lazov said she got cuts all over her knees from crawling on the ground in Las Vegas.
Lazov said she is still traumatized by what she experienced, and doesn’t know when the feeling will go away. She said she literally could not stop thinking about it as much as she wanted to do just that. She’s one of many who will be living with the trauma of the experience for a long time.
Kenneth Waits was attending a softball tournament just blocks away from the gunfire.
“When it’s something like that, you know you’re going to run for safety, and these things can divide us,” he said. “When you have people just having fun, enjoying life, and one person wants to mess up your life because their life is not on hand.”
Chicago native Juan Merida was at a birthday dinner for his brother when they were told there was an active shooter nearby.
“There was a girl that had a cut on her leg,” Merida said. “One guy lost a phone and a shoe, another guy lost a sandal. People were crying, unable to find their brothers or sisters or group. It was real bad.”
Merida said he plans to visit again, but it will have to wait until the country is safer and more unified.
“You could hear [the bullets] hitting the stage. They just kept coming,” said Chicago native Mike Anderson. “I just remember a girl next to me bleeding, a girl right in front of me was grabbing her throat.”
Anderson, who was 20 feet from the stage, said he ran for his life and escaped unharmed. “It’s almost a blur — almost like a bad dream.”
The gunman killed himself as a SWAT team was preparing to storm his hotel room. Police said they found 23 firearms in the room, including two rifles mounted on tripods, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Authorities also found another 19 firearms at his home in Mesquite, Nevada.
As of Tuesday morning, investigators were still trying to determine a motive for the attack, but authorities have said they believe Paddock acted alone. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the FBI has said they have found no evidence of ties to international terrorism.