‘It was never safe': California woman recounts being in the middle of Las Vegas massacre

Rumors of additional gunmen followed victims through mass shooting ordeal

This is an extended version of a story that appeared in the October 5, 2017, issue.

Angeline Gleason thought something was wrong with the sound system. It was Sunday evening on the Las Vegas strip, where Gleason and 11 of her friends were enjoying the final night of an outdoor country music festival. When the screams started, Gleason realized the loud pops she thought were flickering through the speakers were actually gunshots from somewhere above.

Gleason, 33, a former Sacramento resident now living in Newport Beach, had found herself in the eye of America’s worst mass shooting tragedy in memory.

At the time the shooting started, she didn’t yet know that a well-to-do retiree from nearby Mesquite, Nev., had moved into a room on the 33rd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino with more than two dozen firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition. She didn’t know that the indiscriminate terror he unleashed through a rattling barrel would end up stealing the lives of at least 59 people and injuring 527 more. She didn’t know that, days later, the nation would be soldiering through a familiar—and uniquely American—grieving process.

All she knew was that the people she saw dancing moments ago were falling around her.

“Wherever we were, it was never safe,” Gleason recalled. “Even if you were taking cover, people were still getting hit.”

Gleason had flown from Southern California to attend the Route 91 Harvest Festival, held in the open air of Las Vegas’ famed strip, with nearly a dozen of her friends. Minutes before the shooting started, Gleason and two friends, a married couple, left the main crowd for the portable restrooms near the back. They were about to buy some drinks and return to the festivities when Gleason heard the popping.

“I thought it was something coming from the speakers,” she said. “It was only after the first round of shots … that we heard screaming, because people were starting to drop. And then we realized what it was. I remember looking at Scott and Jess, and they said, ’Run.’”

Gleason says her friend’s husband led them toward the exit gates, where panicked concertgoers were rushing en masse as bullets ricocheted around them.

“We had no idea where the shots were coming from, so we just had to keep running,” she said. “The whole time we’re running, we’re thinking, ’At any moment, there’s going to be a bullet that hits us in the back.’”

Gleason says she saw people on the ground, but didn’t know if they were injured or taking cover.

Gleason remembers trying to stay focused on her feet as she ran down a driveway and across a street, following others through a doorway under the marquee of the Tropicana casino hotel.

She says they had to raise their hands to show that they were unarmed as they entered, but doesn’t know if anyone was looking. They continued running into a basement, through a hallway and into hotel offices.

Rumors of additional gunmen and new danger followed them through the rest of the night.

“Someone was screaming behind me that the gunman was behind us. And at this point, we had no idea how many there were,” she explained.

Several people ducked into one of the offices, where Gleason hid under a desk with two strangers. She had become separated from her friends by this point, but was too scared to use her cellphone lest an active gunman see the light. She remembers the quiet.

“We just waited in silence because we thought somebody was walking through with a gun trying to shoot us all,” Gleason said.

This is what it’s like to be in an active terrorist situation. Bereft of information and reacting to stimulus, you’re never quite sure when the danger is over.

Another woman used an office phone to call 911, but couldn’t speak. Gleason took the receiver and explained to the dispatcher where they were. She was told to wait for the police and the call ended.

Unsure of what to do, Gleason says she posted up near the door, trying to mentally prepare herself to jump an armed intruder should one enter. At one point, the group debated in hushed tones whether they risked being mistaken for the attackers if the police found them. The office line rang and a voice on the other end told them to come back up into the main hotel. They did, unsure of who they were listening to.

After exiting the office, a female hotel worker let them out into a hallway, where Gleason took the street exit and found herself facing the New York New York hotel. As she tried to get her bearings, she says somebody started shouting that the shooter was on the loose at New York New York. Suddenly, she was running again.

She followed a panicked crowd back to the Tropicana, where she found her friend Chris, a cop who was closer to the stage when the hail of gunfire began falling. He stayed at the venue to treat the wounded. Chris told her he used his belt to fashion a tourniquet around a man’s wounded leg, fearing an artery had been struck. He came across another man, lying on top of his wife, who had been shot in the head. The husband wouldn’t leave her behind.

The lockdown at the Tropicana lifted around 4 a.m. Gleason says two hours later, she and all of her friends, finally accounted for, were back at their hotel watching the news, trying to understand the scope of what happened. They’re still trying.

Gleason doesn’t know why she was lucky and others weren’t. She searches her mind for warnings that she missed, bad omens and the like. She can’t find any.

“It was so happy. Everybody was pretty relaxed, drinking, getting drunk, just having a good time—dancing,” she said about the moments before their lives changed.

“Everybody was in really good spirits. The concert thus far had been awesome.”