The flag set to half-staff above the welcome center greeted the first PLNU students of the day on Monday, setting the somber tone. With a handful of PLNU’s own students attending the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival over the weekend, many students mourned the tremendous loss of life and feared the worst on a personal level.
PLNU student, Taylor Schmidt, is originally from Las Vegas and flew back to her hometown to attend the Route 91 Harvest Festival starting Saturday. By the time the first shots rang out on Sunday night, she was standing nearly front row. Schmidt said Jason Aldean was on his fourth or fifth song when she and her family heard the first shots and, like most, made nothing of it.
“I didn’t believe it was a gun until Brandon [friend] got all of our attention and said, ‘There’s blood right behind us, we have to move.’ So, we all started running,” said Schmidt in an interview with The Point. “Once we were out of the venue we were able to crouch behind cars and keep moving further away when the shooting paused so the guy could reload or switch guns.”
Schmidt said that in the chaos of escaping the venue with her mom, she was separated from her brother and friends, and lost her phone. Panic in her mom then began to set in, but Schmidt says she knew she needed to stay calm.
“My dad was leading us because my mom and I had no idea where to go,” recalled Schmidt. “My mom was really scared and I was able to stay pretty calm because even once I believed it was the sound of a gun, I still didn’t believe anyone was seriously injured. I saw the blood on the floor behind where we had been standing but I just assumed people had been shot in less critical areas.”
After escaping the venue, Schmidt and her family came to a dead end at an airport runway, where they took refuge in an airplane hangar by 10:45p.m. until 2:30 a.m.. She says there were about 100 people hiding there as well. Security guards and an off-duty police officer directed everyone and tried to contact other law enforcement. By the time they reached the hangar, Schmidt says she could confirm all her friends and family were safe. Schmidt tried to get in contact with another PLNU student attending the concert, Kendall Barnes, but was unable to at first. Eventually, Schmidt was able to confirm Barnes was safe as well.
“Both of my parents’ phones had died (mine was lost), so when they had low battery I wrote our friend’s phone number on my water bottle with lipstick. Obviously, that didn’t work out very well and it smeared,” said Schmidt. “We started talking to this couple who was waiting with us, and the man let us put our friend’s number in his phone. He also let me log into my Facebook so I could communicate with Kendall. I had logged into Facebook on my mom’s phone when it still had battery to tell everyone that we were safe.”
While the details of the event itself remain unclear and new details continue to emerge, we do not need the news to understand how devastating this was, injuring over 500 and killing more than 50. Sixty-four-year-old retired accountant and suspected killer, Stephen Paddock, was found dead on the 32nd floor on Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino by, what appeared to be, a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
NBC and other news organizations are reporting that after investigating throughout the day on Monday, authorities concluded that Paddock had a total of 23 guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in his room. A motive remains under investigation as details continue to be uncovered.
PLNU’s Vice President for Spiritual Development, Mary Paul, reached out to students and faculty following the tragedy encouraging strength in the midst of devastation.
“We know there are many families and friends who are receiving news even now about their loved ones and ask that your presence would be known as you speak into the deep places of their hearts,” said Paul in her email. “May your people quickly gather around those who are hurting offering help in tangible ways. Lord God we need your love and grace to be poured out over this nation. Help us to be a people of compassion and grace with each other and especially in response to those who are in chaos of body, mind and spirit.”
Las Vegas continues to recover after what authorities are referring to as the worst massacre in modern American history. In a live-streamed statement from the White House, President Trump condemned this as an “act of pure evil” and added, “Our unity cannot be shattered by evil, our bonds cannot be broken by violence.”