Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Local survivors tell of terror in Las Vegas

Once the shots had subsided and everyone stopped running, once the sprained ankles and scraped knees had been bandaged, once the bodies had been covered and counted, the survivors went home.

Police run to cover at the scene of the shooting near the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
Police run to cover at the scene of the shooting near the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.Read moreJohn Locher / AP

Once the shots had subsided and everyone stopped running, once the sprained ankles and scraped knees had been bandaged, once the bodies had been covered and counted, the survivors went home.

Those carrying among the weightiest memories had been in the middle of the crowd when a gunman above them in a Las Vegas hotel room opened fire, killing 59 people and wounding more than 500. Stephen Paddock was acting alone. But as the drum of gunfire echoed around them, they didn't know that. The shooter or shooters could have been hiding around any corner.

Here are three stories of people from the Philadelphia region who carried the memories of Sunday's deadly massacre home with them.

"I'm not sure where we are mentally."

The text messages and calls haven't stopped. Fox. CBS. CNN. MSNBC.

Michael McGarry has ignored almost all of them.

"I don't feel like I did anything special," the New Jersey financial adviser said Friday. "I did, hopefully, what someone would have done for me or my wife or my family."

And yet what has stood out about McGarry's story amid hundreds from the shooting is that he did what many people cannot imagine themselves doing. He risked his life for strangers.

"Mike McGarry of Philadelphia laid on top of students at the concert to protect them from the gunfire. 'They're 20, I'm 53,' he said, 'and I've lived a good life,'" White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the day after the shooting.

McGarry, who lives in Marlton and works in Bala Cynwyd, traveled to Las Vegas with his wife for the Route 91 Harvest music festival. On Sunday, they were about 100 yards back from the stage when country singer Jason Aldean started his performance. Like others, he thought the popping sound might be fireworks, until he saw people running toward him.

McGarry barrels through the story.

They ran into a picnic area. A woman there had been shot in the calf. His wife, a registered nurse, found a belt and tied a tourniquet. The bleeding, which had been strong, stopped almost immediately.

"I had never seen anything like that," McGarry said.

When a group of people ran into the tent, McGarry told them to pile on top of one another. He threw himself over them.

"I don't know what made me say it. But I said, 'You guys are a lot younger than me. Get under me. I'll try to protect you,'" he said.

They stayed there until the gunfire stopped.

Fearful of other shooters, they walked for more than two miles, then came upon a hotel where McGarry booked a room.

His wife, still shaking, got in the shower to wash off the blood.

McGarry calls her the real hero.

Now home, she is still distraught, he said, though she's found comfort in the couple's two grandchildren. She declined to be interviewed and asked to not be named.

McGarry said he has tried to find normalcy by returning to work.

"We're certainly trying to heal physically," he said. "And I'm not sure where we are mentally at this point."

"I feel like I'm stuck behind this one wall."

Over his 11 years as a radio technician in Montgomery County's 911 call center, Bob Fuhrmeister has heard everything crackle over the speakers. Hostage situations. Fatal car crashes. Active shootings.

As a volunteer firefighter, he's been to many of those scenes himself.

But nothing prepared him for what happened in that concert venue.

"I was actually on scene the whole time. I just didn't show up after it happened," the 39-year-old father said, sitting in his Horsham home beside his wife, Katie. "I'm actually there. I experienced it. I heard it."

The couple had traveled for the music festival to celebrate Katie's 38th birthday. It was a long weekend packed with plenty of walks up and down the Strip, and by Sunday night Bob was beat. As Aldean took the stage, Katie asked if they should head back to their hotel. He said they should stay.

The shooting started minutes later.

"Who's shooting? Where are they shooting? … Where am I going? Where are they? Am I running into an ambush?" Katie recalled, a pair of crutches resting beside her.

She sprained an ankle while fleeing, though she said she has no idea how it happened.

The couple escaped through a back entrance. As soon as he felt safe, Bob pulled up a police scanner app on his phone and listened as SWAT teams closed in on Paddock.

"'I'm up on the 32 floor … Single shooter,'" Bob said, recalling the steady staccato coming from the scanner. "'He's in room blah blah blah. We're going up there now. We're going down the hallway now. He's shooting at us. Security guard down.'"

They listened as police swarmed other casinos looking for more snipers and breathed small sighs of relief with each location that was cleared.

Once safe inside a Westin hotel, they called Bob's parents, who were watching their two children. The couple boarded a flight the next day.

They've yet to come to terms with what happened, and as they recount the night, their disbelief remains. Katie said she is eager to grapple with the other emotions below the surface.

"I want to be able to just make it out," she said. "I feel like I'm stuck behind this one wall. I just want to be able to find the door to open to let it out."

"I'm hearing that gunfire a lot."

When he got back to his Wilmington home, Steve Gold didn't turn on the news. The images in his mind were enough to bear.

And the sounds of gunshots still ricocheting inside his head were more powerful than any grainy cellphone video could capture.

"It was so loud and like nothing I've ever heard in my life," Gold said. "I'm hearing that gunfire a lot."

Two days after the shooting, Gold had barely slept and his tears hadn't really dried, only settling on the surface of his bloodshot eyes in the moments between memories raw enough to disturb them.

The 42-year-old head groundskeeper for the Wilmington Blue Rocks baseball team had traveled to Las Vegas to attend the festival with a friend. On Sunday, he didn't want to be crammed near the stage. So he hung back toward the middle of the crowd.

At first, he thought the sounds were part of the show.

Then he saw the people rushing towards him.

He ran, his compass a mix of instinct and group mentality. Crouching in a food tent, he called his mom, told her he loved her, and hung up. He didn't want to know what she was going to say.

As he tried to find an exit, someone tilted a metal barricade against one of the venue's exterior fences, then tossed another one over, making makeshift ramps on both sides.

Gold crawled up and felt people, concertgoers like him, pulling him over.

"I feel guilty. I feel lucky. I feel a lot of things," he said. "When they said, 'Go,' I ran. And I don't know if I should have stayed to help."

He found refuge in the lobby of the Hooters Casino Hotel. One woman, kneeling in a ball on the floor, seemed particularly distraught. Gold knelt next to her. He learned that she and her boyfriend had been separated. The woman thought her boyfriend had been shot.

When they were let out of the hotel early Monday, she had yet to hear any update. Gold, still wearing the cowboy hat he had put on before the concert, wrote "Cowboy Steve" and his number on a piece of paper.

The woman began to cry, then told him he and her boyfriend shared the same first name.

Gold was back in Wilmington, sharing a beer with a friend, when the woman texted him to say her boyfriend was dead.

On his wrist, Gold wore a purple fabric bracelet. He had ripped it off in his hotel room early Monday, taking out his anger over everything that had happened in that venue on the wristband that had let him in. When he found it in his suitcase back home, he slipped it on.

"I put it back on for the love of the people," he said, pausing to cry and then continuing in a whisper. "I might wear it a little while."