“The vacation I had looked so forward to was finally here. Going to Las Vegas, where I grew up, for a three day country music festival. It was my first Route 91 Harvest Festival. The first day was simply amazing and everything I expected and more. Saturday night, I received the text while dancing and singing to Country Music that my nephew was just born. Tears of joy streaming down my face. Not knowing that exactly 24 hours later, in that same spot, tears of pure terror and fear would consume me.
First thing I did Sunday morning was rush to the hospital to meet my nephew and hold him for the first time. I left the hospital to meet my best friend to head over to the festival the same way we did the prior two days. At the concert we met up with our friends, drank beer and swapped stories as we tried to maintain our hangovers. We were in a VIP suite. It was our own little makeshift metal building with a small balcony. It gave us more freedom to dance and be crazy off to the side of the stage. The suite was directly facing Mandalay Bay. At 10:04, we were singing, laughing, dancing, without a care in the world. 60 seconds later, our lives would never be the same again.
At 10:05, a gunman on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay opened fire on the crowd. It was very confusing at first, no one really moved or did anything. I could hear people saying, ‘What the hell was that?’ and ‘get down!’ You could hear the crowd start getting very loud. When the second burst went off, we hit the ground, as a massive part of the crowd started to flee for cover. As I ran into our makeshift little room, I texted my partner and said, ‘There’s a shooter, we are all on the ground.’ I was with one of my best friends just before Jason Aldean went on stage and her last words to me were, ‘We are going to get closer to the stage.’ I called her and I will never be able to get the sound of the pure terror in her voice out of my head. But at least I knew she was safe.
Immediately, I thought back to previous stories I had read of other shootings and the things people did in those moments. I realized I wanted my mom to know what was going on and to speak with her in case I didn’t make it out of the venue. It was already past midnight in Austin. She answered the phone tired and confused why I would possibly be calling. I said, ‘Mom, there is a shooter here, we are on the floor, please stay on the phone with me.’ Someone in our suite kept saying, ‘It’s not real.’ That it was NOT a gun and it was firecrackers and they just want people to panic. Even though I didn’t believe him and thought for sure it was something more than fireworks, I stood up anyways. I saw people jumping over barriers and gates by the stage. I saw a girl running towards our suite – then she was struck and fell face first to the floor. I knew she had just been shot and this was a real situation. At that moment, it hit me. ‘Oh my God, people are really dying here.’ When you witness someone running for safety and then getting shot, you think, ‘This is really happening. I might not survive this.’ And to this day, that image plays in my mind every time I think of that night.
I told my best friend and her fiancé to stay down. Around the 7th or 8th burst of gunfire, the bullets began to hit the suite. We could hear the metal pinging all around us and could hear everyone screaming. I believe my mom could even hear the bullets on the phone with me. She kept asking, ‘Are those the bullets?’ She was so confused. In her mind, it was like a fight broke out and someone pulled out a handgun or something. She had no clue of what was really happening to me. That turned out to be a good thing because she stayed so calm, which kept me calm. She made me believe I was going to be okay even though I really didn’t know if I was going to make it out.
During a break in shooting, someone opened the door and said, ‘You need to run!’ I assumed the shooter was making his way to the suite area and didn’t want to be sitting ducks, so we made the hardest decision ever and left the ‘safety’ of our suite and ran outside to try and escape. As soon as we stood up, another round began. As we were running down the stairs, a bullet hit so close to my friend and I, we both shifted and screamed to the side of the stairs. We made a run for it out the back gate and through a dirt lot, trying to run as fast and low as I could. I could still hear the bullets hitting all around, I hit a large rock, rolling my ankle and crashing to the ground. My mom was still on the phone with me. She just kept repeating, ‘You are going to be okay Bryce, you’re going to be okay. Keep running and get behind something safe when you can.’ When I fell, I remember my mom screaming into the phone, ‘BRYCE BRYCE BRYCE!’ because she thought I had been shot. A group of people pulled me behind a car with them, as we all huddled together behind this tiny car during gunfire.
Once the gunfire stopped, we ran again. As you ran from the festival, you saw people scattering, officers screaming to run this way, people on the ground everywhere, blood on the ground and on people’s clothes. One of the toughest moments of my life was making direct eye contact with someone who had been shot. She was alive, we just engaged in this direct eye contact. It really felt like she could see my fear and I could see hers, we both had a look of helplessness. We locked eyes for maybe 2 seconds at the most and yet everything around me stopped. There were no bullets, no noise, just pure fear and I feel like we felt each other’s bond at that moment. It’s something that is so hard to describe but something I will never forget. She had someone pushing her in a wheelchair so I knew she already had help, but I don’t know if she survived. I hope she did. There is no way for me to know as her face was covered in blood.
When the shots had finally stopped I knew the shooter was either dead or ran to get away and at that point I felt relatively safe. My friend Katie was starting to panic and freak out. I knew we couldn’t focus on freaking out or crying. I just told her, ‘We can cry tomorrow, but we need to get out of here now.’
The aftermath was unbelievably difficult. I had to get on a flight back home to Austin the next day. How do you begin the healing process of something you never expected to have to deal with? I was numb, I was sad, I was still in shock, I was confused, still in a daze. Do I go back to work? I had no idea what I needed to do. I sought help in a Trauma Counselor. Lucky for me, I am a 911 Dispatcher so I had great resources to help coping with a traumatic event. I saw Dr. Tania Glenn, the best trauma counselor in the area. I saw her for about 7 months. I did Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) which was a great thing to help with constant nightmares. I would have shooting nightmares about 4-5 times a week. I had survivors’ guilt, I was depressed, still very confused. The biggest thing was I knew I had a long road of recovery ahead. Tania talked a lot about being resilient. That is such a HUGE aspect of mentally surviving this shooting. Knowing every day wasn’t gonna be easy. There would be bad days, but I was so resilient to not let this beat me.
Everyone will deal with things in their own way. A lot of coping mechanisms will work for some and not for others. But one thing is certain, that it will affect your mental health. That’s the untalked part about when a mass shooting occurs. The media covers your shooting for a few days. But that is it. The rest of the world moves on to the next story in a matter of days. But here you are, still feeling lost, depressed, angry, confused, but everyone else moves on. You feel like, it is not in mainstream news anymore so you don’t want to keep bringing it up. You start to let it build inside you and act like everything is okay and you are just happy to be alive, when in reality you are struggling, but still do not know what to do. That is a very normal feeling. I don’t think people realize that when they see these news clips, cell phone video, or anything relating to the shooting, that those were real people. People who have to live with these memories forever. And it leads to how do you move forward from something that you think about every hour of every day. It has been almost a year and half since the shooting, and there is not a day that has gone by that I have not thought about that night.
I was resilient. I still have bad days. I know the signs of depression and PTSD and I am not afraid to reach out for help. Every time I go back to Las Vegas, there is always a somber reminder of that one time I went and almost didn’t come home. I take my nephew to the healing garden. I have that bond with him. I met him on the day I almost died. I want him to go with me to feel at peace and to remember the 58 lives we lost that night. My fellow concert goers – I have begun the process of being a licensed instructor to teach other dispatchers and law enforcement personnel the effects of stress and trauma that it can have on you and how to recognize it. I will be building an active shooter class for dispatchers that will focus on receiving the call and what it is like on the other end and how to survive the aftermath of it. My life changed that night, but it doesn’t have to be for the worst. I want my experience to help educate people on what survivors of these attacks go through. Being a mass shooting survivor is tough because we can work very hard to move forward in a healthy way, but when the breaking news flashes across the screen and you see the next shooting just happened, you are thrown back into the terrible night that you survived. It can be a never-ending cycle, which is why it is so important to take care of your mental health. I became a member of the group you never want to be a part of. I survived the deadliest mass shooting in US history. When hard times arise, so must we. You are not alone.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Bryce Wellman of Austin, Texas. You can follow his journey here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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