For Darcy Custeau from Blind Bay, Jacki Bluschke from Chase and Lenora Shipka from Lake Country, the Route 91 country music festival in Las Vegas was to be the highlight of their second annual girls trip.
During the last act of the last night of the three-day festival, they were having fun – dancing, singing, whooping and hollering. Then they heard bangs.
“We just thought it was fireworks, to do with the end of the show,” said an exhausted and emotional Custeau from Las Vegas Monday. She and Shipka had been standing about 250 feet from the stage Sunday night, pretty well in the centre of the huge field that accommodated the 22,000 people at the event. The field was fenced off with tarps and such, she says, and had only certain places to exit.
Bluschke was about 10 feet in front of them and a fourth friend from Edmonton was up at the front.
Then they heard more bangs, closer together. Then rapid fire ‘bopbopbopbopbopbopbop,’ says Custeau. “Some people were saying ‘it’s a gun.’ Others were saying ‘it’s only fireworks.’ We were still kind of hesitant and then we heard ‘Get down, get down, it’s gunfire, it’s gunfire.’”
“We didn’t know where the shooter was coming from, we just had to get out of there.”
They started running.
“Every time we’d hear gunshots, we’d get down. They’d stop and we’d run.”
Custeau said people were dropping everywhere, but the women didn’t know if they had been shot or were hiding, under cover.
They lost Bluschke in the turmoil.
“It was all just a blur, it was chaos, there were people everywhere, they were all very helpful, no one was trampling. Everyone was trying to help. The men were trying to cover the ladies, to help them, then getting people up, running together in groups. We found our way through, past the SWAT team and they told us, ‘get out, get out, just don’t stop running, just go, just keep going, just keep going, don’t stop.’”
Custeau and Shipka, wearing skirts and cowboy boots, ran, trying to stay off the main roads. As they ran, they called their husbands, telling them they were okay. Custeau has a five-year-old daughter and Shipka, a six-year-old.
The shooting happened at 10:08 p.m., Custeau notes. They ran four miles and were in their hotel room by probably 10:50.
“It was pretty traumatic. We didn’t know if there was one shooter or 10 shooters, we didn’t know anything until we got to the hotel and turned on the news.”
Shipka’s boot was full of blood, Custeau says, and she thought she might have cut her leg. When she took it off, however, she discovered she was okay.
“So she’s got somebody’s blood in her boot.”
Blushke was on her own in the chaos, but a husband and wife from Vegas asked her if she was alone. When she told them she’d lost her friends, the man told her to grab onto his hand and onto his waist and not let go.
The three of them got out and ended up in another hotel in a storage room, waiting until they could get a vehicle from a friend who worked there, Custeau says. Then they drove Bluschke back to her hotel.
The fourth friend also got out safely.
When the women returned to the hotel, they had no idea how bad the carnage was.
“We had not a clue of the extent – nobody did,” Custeau says. “When we came into our room it was on the news that two people had died. We shut the TV off and turned it back on, 20 people had died. We shut the TV off, turned it back on, 50 people had died.”
By Monday evening, 59 people were reported dead and more than 525 injured.
Still reeling from the horror, Custeau doesn’t know what’s next for her.
“I can’t answer it until I get home with my loved ones and reality kicks in. I can’t answer that. We’re a part of history of the biggest massacre in U.S. history. It’s not really how you want to be a part of history.”