LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – Five years ago in Las Vegas, a night of country music became an evening of terror.
On Oct. 1, 2017, a man opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival, killing 58 people that night. Two more later died from their injuries, and hundreds of others were hurt.
Many of the survivors say since that awful night, they’ve become something of a family – the Route 91 family.
Pat Dalton Amico was one of about 22,000 people at the music festival.
He has spent the last five years honoring the victims and survivors of the Las Vegas massacre by performing at events, such as the opening night reception of an exhibit the Clark County Museum debuted in honor of the anniversary.
But Amico, who is a singer, songwriter and performer, is also a survivor himself.
He was watching Jason Aldean perform when a man began shooting from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.
“I forget how many rounds were in that first burst. I think it was 150,” Amico said.
The bursts of bullets kept coming – more than a thousand rounds altogether.
Amico and his wife were headed for their vehicle parked nearby when the shooting began. They were right in the middle of the crowd.
“[My wife] asked me if we were going to die here, and I said, ‘I don’t know, I’ll do the best I can to get you home to the kids and grandkids. But I see a lot of young people going down, and I don’t think they’re tripping,’” he said.
He described the gunshots as never-ending, as they tried to make their way to the exit, which proved to be another challenge.
“Wherever I go, whether it’s in a hotel or a concert, I make myself aware of what the exits are and people surrounding it. I never did too much of that before [the shooting],” Amico said. “One of the things that made me aware of that was on October 1, a lot of people didn’t know where to go.”
Shae Diaz, another survivor, also didn’t know where the exits were. She had attended the music festival in the past and recalls the venue being confusing.
“I remember kind of having an ‘oh s—’ moment. I had no idea how to get in and out of that place,” Diaz, then 19 years old, said.
Each day of the festival, she and her sister watched the performers from the left side of the stage. On the last day, Sunday, Oct. 1, she suggested they go to the right side.
But some of her friends didn’t agree, so they stayed put, on the left. What they didn’t know at the time was that the gunshots would come from the right side.
“Which in the end would actually save our lives. I truly believe that,” she said.
THE NIGHTMARE BEGINS
Diaz remembers being frustrated that her sister, then 17, had left her to go back to their hotel room at the Mandalay Bay. She wasn’t feeling well.
That frustration quickly turned to relief, knowing her sister wasn’t in the line of fire as Diaz went into fight or flight mode.
“We couldn’t do anything but try to survive,” she said.
When the gunshots began, she thought it sounded like a speaker malfunctioning. Others described the initial sound as a helicopter passing by or fireworks going off.
But when Diaz saw her favorite singer Jason Aldean’s face go blank, she knew something wasn’t right.
“That’s when I knew, like, okay, this is happening,” Diaz said.
She laid on the ground for what she believes was two full clips of the gun firing. The next round of silence, she fled.
“It was just like a scene out of a movie, so much chaos and everyone just trying to climb over the fence and get out,” Diaz said.
A line of men was on the other side of the fence helping people over. Diaz still has scars from climbing over.
“We were in boots, we had cuts all over ourselves. One girl I remember took off her shoes and was running. She was in heels and was sprinting over glass bottles.”
Diaz ended up sprinting miles away to a McDonald’s close to the Las Vegas airport.
FIGHT, FLIGHT OR SAVE LIVES
Pat Amico finally reached his pickup truck with his wife. But they didn’t just drive away.
Amico started loading people into the bed of his truck, eventually helping save 10 people.
“I saw a young lady go down. I jumped back out of the truck to the dismay of everybody in the truck. I went over and picked her up. I felt the blood run down my arms and carried her back to the truck and put her in,” Amico said. “It was just constant until we couldn’t fit anybody else.”
Amico didn’t care where the shooter was. All that was on his mind was helping others and getting them to safety.
“I saw so many what I’ll call heroes that day, rushing in to help with bullets, helping people, tourniquets, stopping the bleeding, using their own shirts and clothing,” he said.
Blood stains remain in the back of the pickup truck. Amico says he’s never washed it.
“This truck did a lot of good that night,” he said.
LOSS TURNS INTO GAIN
Fifty-eight people gained their angel wings on Oct. 1, 2017, and two more in the years that followed. Although their lives can never be replaced, Amico and the other survivors gained thousands of “family” members.
They call themselves the Route 91 family.
“We don’t have 22,000 survivors from the concert. We have 2 million survivors from the city,” Amico said. “We are forever family, and we belong to something that you never want to belong to. We’ll never forget what most will never remember.”
Now, a healing garden, a museum exhibit and music remain to tell the stories of the victims, survivors and their families.
“The darkest day our community ever saw was on Oct. 1,” Amico said. “And Oct. 2 was the brightest I’ve ever seen this community, the way people came together.”
Amico wrote the song “Forever Family,” following the tragedy.
He performed the song, a rarity for him, for Fox News at the Healing Garden a couple of days after the five-year anniversary.
A lyric from the song reiterates the familial bond that emerged from tragedy: “What we feel and what we’ve become, we’re forever family, Route 91.”
The Healing Garden is a permanent memorial kept up by volunteers, many of whom are survivors.
Some families visit the garden every year. Days after the five-year anniversary, one of the victims’ fathers re-painted the bench dedicated to his daughter who died.
Visitors can find gifts of hope throughout the garden, open for the public to take, including pebbles that represent strength and bracelets that say “Love is the answer.”
The Clark County Museum recently opened a 22,000-piece exhibit dedicated to the five-year anniversary, “5 Years Later: Remember 1 October & Becoming Vegas Stronger.”
It displays some letters, posters, signs and other items left behind at the original makeshift memorial in addition to donated items from first responders and survivors.
One of the artifacts is a straw cowboy hat one survivor donated.
“She had been to multiple country music concerts across the country, and she’d always worn that straw hat,” said Leonard Lanier, curator of exhibits at the Clark County Museum.
The woman had worn the hat at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival on Oct. 1, 2017. About a week after the shooting, she returned to Las Vegas and went to the memorial that was created at the time.
“After seeing the 58 crosses there, she decided that her hat, which she was wearing, was better off to remain with the people who didn’t make it through that night than for her to keep it, so she left it on one of the crosses, and it’s part of the collection,” Lanier said.
Forty-five U.S. states and at least 10 other countries, including Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, are represented in the exhibit.
“A lot of times when you deal with a historical subject, especially one that’s been in the far past, there are no survivors, no people who live through it for you to interview or to interact with,” Lanier said. “[This] is an emotional event, and it’s only been five years ago.
The exhibit runs through Jan. 30, and admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children and seniors.