Standing just about in the middle of some 22,000 packed-in, screaming and dancing country music fans, Kody Robertson heard the first pop-pop-pop-pop-pops echo across Las Vegas strip. He thought they were fireworks, just a part of the show.
And then people started to scramble and push and try to figure out what the hell was really going on, the woman next to him fell. Two shots. Standing next to Robertson, the woman — whom he had met just hours before and had been hanging out and dancing and enjoying life with — was one of the hundreds shot by a man police now say was raining fire from an automatic weapon from a window on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Casino.
"She just went down," said Robertson, a 32-year-old salesman from Hilliard. His brother is Dispatch photographer Kyle Robertson, who got a text from Kody about 3:30 a.m. (Ohio time) saying he was safe.
"Your instinct is to run, to get away from that," Kody Robertson said, "but there were so many people, too many people down all over who needed help."
He said as soon as he realized the direction of the sound of the gunfire, he looked up and saw the flashes coming from the hotel window. He threw himself on top of the woman — her name is Michelle and she is from California — and tried to shield her. The gunfire continued spraying through the now-panicking crowd. People ran. People screamed. They hid under bleachers and anything they could find. There would be a second of pause, more gunfire.
"We'd run and duck and run and duck and run and duck," Robertson said this morning by phone as he sat in the waiting room of Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, having delayed his morning flight to Columbus until he can find out whether his new friend is still alive.
He and others carried Michelle from the chaos, all actively performing CPR to try to save a stranger's life. The bodies, Robertson said, were everywhere. Five here, 15 there.
"You can't even process it," he said. "Husbands and wives on top of one another just screaming, people crying and trying too hard to get someone to wake up."
In the throngs of the dead, the fleeing, the injured left behind, a man in a pickup stopped and Robertson and the others (he said they identified themselves as a paramedic and several military veterans) put Michelle in the bed with others. The truck's driver said he was taking them all to the hospital.
That’s the last Robertson saw of Michelle. He has her purse and later found her phone. He spoke with her sister and brother-in-law by phone earlier today. Just about 2 p.m. Ohio time, he said, he was officially told: Michelle didn’t make it. She is counted now among the 58 dead so far in this country’s worst mass shooting.
The emergency-room waiting room, Robertson said, is unlike anything he ever imagined.
It's jammed with people sitting, standing, crying, begging for answers. And waiting, waiting, waiting. Every so often, hospital personnel come into the room and call out a name.
"The cries of these people, I'll never forget," Robertson said. "It's like a funeral here, with everyone already kind of in mourning."
This is the second year that Robertson and a few friends attended the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. They arrived Thursday and it had all been great so far. Then came the headliner concert Sunday night, country-music star Jason Aldean. The whole venue — essentially in a massive, cordoned off parking lot — was packed.
Robertson said he and Michelle had separated earlier from his friends, who all have since marked themselves safe and spoken with him. Robertson said the gunfire went on maybe three or four minutes, but that it seemed a lifetime. At one point, he took cover in a nearby bar. But people couldn’t stay inside for long. Too many needed help.
He was among those in the crowd who ripped apart metal perimeter fencing and turned sections into makeshift stretchers. He grabbed men shot in the leg, women shot all over. He said he and so many others just grabbed whomever they could and applied pressure to the wounds.
"We checked people, tried to see if they were breathing," he said. "And then we’d put a person on what we could and run for help."
Before finding out that Michelle was most likely at Sunrise Hospital, he had walked to get her phone from the people who found it and picked up when he called it. Then he walked back to his hotel — about an hour in the dark of the strip, alone. It was along that route that he had his first few minutes to breathe, to think.
"Your mind, you can’t even know ... " he said, trailing off. "There was anger, sadness, crying. It’s an up and down roller coaster. You just don’t even know," he said.
Then, like so many others today, he waited until he got the word he hoped would never come.
Holly Zachariah is a reporter for The Columbus Dispatch.