“One little pop,” and then it was “full-on fire.”
That is how Flagstaff resident and Marshall Elementary School teacher Janelle Reasor described the scene in Las Vegas on Sunday as a gunman fired a barrage of bullets from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel-Casino, killing at least 58 people and injuring hundreds more in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The gunman was identified as Stephen Craig Paddock, a 64-year-old retiree from Mesquite, Nevada, who had as many as 10 guns with him, including rifles.
Reasor, who attended the three-day Route 91 Harvest Music Festival with a friend and Reasor’s mother, described the chaotic and confusing scene, stating that when the first shots were fired, no one could understand what was happening.
“We heard a few shots and I thought a transformer just blew and my mother was saying it looked like there was smoke,” Reasor said. “And then the music stopped but the shooting didn’t.”
The crowd had very little cover in the open 15-acre concert venue and Reasor and her mother were forced to drop to the ground, lying there until the gunfire briefly stopped.
“It was hard not to get trampled,” Reasor said. “Everyone would scream ‘down’ and we would drop and play dead until the gunshots stopped and then we would get down again until we were able to take refuge behind a car.”
The situation was made more terrifying because Reasor did not know where the shots were coming from and she was worried about her friend, who separated from Reasor to move up closer to the stage.
Everyone in Reasor’s group avoided physical harm, but the trauma of the shooting has been hard to process.
“We can’t even process it, we are just numb right now,” Reasor said. “We are very lucky because so many people didn’t make it.”
Reasor said she could not believe a person would harm people simply trying to enjoy music.
“I am in shock. These are country people,” Reasor said. “Everyone was there to be happy and have a good time. I can’t understand why someone would do this.”
ELIMINATE THE THREAT
Flagstaff has never experienced a mass shooting close to the scale of Las Vegas, but law enforcement and public safety officials still have a plan in the event of a mass shooting or another mass casualty incident.
Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll said that his office and a team of multiple law enforcement agencies such as Flagstaff Police Department and Arizona Department of Public Safety would use all of their resources to neutralize any threat to the public.
“A mass shooting is going to elevate a higher response from all law enforcement agencies in the area,” Driscoll said. “But in any dangerous situation, from a traffic accident to a mass shooting, our goal is always to (first) eliminate the threat.”
Driscoll said his officers conduct active-shooter training once a month as well as training for the county’s SWAT team, which is made up of officers from the sheriff’s office and the police department.
The sheriff’s office also regularly conducts training for schools and private entities as a way to give the public better situational awareness if an active shooter is in the area. Driscoll said 1,500 people have participated in the program.
The county has active-shooter training planned for Williams School District later this month and is in talks with Flagstaff Unified School District to practice what it would take to reunite students with parents after a shooting event. All county employees are required to take active shooter training as well, according to Coconino County Department of Emergency Management.
However, Driscoll said that law enforcement in Coconino County has limited resources and that even a large police force such as the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was not prepared for Sunday’s shooting.
“As far as preparedness, no one is prepared, Las Vegas was not prepared,” Driscoll said. “The key is utilizing your training and responding to the threat.”
MASS CASUALTY PLANS
However, law enforcement officers are not the only public safety officials involved with helping the public after a large-scale emergency.
Coconino County has its own emergency operations plan for mass casualties, similar to plans it has developed for wildfire preparedness and winter storm preparedness, said Todd Whitney, director of the county’s Department of Emergency Management.
In an incident like that, the county’s emergency management department would serve in a coordinating role, setting up an emergency operations center at the police station or in a designated room at the NACET Accelerator, Whitney said. That setup could happen within an hour of an event taking place and the center could include representatives from agencies like the health department, and power providers, he said.
The emergency operations center has an online meeting room as well that can be set up in just minutes, Whitney said. All of the responders from various levels of government can then post updates and see the current status of the incident.
In the operations command center, the emergency management department would support emergency responders, coordinate transportation away from the scene for those who are unharmed, help arrange for critical incident counselors and coordinate with the Red Cross and United Way, Whitney said. It would also work with the health department’s emergency preparedness team, which would be tasked with coordinating any surge in people needing medical care and the transport of people to hospitals elsewhere, if that’s necessary, Whitney said.
If the county’s resources are maxed out, local agencies have mutual aid agreements with other jurisdictions that would lend a hand if needed, he said.