EVERETT — On Sunday night Chelsea Latham and her girlfriends were about 40 rows back, close enough that they could see Jason Aldean strutting across the main stage.
Latham, a nurse from Lake Stevens, describes the sound that interrupted the music like so many other eyewitnesses. A long crackling was followed by a pause and disbelief. One of her friends told her to get down. Skeptical, Latham half-squatted.
Then a steady flurry of bullets — what Latham suddenly realized were really, actually bullets — rained onto the sold-out crowd at the final act of the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas.
Ten feet from Latham, bleeding people dropped to the ground. Screaming people scattered.
“Keep running, keep running, keep running,” she thought. “Please, God, don’t let me die.”
Latham had arrived in Vegas the prior Thursday with three other nurses from Snohomish County. They’d met in school. They were excited to see Aldean, Eric Church and for nights of dancing, drinking and country-pop music in the open air by the Strip.
In her many visits to the city, Latham had stayed at Mandalay Bay. This time her group booked rooms on the 25th floor, a few dozen feet below what became the perch of a gunman who carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Seven floors up, he was plotting a massacre in a room stockpiled with guns, according to police.
More than 580 people were wounded. Fifty-eight died.
Latham, 35, is not sure how she ran as fast as she did, for as far as she did. That night she wore a dress and Converse shoes. She is, in her words, not in very good shape. As the bullets whirred by, she hid behind bushes, tents, whatever she could find to keep out of the open. She braced herself for what it would feel like to be shot in the back. There was so much gunfire, she said, she thought there could be 50 shooters.
“You’re not looking back, you’re just looking forward at where you’re stepping,” she said. “There was blood on the ground. People had blood dripping on them. People were running in all directions. It was pure chaos.”
At a maze of barriers along the concert grounds, she lost sight of her friends. She kept running three-quarters of a mile north to an open door at the Tropicana hotel. She hid behind a bar in a mezzanine with other frightened, fleeing people. They feared they were cornered, that hidden gunmen would come out shooting at any moment, or maybe bombs would go off inside this hotel. Every 15 minutes or so, someone would scream on another floor, or run up the stairs, or glass would shatter.
Latham’s phone, ID, and debit card were in a locker, where they remained Wednesday. Someone let her borrow a phone so she could call her husband of five months, the only number she knows by heart. He didn’t pick up. In a message she said she was OK for now, and she loved him.
Tense hours passed until the lockdown ended at 4:30 a.m. A stranger offered to pay for a room at the Monte Carlo. She’s struck by the kindness of people in the face of such horror: people performing CPR as others ran away; a stranger who her gave her a tube of lipstick so she could write a number on her arm; thousands of people who lined up to give blood. Her friend, Amy Zacharias, helped to triage, despite an injured hand that was trampled in the stampede.
Latham posted a video recounting her experience to Facebook after she reached the airport Monday. She fought back tears as she described people being shot. Back home in Lake Stevens, she hasn’t been able to go to work.
Now, it’s strange to think of all of the people she passed by wearing festival wristbands at the hotel pool or hallway. She thinks about the smiling pictures she and her girlfriends took before the concert Sunday.
“Trying to rally for day three — not sure if we can beat night 2!!!” reads the caption of a photo just hours before the gunfire.
A lot of people took that kind of picture before they crossed the Strip that night. A lot of them, she said, aren’t coming home.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.