Great Bend couple shares different Vegas shooting experience

Matt DeLong and Lexi Nettleingham took this picture from the Las Vegas Strip approximately five hours before Saturday night’s shooting. (photo courtesy of Matt DeLong)

Active shooters reported in area an hour after shooting stopped

By Mike Courson

(Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories detailing accounts from local residents at or near the location of Saturday’s shooting in Las Vegas. To read Kaylin Hillegeist’s story, click here.)

Most Kansans woke to the news of another mass shooting in the final hours of Sunday, Oct. 1. At least three Barton County residents did not have that luxury: they were on the ground, some 1,100 miles away on the Las Vegas Strip when 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, killing at least 60 and wounding more than 500 more.

Kaylin Hillegeist, 19, was one of the 22,000 country music fans attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Matt DeLong and Lexi Nettleingham were less than a mile away from the concert and saw a different side of the night’s events. This is Matt and Lexi’s story.

New York in Vegas

DeLong , owner and operator of Farmer’s Insurance in Great Bend, and Nettleingham were enjoying a weekend trip to Vegas. The couple’s 3-day Vegas vacation was winding down Sunday night. They were unaware of the 3-day country music festival.

“If we had known it was Jason Aldean, my sister is a really big fan and we would have been down there to get some photos,” Nettleingham said.

Instead, they were inside the theater at New York-New York Hotel and Casino enjoying Cirque du Soleil’s “Zumanity” when the shooting occurred. The theater sits approximately 1.3 miles from Mandalay Bay and three quarters of a mile from the Route 91 Harvest Festival, where most of the victims lost their lives.

The couple had made plans to go to Hakkasan, a nightclub on the Strip, after the show. They were oblivious of the mayhem outside until someone from the club texted DeLong at 10:48 p.m., some 30 minutes after police say the shooting stopped.

“There was a shooting on the Strip,” the text said. “I’d stay in your hotel until everything clears up. If Hakkasan opens later in the night I will let you know.”

A long night begins

DeLong did not think much of the text. For all he knew, it was a typical random act of violence in a large city. The couple watched the remainder of the show until approximately 11 p.m. and began to exit the theater. That’s when their vacation came to a halt.

This message alerted DeLong and Nettleingham of the shooting. Though the time has since changed back to CST, DeLong originally received it at 10:48 p.m. that evening. (photo courtesy of Matt DeLong)

“We’re walking upstairs when about half the people who had already left came rushing back in screaming there’s a shooter on the loose and he’s heading this direction,” DeLong said.

“It was like a scene out of a movie. Ushers said go this way and sent us into this back area, like the kitchen of the casino. They shut the doors and a bunch of us were in there. There’s another back door in the kitchen that went out into a loading ramp area. They were saying go that way if you wanted to go.”

DeLong and Nettleingham decided it was better to leave and exited through that back door. “That changed real quickly once we got outside,” said DeLong. “We’re walking down this big tunnel where the trucks back into to unload stuff. We’re about halfway through the tunnel when we started hearing more shots. It was loud, within a block.

“This was about an hour after the shooting at the concert supposedly stopped. The people who came running back in saw something or heard something because they were trampling all over each other. We thought he was right there. When we went outside, we didn’t want to go to the end of the tunnel because we thought he might be right around the corner.”

Avoiding danger

The couple hurried back inside and tried to go up in the elevator. Because they did not have a room at the hotel, they were unable to go any higher than the second floor. After a quick walk through some more hallways, they ended up in the hotel’s casino where they saw a SWAT team. Approximately seven of the men with assault rifles ran through the empty casino toward the location of the shots. Three more with German Shepherds performed a sweep.

“We went back upstairs because we saw them running and thought (the shooter) was coming through the doors or something,” Nettleingham said.

Most of the casino staff had left with news of the shooting. All that was left was security, and a staff member directed the couple away from the perceived threat. “It felt like playing Grand Theft Auto, running around, or a zombie apocalypse where you’re in a casino that should have thousands of people but it’s just us walking through these busy areas,” said DeLong. “It was very creepy.”

They ended up in a hallway and headed for a parking garage where they ran into a man and woman who had been at the concert. The man was scraped and bloodied and had clearly been shot in the lower leg. Nettleingham directed him toward the casino so he could receive medical attention.

“You could tell she was in complete shock,” Nettleingham said. “He just walked right up to us and said he thought he’d been shot in the back of the leg. He had a little bit of blood dripping down the back of his leg, he had scrapes on his arms. When we were walking back to the casino, he was mumbling and I remember him saying the woman next to him had been shot in the head.”

Another security guard eventually directed the couple to the nearby Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino where they could get on a tram and head north, away from the Strip.

They went north in the parking garage then headed west where they found an escalator that went directly to the Monte Carlo. Exposed outdoors, they ran up the escalator to the casino, which was one of the few in the area not completely locked down.

The couple continued to follow signs toward the tram but took a wrong turn and ended up at an entrance to the ARIA Resort and Casino, which was on lockdown.

“We’re trying to get into the ARIA, thinking we just want to get away,” said Nettleingham. “The entrance is just like this big glass case where you’re open to the street.”

DeLong said they just wanted to get inside and find a place to hide in the event a shooter was still on the loose. “Keep in mind, we’re still under the impression there are active shooters,” Nettleingham said.

A silent Strip

Security would not let them in but advised them to stay. Instead, they ducked away and went back up the escalator toward the tram. There they met with a serviceman and his wife and another couple from Hawaii.

Now traveling as a group of six, they made it to the tram only to find it had just been shut down. To make matters worse, it was exposed to the outdoors.

“It was three or four stories high,” DeLong said. “You couldn’t see the street because of a parking garage but you could hear everything, which was nothing at this point. It was silent. It was probably 11:30 or 11:40.”

The group of six headed back into the hotel where the serviceman offered a temporary stay in his room in the neighboring Mandarin Oriental hotel.

The Mandarin was also on lockdown, but the serviceman was able to provide identification and a key card to get inside. The other four in the group were going to be allowed in as guests. Instead, an Uber driver pulled up and the quad jumped in.

The driver took the group back to the Strip. Now just after midnight, a normally packed Strip was eerily empty. DeLong and Nettleingham parted ways with the other half of the group and turned on the news in their own hotel room. At that point, reports were only two dead and 20 injured.

“I think I slept maybe two hours,” Nettelingham said. “When I fell asleep I think it had climbed to 20 dead and 200 injured. By the time I woke up two hours later, it had climbed to 50 dead and 400 injured.”

Now approaching 12:30 a.m. in Vegas, 2:30 a.m. back home in Kansas, the couple did not worry about notifying loved ones they were okay. Instead, they used Facebook to announce their safety so everyone back home could see it in the morning.

Heading home

The couple departed for Kansas the following morning. Visible from McCarran International Airport was Mandalay Bay, close enough to see the windows broken out as Paddock began his shooting spree.

The couple returns home with some unanswered questions. If the shooting at Mandalay Bay stopped at approximately 10:15 p.m. as authorities say, what did they hear upon exiting the New York-New York?

“We were a mile away from Mandalay but it didn’t seem like it,” DeLong said. “Clearly the shots we heard were within a block. We heard at least 15 shots in the short time we were going down that loading ramp.”

Several unconfirmed reports of other shooters came across the scanner that night. At 11:05 p.m. three shooters were unconfirmed. At 11:13 p.m., near the time DeLong and Nettleingham exited the New York-New York, “NYNY Shooter is heading to the Excalibur” was logged by someone monitoring scanner traffic that night as a public service to people in the area.

In the haste to avoid any possible danger, DeLong regrets not taking out his own smart phone for photos or video, but knows there are cameras everywhere on the Strip.

“Where’s all the footage while this is going on?” he asks. “Why are people running for their lives? Why am I hearing gunshots around the corner from where I am an hour after the shooting? I’m very curious what might be found on that footage.”

Additional shooters or not, the couple has happy to make it safely home on Monday. “I don’t think it has fully sunk in that we were part of that chaos,” said Nettleingham. “It was really crazy. Nobody could tell you about anything that was going on.”

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