Returning home from Las Vegas, locals land at Detroit Metro Airport and talk about what they saw during and after the mass shooting. David Guralnick, The Detroit News
Romulus — Lisa Noskowiak was in Las Vegas at a country music festival celebrating her daughter’s 18th birthday along with her husband when they heard popping noises they thought were fireworks — and then realized it was gunfire.
“People were running, dropping to the ground,” said Noskowiak, 54, after she arrived from her flight home Monday at Detroit Metro Airport. “We dropped to the ground, with my daughter and my husband dropped on top of us.”
The family, from Brighton, was in the bleachers, enjoying the performance of country music singer Jason Aldean on Sunday night, as a gunman was shooting hundreds of bullets from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel onto patrons of the open-air, outdoor concert.
Noskowiak said her family dropped and hid behind the bleachers for what she said “seemed like a lifetime. It seemed like it would never stop.” When the family got out, they ran back to their hotel.
Since then, they’ve been trying to make sense of being part of the crowd in the nation’s deadliest mass shooting, but managing to escape.
“I feel so bad for the people who didn’t make it out," said Noskowiak. “I feel bad for the families that are dealing with their injured loved ones, for the families that don’t know where their loved ones are. We were there, just like all these other people, to have a good time. There were families there with small children. It was just senseless.”
In the wake of the shooting that killed at least 59 people and wounded hundreds of others, Metro Detroit residents who were in Las Vegas said they were stunned, still shaken and can’t believe another mass shooting has happened on American soil.
“People were crying, coming into the hotels, looking for loved ones, not being able to locate people,” said Tyrone Prentiss, a Southfield resident who was in Las Vegas with his wife for a wedding and birthday party. “It was a horrifying moment.”
Prentiss said he doesn’t understand how the gunman was able to get past security and bring nearly a dozen weapons up to a hotel room on the 32nd floor.
“I just feel so bad for the many people who died,” said Prentiss. “It is just senseless. My heart goes out to the (the families) who lost loved ones ... It’s very unsettling. That very well could have been us. My heart is pumping right now because we left behind a lot of people who are going to be damaged for life. It was almost like a war zone. It was just horrible.”
Jamie Garrett was with his dad and a family friend at the Bellagio Resort and Casino when he got a Twitter notification Sunday night about a shooter in Las Vegas.
“All of a sudden, I saw screaming and yelling and there was a herd of people,” Garrett said. “I had no idea what was happening so I just ran.”
Garrett ran across the street to Caesars Palace, where he was staying, and saw hundreds of people running in every direction. He had no idea what to think, other than trying to find his dad. When he did, they went up to their hotel room.
It wasn’t long before he found out from Twitter and television news that a shooter had opened fire and rained bullets on a country music festival in the nation's deadliest mass shooting in modern history.
Garrett felt lucky because he almost went to the concert but didn’t because it was sold out.
“I haven’t stopped crying since last night,” said Garrett, 26, a Plymouth resident, as he arrived from his flight home on Monday at Detroit Metro Airport. “It’s surreal. It was complete chaos.”
Many who arrived in Detroit from Las Vegas didn’t want to talk about what happened.
But Joel Fresque — a London, Ontario, resident who visited Las Vegas for the first time to celebrate his 40th birthday with a friend — said no one knew what was going on at first.
He was playing poker at Caesars Palace when someone next to him told him about gunshots. He got on his phone to check the news, but didn’t see anything, so he kept playing.
“When someone said, ‘Shooter on the strip,’ I just took cover,” said Fresque. “I went down on the ground and huddled under the table for about 10-15 minutes.”
Then he went into a backroom of Caesar for about 35-40 minutes and started piecing together what was happening not far away.
“I am still shaken up by it. I am having a hard time with it,” Fresque said. “I am not going to forget this weekend. I am glad I made it back.”
Sunday’s bloodbath was the 67th mass shooting in America since 1987, according to a database compiled by Mother Jones magazine. The fatalities exceed the toll from the Orlando nightclub last year, when 49 people were slaughtered.
In other recent mass shootings, 32 people were massacred at Virginia Tech University in 2007 and 26 people, mostly children, were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.
The Las Vegas massacre is the first mass shooting under the administration of President Donald Trump, who on Monday called it an “act of pure evil.”
Michigan gun-control activists weighed in on the mass killing.
“While it is also not known at this time what type of gun was used, it was one we would consider a weapon of war, and until America deals with its obsession with guns, we’re going to keep seeing these tragedies,” Linda Brundage, executive director of the Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement. “These weapons of war need to be off our streets.”
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association had not issued a statement on the tragedy, said spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen.
Mike Kinaschuk, a former Brighton Police chief who trains police on how to handle active shooters, said one of the factors that made the shooting so deadly was the gathering of so many people at an outdoor event. That made security more difficult to put into place while allowing the gunman to shoot unimpeded from above.
Weapons can be broken down and smuggled into hotel rooms in luggage, and Sunday’s carnage could trigger more safety measures in hotels, Kinaschuk said. That could add to the growing number of places where security has been enhanced, including airports, sporting venues and other places where large groups of people gather.
“It may change the landscape of where people are screened,” Kinaschuk said.
He added that more gun control laws may not be a way to prevent these tragedies.
“I am not sure that guns are the sole problem,” Kinaschuk said. “Someone might use some other weapon or device.”
Tequila Lagrone said she saw sirens and police flood Sin City’s streets Sunday night from her hotel room on the Las Vegas strip.
The 26-year-old who grew up in Grand Rapids is staying at the Planet Hollywood Las Vegas Resort and Casino, a couple of miles from where the shooting happened. Lagrone, who lives in Houston, said she flew into Las Vegas for a short vacation with four friends Friday and was scheduled to leave Monday.
But late Sunday, she and her friends were in the area of the Las Vegas strip near the music festival site only an hour before the shooting started, she said.
They were at a pool party near the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, she said. They were going to eat dinner in the area, but were too tired and decided to turn in for the night.
“We just missed it,” she said. “Thank God ... I was in shock. Everyone was in shock. I’m so grateful I’m OK and my friends are OK.”
Charles E. Ramirez contributed.