BREMERTON — A Bremerton couple and their friends were caught in the crossfire of the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas, and amid all the chaos banded together to provide aid to the injured.
Ali and Nick Pendergrass were in attendance at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada on Oct. 1 when Stephen Paddock began firing into the crowd of concert goers from his hotel room, killing 59 and injuring 527.
The first shots rang out shortly after country music artist Jason Aldean took the stage, Ali Pendergrass said.
“We heard this really loud ‘pop’ ‘pop,’ and everybody thought it was a firecracker. You immediately kinda heard people jump at the sound,” Pendergrass said. “About 15 seconds into the song, we heard a continuous rain of what sounded like either firecrackers or gunshots — although nobody believed it was gunshots, so the reaction rate was really slow.
“People didn’t drop down to the ground immediately, people didn’t panic immediately because it was so absurd that it would possibly be gunfire.”
After seeing holes being shot through a large screen on the stage, the horror of the situation had become clear and the crowd began to take cover.
“We dropped to the ground, the fire stopped for a few seconds and we were able to get up and run another 20 feet or so and then [gunfire] started up again and everybody dropped to the ground,” Pendergrass said. “At that point, there were so many people fleeing that we actually got kinda trampled and squished by other people that had fallen on top of us or near us.”
During another lull in the hail of gunfire, Ali and Nick Pendergrass and their friend Alicia Hounsley, also of Bremerton, made a break for the nearest exit.
“The only way to get out, at that point, was to go over a gate,” Ali said. “There was a fence that was made of these metal posts that had points at the top, so it was really a bad type of gate to be trying to climb over, but it was the only way out. People just started throwing themselves over this fence.”
As the droves of concertgoers struggled to climb the fence the gunman opened fire once more.
“The shots started again and people that were climbing over the fence or running away from the venue got shot,” she said.
Nick Pendergrass, a firefighter at Naval Base Kitsap — Bangor, began helping people over the fence.
“Just watching my husband pulling these people over the fence just snapped me out of it,” Ali said. “I was instantly calm and went, ‘Oh, my God, we need to get people over this fence, that’s the only way for them to get out.’ And I ran back over to the fence and me and my friend Alicia started pulling people over the fence as fast as we could.
“One woman was crying hysterically. She said, ‘I’m pregnant and I can’t get over this fence, I’ll hurt my stomach.’ We had two people on the other side lift her up and me and Alicia received her on the other side and just lifted her whole weight over the fence, because we were just trying to protect her stomach.”
After helping escaping concertgoers scale the fence, Ali and Nick Pendergrass and Hounsley took cover in a parking lot between two large trucks. Behind the relative safety of the trucks, the three found a group of wounded concertgoers, several off-duty emergency responders — who were providing triage to the wounded — and a woman who had been been shot in the head.
“Her son was covering her body with his own clothes because it was a really bad scene,” Ali said.
Jumping into action, she began looking for someone with a car to transport victims to the hospital.
“I noticed some taillights at the opposite end of the parking lot and I ran down there as fast as I could.” she said. “I found this girl who was absolutely hysterical, who had the keys to her boyfriend’s truck but could not find her boyfriend. Luckily she was not injured in any way, so I just told her, ‘I’m sorry that you’re upset, you’re not hurt and I need to move these three gunshot victims to the hospital.’ ”
After taking down Pendergrass’s phone number, the woman gave Pendergrass the keys to the truck and said, “We’ll figure it out later.”
“I took her truck and flipped it around and I went and picked up my husband, three other guys that were helping us, my friend and the three gunshot victims and we ended up going to Sunrise Hospital with these three gunshot victims.”
If there was any light in the tragedy in Las Vegas, Pendergrass said, it would be the way that people came together and worked to help complete strangers in a desperate time of need.
“The second people realized what was happening, everybody immediately bonded together. It wasn’t just ‘my friends’ and ‘my people,’ it was just, ‘How can I help anybody next to me get away and get to safety,’ ” Pendergrass said. “There was a lot of chaos and a lot of people got separated, I feel like we saw over and over again that people looked past the fact that they had gotten separated from their group and they just helped with what they could in front of them.
“This one person opened fire on 25,000 people that instantly banded together to get out of there as fast as possible,” Pendergrass added.
“People are tremendous. There are evil people in the world, but there are so many good people that outnumber them.”
— Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.