When bullets pinged on metal seats overhead, Hobbs Police Chief Chris McCall decided the platform under which he and his wife Kelli had belly-crawled may not be safe enough.
The McCalls were in a crowd of about 22,000 concert-goers in Las Vegas, Nev., around 10 p.m. Sunday when a gunman, later identified as 64-year-old retired accountant Stephen Craig Paddock of Mesquite, Nev., began a shooting rampage that killed 59 and hurt more than 500 others.
McCall said he and his wife were seated on chairs on a platform when he first heard the shots.
While listening to the concert music, “I heard what I thought were a couple of gunshots. I told my wife I thought those were gunshots, then a couple more behind that,” he said on Tuesday. “A couple of seconds after that, automatic gunfire began. From our location, we could see the crowd start running.”
They quickly climbed off the platform, dropped to their stomachs and belly-crawled under the platform. The gunshots continued as McCall heard the bullets hitting the chairs he and his wife were sitting in just seconds before.
“While we were underneath the platform, we thought we were in a pretty good spot. Then rounds started hitting our seats above us,” said McCall. “We could hear the plinking of the bullets off the metal seats above us, so we decided we need to move from that area, too.”
As soon as the shooter stopped firing, probably to reload or grab another weapon, the McCalls ran through a gate behind their seating platform toward a street.
“We moved through that gate and just when we hit the street, he began firing again, so we got into a gutter until that burst of gunfire quit,” McCall said. “Then we got up and moved again. We would do that every time until we heard some gunfire and we’d find some cover.”
The Hobbs police chief since 2013 with a total of 20 years in law enforcement, McCall said he has extensive training, so he had some ideas about how to stay safe during the active shooting incident.
“You use some of the basic training, but this really gives you some perspective,” he said. “One thing that really set in my mind was you can hear all the gunshots but you really have no sense of where that person is other than the general direction.”
McCall and his wife headed away from the crowd toward a residential neighborhood where they helped people climb over a metal fence and into an alley. Along the way, they helped more people to move further away from the concert scene and the gunshots.
“We came across one guy who’d been shot in the hand. We tried to help him, but he was pretty intoxicated and belligerent, didn’t want us to help him, so we just let him go on,” McCall said. “There was still gunfire going on at this point, so we started running down a little alley street way to an apartment complex.”
Seeing others in need of guidance, “We started gathering those people up to come with us. We finally ended up in a parking garage near Hooters. There were large cement poles and parked cars. We got down inside that.”
Catching his breath and taking time to consider their next move, McCall became concerned about the probability of a second shooter.
“Once we got outside the venue, my primary concern was secondary attacks. They had that in France. That was my concern at that point, to try to get away from crowds and into a safe place to find out what was going on,” he said. “At that point, we didn’t know it was a single gunman. To me, it sounded like two different calibers of guns at different times, maybe at least two or more.”
Others running through the parking garage were spreading rumors that shooting also was occurring inside the hotel.
“So we wanted to stay put until I knew what was going on. I actually called Deputy Chief (Brian) Dunlap to get up and turn on the news to see if he could find out from news reporting where the shooters might be,” McCall said. Apparently, news reporters knew no more than McCall, so they stayed in the parking garage 20-30 minutes.
A plan formed itself when one of the young women the McCalls helped escape the gunfire mentioned she was in touch by cell phone with a friend from whom she had been separated.
“One of the girls we had grabbed up — she had squatted in the corner of the courtyard of the apartment complex, she was just shaking — had gotten in touch with her friend who was in a hotel room in the MGM,” McCall said. “We were just across the street from the MGM, so we made the decision to cross to the Tropicana and try to get to the MGM. …”
“It was chaos in their lobby, of course, with lots of folks moving across the street at that point, just trying to get in. They were working on trying to lock down their casino. We slipped in there, got on an elevator and found what room (the friend) was in. Some people had picked her up, I guess, found her alone and taken her back there,” McCall continued.
The room in which the frightened group of people found themselves was booked to a California police officer, McCall learned. They stayed there for a while but eventually decided to try to return to their own hotel room.
“We were staying at the Monte Carlo, so we would have to cross Las Vegas Boulevard to get there. We got to the elevators and they were packed elevators,” McCall said. “(People on the elevator) said they were evacuating the lobby, that they were shooting down in the lobby. It was just chaos at that point. They weren’t (shooting in the lobby), we know that now, but we didn’t at the time.”
He took all the people on the elevator back to the California policeman’s room.
“That guy was gracious enough to bring everybody that came from that elevator into his room,” McCall said.
While visiting in the room, McCall said, they became aware that one of the women who came in from the elevator had had a close encounter with a bullet.
“The bullet hole went through her boot and it looked like the bullet skimmed across the front of her toe, just bruised her toe,” McCall said. “Her foot had been laying up next to her husband’s head. Apparently, the bullet went through her boot and to within an inch of his head, but didn’t really injure either one of them except for the bruise on her toe.”
Around 2 a.m., having watched the news on television and discussed the evening events with a room full of people, the McCalls made another attempt to get back to the Monte Carlo and their hotel room, but anyone approaching the front doors of the MGM found that exit was closed to them.
“We tried to get out the front of the MGM where we could go across the boulevard on the overpass at New York New York. They were still evacuating the front half of the MGM, pushing everybody towards the back,” McCall said. “So we walked all the way to the back and went out to a parking garage and down a small street that led to our hotel.”
The street posed the most eerie scene, he said.
“It was strange when we got to a corner. Back toward the venue, there were police vehicles and all the way past the Mandalay Bay back the other direction, you could see police vehicles at certain locations along the Strip, but there were no people, just police officers in tactical gear,” McCall said. “Very strange, seeing that street that’s normally filled with people and traffic 24 hours a day, and there was no one there. Very weird.”
McCall termed the atmosphere in the nation’s party town as “somber.”
“(Monday), I went down to get my wife some coffee at the coffee shop here in the Monte Carlo and it was a very somber atmosphere,” he said. “It’s normally a happy-go-lucky, party-type atmosphere. Everybody was very somber, kind of in shock.”
The Hobbs police chief offered high praises for the Las Vegas first responders.
“I can tell you from a police perspective, Las Vegas Metro did a phenomenal job. I can’t imagine how they got that many resources down there and for them to actually get to that individual in the amount of time they got to him,” McCall said. “That they identified where he was, put a team together and got to him in the amount of time they did was pretty phenomenal.”
McCall said he and his wife stayed in Las Vegas until Tuesday, when they were scheduled to come home.
Curtis Wynne may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.