Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017 | 2 a.m.
The tales of heroism are just starting to be told.
Take Sonny Melton, 29, of Paris, Tenn., who died Sunday night while shielding his wife, Heather, from a flurry of bullets showered onto the 22,000 attendees of a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip.
At least 59 people were killed and more than 500 injured as gunman Stephen Paddock fired hundreds of rounds from his 32nd floor hotel room at Mandalay Bay into a Route 91 Harvest Festival crowd in the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Heather Melton is still alive — all credit to her deceased husband, she said.
“He saved my life,” she told USA Today. “He grabbed me from behind and started running when I felt him get shot in the back”
Moments after the shooting, valley residents sprang into action to help their neighbors. Civilians headed to the Strip to transport the wounded to hospitals; blood donations were so generous that officials stopped asking for them; an online campaign raising money for victims hit nearly $3 million; and the American Red Cross ran out of space for food donations.
Officials say the actions, including Metro Police’s quick reaction, helped prevent the toll from being even worse, literally saving hundreds of lives.
“We were in a chaotic situation and we had an extreme shortage of blood,” said County Commissioner Steve Sisolak during an interfaith vigil at Guardian Angel Cathedral on Monday evening. “The community responded in a rapid and tremendous manner.”
Sisolak credited Metro Police and Mandalay Bay security team using a triangulation method to quickly identify the suite from which Paddock was shooting, preventing “at least” 300 additional people from being killed.
“We are eternally grateful for their speedy actions and their help in getting us to this point,” he said, fighting back tears. “Las Vegas will never be quite the same as a result of this. But we will be back, we will learn from this lesson, we will become stronger and we will become better.”
Festivalgoer Chase Maddux said he was near the stage when the shooting started. While the crowd initially thought the gunshots were fireworks, a stampede ensued when the stage went dark and festival headliner Jason Aldean was pulled off stage. Paddock used high-powered rifles with scopes — part of an arsenal of 23 guns found in the hotel room. His shots traveled more than 500 yards into the crowd.
Maddux said a person driving a truck used the vehicle to rip down a perimeter fence of the festival so concertgoers could escape.
“We just dropped and ran,” Maddux said. “That’s all we could do.”
Valley residents were doing their share Monday.
They lined up by the hundreds, some as early as 3:30 a.m., at blood donation centers and food drives across Las Vegas and Henderson. Some waited as long as seven hours to give blood. By 3 p.m., authorities said donations could no longer be accepted and urged valley residents to avoid contributions to such centers until early next week.
Standing in line at a United Blood Services location in Henderson, Bryce Jordan quietly mourned the loss of his cousin, 20-year-old Quintin Robbins. Holding back tears as he remembered Robbins, Jordan called donating blood “a small way” to help shooting victims he hoped would have a better fate than his cousin.
Multiple vigils across the valley were held later Monday.
Speaking before about 800 at Guardian Angel Cathedral, Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Pepe called for healing and unity during his 10-minute sermon, which followed an emotional rendition of “Amazing Grace” by Jewish Congregation Ner Tamid cantor Jessica Hutchings.
“In spite of everything that happened, I believe our people and our visitors are exceptional,” Pepe said. “In the face of violence, we stand together because we cannot let hate and violence be the last word in this community.”
The bishop’s message was echoed by Jewish Rabbi Sanford Akselrad and Muslim Imam Fateen Seifullah, who urged attendees to “stand tall in the face of evil.”
“What will speak loudest in this community was not the tragedy that was, but the love that was warmed to give us courage and strength,” Askelrad said.
That was witnessed by the GoFundMe page established by Sisolak and Sheriff Joe Lombardo. More than 35,000 donations were received and the funds raised easily surpassed the initial goal of $500,000. One resident donated $400,000, Sisolak said.
“Everybody stepped up. We can’t thank you enough,” said U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., whose district includes the Las Vegas Strip. “Las Vegas is resilient. With everyone pulling together we can get through this.”