A former Medix paramedic and volunteer firefighter in Astoria and Olney-Walluski, Norm Stutznegger knows what an emergency sounds like. He even downloaded a smartphone app that allows him to listen to police scanners.
Stutznegger found himself listening to the scanner once again late Sunday night in his hotel room at the Excalibur Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. He heard the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history unfold a block away.
A gunman on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino was unloading hundreds of rounds of ammunition from automatic rifles into a crowd of 22,000 people at a country music concert below. At least 59 people were killed and more than 500 wounded. “It was quite a surreal experience after growing up in Astoria my whole life,” Stutznegger said. “I’ve never felt fear like that.”
Stutznegger and his wife, Catherine, both 48, flew down to Las Vegas for a two-day getaway. The trip was his fifth to Sin City. The couple spent their time seeing shows and simply people-watching as they strolled along the strip.
They had to decide between two entertainment options Sunday night: Cirque du Soleil at New York-New York Hotel and Casino and a Jason Aldean country music concert at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. The Stutzneggers picked Cirque du Soleil.
After enjoying the performance, the Stutzneggers made the brief walk back and stood outside their hotel just after 10 p.m. Suddenly, they heard three pops that, as many witnesses have said, sounded like fireworks. Seconds later they heard a barrage of rapid fire that lasted 15 seconds. No longer believing fireworks to be the cause of the noise, they rushed inside to their hotel room.
At that point, all they could do was listen to the scanner, the endless emergency sirens blaring below, multiple helicopters soaring above and the relentless rifle fire.
“I was scared even though I was locked in my building,” Stutznegger said. “I wanted to get out of there.”
He continued listening to the radio for about 1 1/2 hours. He tuned in as a SWAT team made its way to the hotel room where the shooter was located.
Stutznegger then heard a bang similar to a host of gunshots or a door being kicked in. The shooter — Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada — repeatedly fired through the hotel room door before police eventually entered the room and found him dead.
With the sounds still fresh in their minds, the couple managed to drift off to sleep at roughly 3 a.m, a few hours after the bullets stopped flying. The original plan was to leave the hotel at 7:15 a.m., grab a cab and catch their flight home. But the strip was still locked down by the time they awoke.
“The whole Las Vegas Strip was dead,” Stutznegger said. “It was weird.”
For the first time since racing inside, the Stutzneggers ventured out to the street. As they once again stood outside their hotel and pondered a way out, the couple noticed concertgoers who were still wandering around.
“The looks on their faces was absolute horror,” Stutznegger said. “They looked like zombies.”
One woman they encountered was still unable to remove the blood from her clothes and skin. A man asked them, in a scared and somber tone, if he could be the first to take a taxi. His wife had been shot twice in the legs right next to him and taken to a hospital. She was about to go into surgery.
“To be honest, I think he just needed someone to talk to real quick,” Stutznegger said.
They gazed upon the empty area that had welcomed country music fans just hours earlier. People were still sobbing, carrying wounded attendees and wading through abandoned possessions and garbage.
“It’s hard to explain,” Stutznegger said. “Everywhere you looked, there was devastation.”
The couple eventually found an airport shuttle and was able to catch their flight on time. As they had done earlier in the weekend, they people-watched at the terminal. Unlike before, though, they glared at the bandages and crutches that covered some passers-by.
When they boarded the plane, the pilot announced that 16 passengers had not arrived and that the flight would be delayed for another few minutes. None of the missing passengers showed.
May not go back
The Stutzneggers returned to Astoria by late Monday afternoon. Their 12-year-old daughter had a volleyball game last night.
“I don’t miss my kids’ sporting events,” said Stutznegger, who has four children and owns Pacific Coast Medical Supply, “so I made it.”
The game offered the couple an opportunity to move past the visceral sights and sounds they had experienced the previous 18 hours. For Stutznegger, his fifth trip to Las Vegas will likely be his last.
“I don’t know that I’ll ever want to go there again,” he said. “I don’t know that I’ll be comfortable.”