On Oct. 1, 2017, a gunman in a hotel room across the street from the venue opened fire on a country-music festival taking place in Las Vegas. Fifty-eight people died and hundreds more were injured. Concertgoer Kelly Barland, a graduate of Wingate’s School of Pharmacy, put her medical training to use in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. This is her story.
I would not say that I am either a survivor or a victim of the Las Vegas Route 91 shooting. My name is Kelly Barland. I am 39 years old. I am a sweet and naive girl with idealistic views of the world. I was born and raised in Utah and have lived in Arizona, California, Massachusetts and, my favorite, North Carolina. I obtained my Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 2012 from the Wingate University School of Pharmacy, and I love my job at the University of Utah Greenwood Clinic in Midvale, Utah, and Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, the first job I had out pharmacy school and a place where I still help out.
I have loved country music for many years, and I typically don’t turn down an opportunity to go to a concert. So in March 2017 when my friend Jennifer Holub told me I should join her at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, I purchased a ticket right away. Although it was a hefty price tag, I was easily convinced by seeing that one of the three main headliners was my all-time favorite, Eric Church! By the next week, I had secured a hotel room at the Luxor, and I didn’t think much about the concert again until September.
I knew three girls going to the concert and would end up driving there with two of them. All in all, our “group” consisted of 25 women, mostly from Southern Utah.
The “Three Day Neon Sleepover,” as the marketers called it, started on Friday, Sept. 29, around 3 p.m. The venue was located conveniently across the street from the Luxor.
After the first night of performers had finished, I was in heaven. I couldn’t be happier to have seen Eric Church complete the night out in the beautiful Vegas air with an amazing view of happy people and a gorgeous skyline.
The final night, we planned to see the Josh Abbott Band, Kane Brown, Big and Rich, Luke Combs, Jake Owen and Jason Aldean! We went back and forth to the hotel a couple of times that evening, but a core eight of us stayed together. We had a great view of the stage from the left side. We were decently close to the front. During Jake Owen’s set, a girl from our group, Shelly, decided she was ready to call it a night. She sent a text when she made it back to the room around 9:30 p.m. After Jason Aldean’s first song, I went to the lemonade stand at the southeast end of the venue. For the rest of the night I was separated from my group, so I truly believe this is where “my story,” as they call it, would start.
I paid for the lemonade and started working my way back through the crowd. I was facing away from the stage when the music went off. I looked up at the stage and I couldn’t see Jason Aldean. The lights on the stage itself had come on, and the big screens to the left and right of the stage were not projecting anything. I looked around and people were yelling and screaming and some were ducking down on the ground. I had no clue what was going on. Then I heard a volley of shots.
I’m not going to lie – I did not think that it was gun shots. I kept thinking that whatever noise was causing chaos was not as big a deal as what would happen if everyone tried to run out of the venue. Well, both were bad scenarios. I ended up being one of two people in my vicinity standing while other people were on the ground. I looked at the guy nearby and said, “Do you know what’s going on?” He said, “No, but those aren’t gun shots. They are fireworks.” He said he was a paramedic from Los Angeles, and I told him I was a pharmacist from Utah. That was our introduction – no names, just occupations.
From there we walked together toward the stage to see what in the world was going on. At this point the third and possibly fourth volley of shots had rung out, and people would get on the ground during the shots and then run when it was quiet. All you could hear was yelling and screaming. I was still not convinced that it was gunshots, and I had no desire to run. My new friend – whose name I later found out was “Diego” – and I kept heading up to the front stage. People were jumping over the metal barricades that kept people away from the stage. Others were hiding under the stage. It was a bit surreal, like walking through a movie scene where the action was going on but you went unnoticed, or it was some kind of flashback of your life in a dream that you were witnessing.
At this point my new friend and I had made it up on the stage. I looked out on the remainder of the crowd. People were still in fear and running, and it was very disturbing. Then I saw it: blood, real blood. I said to my newfound friend Diego, “Those are real shots. That is real blood. This is actually happening!” He calmly looked at me and said, “What do you want to do? Do you want to leave?” I replied, “No. I think this is when we do what we are supposed to do!” I can’t tell you why I was so calm. I can’t tell you why I didn’t feel any fear. It must have been some unknown purpose for me to meet Diego and for us to go help people. I never once thought about where the shots were coming from. I didn’t fear that there was a shooter in the venue. None of it mattered. If I was to have been shot while helping people, then so be it.
As the rest of the crowd ran out, we jumped down from the stage and went to triage wounded people. The first guy we came to had a shot through his left shoulder. He was in shock, but we talked to his friend who was with him. I honestly thought to myself, That is an ideal place to be shot. (Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not saying that being shot was ideal, but in that moment you truly look at things differently.) We then came upon a group of people and tried to determine whether any of them were injured. It was a whole crew of people, maybe eight in total, all on the ground, mostly on top of each other. One person toward the bottom had been shot in the leg. We let them know that they needed to get up and make their way out of the venue. Dozens of bodies were motionless and lying face up. It is strange to say that we didn’t check them for pulses, but we didn’t. If you can envision that we were all sardines in the open venue and the shots came from above, you can then imagine where most people were hit and therefore died immediately.
Diego and I kept seeing people who were moving, and we would go to them to see if they were injured and needed help or if they were just in shock. The majority of people were in shock, understandably. The venue was incredibly large. There were over 22,000 people in attendance that final night. We helped people out from under chairs and from under bleachers that I didn’t even know were in the venue. We helped them out of the vendors’ stations. We were not the only ones helping others. We came across a cop who was helping, and he was even holding a towel to his neck because a bullet had grazed him.
At one point we were told that there were two people who needed immediate help, one with a shot to the head and one with a shot to the lungs. The lung shot is the first person we came to. There were about three people holding her. They were yelling for us to get paramedics and get her to the hospital. We didn’t check her vitals at all, just looked at her, and since she was being held in her friend’s lap, told them not to move, to stay with her till someone could get her and that help would be there soon – not that we had any clue if help would make it there.
The next person we came across was the shot to the head and a man holding her hands. You could tell by the amount of blood loss that she wasn’t going to make it, and the breathing was abnormal to say the least. Diego called it “expired” breathing. I checked for a pulse and was not getting one. Her body was limp, and besides the gurgled breaths there was no sign that she was alive. Diego said to the man that he needed to let her go, that she wasn’t going to make it and that the man needed to get himself to safety. I think many of us would be in the same boat as this man. He yelled at us and told us with profanity to get away from them. We didn’t say another word, just walked away understanding his pain but moving on to the next.
During the next little while Diego and I would get separated when helping people but would always keep an eye on where the other was. Although we barely knew each other’s names, we were connected. We were connected from the moment he asked me on the stage what I wanted to do and whether I wanted to leave. I believe that if I had said yes, he would have stayed with me. We were each other’s “person.”
At a medic tent set up on the east side of the venue we helped get some injured people into vehicles, and then we tried to go back to sweep the venue again. We had seen people being carried out on wheelbarrows and ladders and wanted to see if we could find more people inside to help out. When we started heading toward the front end of the venue again, we were met by security, who said that even though we were medical, we were not allowed to go back toward the stage. He assured us that all the people that could be helped were outside of the venue by now. It was difficult to hear that, but we understood what he meant. There was no reason for anyone to see the dead bodies lying there, and because of investigational purposes everything was left where it was.
So, we turned back around and went to the street to help load people into the remaining vehicles that would come by. Diego helped a man into the back of a red truck and sat with him. I helped a few guys get a lady into the back of the cab, and once she was in I looked around for Diego. When I saw that he was in the bed of the truck, I hopped up into it. I didn’t intend to ride to the hospital, but I also wasn’t going to leave the only person I knew. The red truck filled up in moments and we were headed down the street. We passed by a church on the same road behind the venue and found two more people who were injured and needed a ride. I helped them get into the bed of the truck, and I tucked myself into a corner as far out of the way as possible.
The drive to the hospital seemed like it took forever, even though I know that we made record time. The man driving the truck was honking and driving on the wrong side of the road and making his way to Desert Springs Hospital. I would say the drive should have taken 15 minutes. We definitely made it in less than 10. By the time we arrived, the ER was overloaded, and I was impressed that there were even people who came to greet us at the curb and help get the injured inside. Diego and I asked if they needed or wanted us to stay and help, but the overwhelming look in their eyes and the determination to get back into their element told us that we would just be in the way.
I wondered how we would make it anywhere from there. Would we be stuck at the hospital and find a way to help? Diego asked the truck driver, Erik Frazier, if he was headed back to the venue, and he said yes. We hopped into the cab of his truck and introduced ourselves. Frazier had been at the concert but lived close by, so he had gone to get his truck after getting his friends to safety. He said this was his third trip in his blood-stained truck to and from the hospital. We rushed back to the east side of the venue preparing to load up anyone else who needed to get to the hospital. When we arrived back at the scene we were told that only the walking injured remained and there was no one who really could be taken anywhere. By this time, it was probably nearing midnight and the first time I noticed what I now know were shots was just after 10 p.m.
Kelly went on to help with the clean-up of medical supplies and of Erik’s truck. A medic nearby had picked up a stray phone he found near a body, and Kelly said she’d take it and try to locate its owner. She then spent hours comforting the woman’s loved ones as they called to check on her. “I had no other contact with my friends and family, so apparently I just learned about all the people who cared about Stephanie!” she says.
Kelly called to check in with her concert companions and then called her boyfriend and brother and told them, “When you wake up in the morning and hear about a shooting in Vegas, know that I am alright and I have just been helping out in any way that I could.”
Around 2 a.m. she got a call from the daughter of Stephanie, the owner of the stray cell phone, saying that her mother had been located and was fine. Kelly was finally reunited with her roommates at 4:30 a.m., and around 7 a.m. police allowed them back into their hotel rooms.
Since that night, Kelly has had no contact with Diego, but she says she’ll never forget him. She and Stephanie have become close, even attending a country-music festival together.
A counselor cleared her from needing help for post-traumatic stress disorder, saying that, upon hearing the shots, her body went into “fight” mode rather than “flight” mode. “To this day, people say to me, ‘I’m so sorry that you were there,’” she says, “but I’m not. I know I was in the right place at the right time. I think the hardest part for my family and friends to hear is that I would do it all again, even if the outcome were different. I truly helped people that I could and I can thank my education or my background or any circumstance that led to that night.”
For months Kelly continued to wear her concert wristlet, a reminder of a harrowing night, when she instinctively used her medical training under the most chaotic and tragic of circumstances.