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Escaping the shooting: Local resident survives attack in Las Vegas

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, October 7, 2017
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Happy to Be Home

HAPPY TO BE HOME – Thoughts of Cindy McCasland’s sons, Jerl (left) and Ben, helped her make it through a scary night in Las Vegas during Sunday’s mass shooting. The boys, who were at home in Slidell, said they found out about the shooting from a teacher the next day. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

It was a familiar Las Vegas story, at least until the unthinkable happened.

Slidell resident Cindy McCasland and her friend, Susan Schnieder, had stopped in at the Mandalay Bay Hotel Sunday night for a cup of coffee, but first, they decided to try their luck at the slot machines.

Luck wasn’t on their side – they quickly lost about $50.

They enjoyed a good laugh as they snapped a photo of their cashout voucher to post later on Facebook.

“The story of Las Vegas,” McCasland told Schnieder. “You got paid a whole 13 cents.”

The time stamp on the voucher said 9:44 p.m.

The two women and another friend, Jon Weidler, headed to the House of Blues inside the Mandalay Bay Hotel for that cup of coffee as Schnieder’s husband, David, stayed in the casino to play blackjack.

Just minutes later, McCasland and her friends would get a short but urgent call from David.

“Run to the back of the casino, now!”

In a hotel room 31 floors above them, Nevada resident Stephen Paddock had begun firing assault rifles at concert-goers down below in what would become the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Different Kind of Luck

DIFFERENT KIND OF LUCK – Cindy McCasland and her friends joked they didn’t have much luck when their cashout voucher showed a total of 13 cents, but they would later feel quite lucky they had gone into the casino rather than staying outside the concert venue across the street. The time on the voucher shows 9:44 p.m., just 20 minutes before the shooting began above them. Submitted photo

COFFEE BREAK

McCasland and her friends were enjoying a long weekend in Vegas. She’s been many times, but this was the first time she had made the trip with this group of friends. A day earlier, they had celebrated Susan’s daughter’s 21st birthday.

“We were having a fabulous time,” McCasland said.

Since they would be flying back to Dallas the next afternoon, they planned on staying up late to enjoy their last night in Las Vegas.

As night fell over the city, the friends had gone to the Luxor where Susan and David were staying so they could change clothes before heading over to the Wynn Casino to meet up with McCasland’s sister, who lives in Las Vegas.

While at the Luxor, Susan suggested they head across the street to listen to the bands playing at the Route 91 Harvest festival, which was wrapping up three days of country music performances.

The four friends stood outside the main gate at the concert venue and were impressed with how well you could hear the music. Police officers patrolled every nearby corner, talking to people who passed by. “They were super friendly,” McCasland said.

Jason Aldean was scheduled to perform the next set.

McCasland had never heard of him (she prefers earlier generations of country artists, she said), and while she was having a good time, she found herself wanting something else: that cup of coffee.

After several coffee requests, she convinced them to leave the concert.

Her friends would later tell her that her persistence over getting that cup of coffee may have saved their lives.

“We literally walked by the shooter,” she said. “He would have been poised and ready to go, watching us walk right by as we went to the Mandalay Bay.”

VIEW FROM THE LUXOR – As McCasland and their friends waited on a ride to the airport Monday, they snapped a photo of their view of the broken window at the Mandalay Bay Hotel where the shooter had taken aim on people below the night before. Submitted photo

RUNNING FOR THEIR LIVES

McCasland liked the Mandalay Bay Casino – it didn’t seem as loud as some of the other casinos along the Strip. And although she wasn’t in the House of Blues restaurant long, she recalls she really enjoyed the band that was playing.

Meanwhile, back in the casino, David barely noticed the muffled popping sounds as the gunfire began around 10:05 p.m.

He would later relay what happened next inside the casino to the others.

“He was actually on a winning streak, and he said all of a sudden, almost in unison, all the dealers covered their tables at one time, and he said it was like automatic,” McCasland said. “Employees went running toward side entrances, and they yelled, ‘There’s an active shooter, get out of the hotel!'”

David grabbed his chips and made the call to his wife.

While his message was short on details, David’s tone told them all they needed to know at that moment.

Susan, McCasland and Weidler immediately began running.

By this time, others in the casino were running in many directions as well. When they met up with David, he told them there was an active shooter in the casino.

Thinking the shooter had entered from the front of the casino and was shooting inside the building, they ran back to the Luxor.

Everything seemed calm inside the Luxor. Believing the incident was confined to the inside of the Mandalay Bay casino, they ordered a pizza. Just as McCasland was handed the box, she said something even more terrifying began to unfold in front of them.

A large group of people – she said it seemed like hundreds – were running right toward them.

Someone in the group shouted, “There’s more than one shooter!”

McCasland and her friends began running again as well, taking two or three steps at a time down a nearby escalator with a “stampede” right behind them, she said.

“When we were running, especially the second time, we thought, ‘Oh my gosh. They’re coming after us. They have machine guns, and they’re moving this way,'” she said.

For the first time since the ordeal started, McCasland began to really wonder if they would survive.

“I remember at one point saying, ‘We’re not going to make it,’ because if you made one wrong move, you were going to be trampled,” she said.

McCasland found the strength to keep going with the thought of two special people back home in Slidell – her two teenage sons, Ben and Jerl.

“The only mantra going through my mind with every step I took was, ‘I have to get back to my kids.’ I just kept repeating that in my mind the whole time.”

After reaching the elevators, the four finally made it to Susan and David’s hotel room on the 11th floor and turned on the news to try to find out what was going on. Some early reports, which would later turn out to be false, indicated multiple shooters may have been involved, and even that several different hotels had been taken over by possible terrorists.

“At this point the hotel (intercom) comes on and they are beeping this emergency alarm into the room and they say ‘Stay in your room, barricade your door. Do not answer the door for anyone, not even if you think it is the police.’ So at this point, we’re thinking that ISIS has taken over,” McCasland said.

Even in the hotel room, they didn’t feel safe, fearful that whoever was doing the shooting might be going door to door to kill as many people as possible.

The hotel room door was barricaded, and the group spent the next couple of hours watching news reports and staying in contact with friends and family who wanted to make sure they were safe.

Over the next few hours, the picture of what actually happened began to slowly take shape. A lone gunman on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel had broken out two windows in his suite and fired an assortment of rifles at people at the concert where McCasland and her friends had been earlier in the night. Aldean was only a few songs into his set when the shooting began.

Eventually, the four were able to get a little sleep.

SURVIVORS

Many of the concert-goers were staying at the Luxor, and McCasland said the next morning Susan talked to people who shared their story of hiding under food trucks as they attempted to shield themselves from the incoming gunfire.

Many of them were bandaged or limping as they checked out. What is normally a lively, fun atmosphere was eerily quiet, McCasland said.

As the names, photos and stories of the 58 killed in the shooting began to emerge over the next few days, McCasland took the time to look at each one. She feels blessed that she and her friends are not among that group, but it has also left her with conflicted feelings.

“There was just a sense that God saved you, you want to say, but you have to be listening to God when he’s talking to you, and I felt like I was listening to Him,” she said. “I felt like he was telling me to get out of there. But I didn’t know it at the time, which is often the case when the Lord talks to you. He was persistent, and I think moving me to get out of there.

“But then you almost don’t want to say that, because you don’t want to say God saved you but he didn’t save someone else. You almost feel guilty that nothing happened to you when you look at the faces of those people,” she said. “There is a sense of almost guilt that you made it through there and that they didn’t, that your timing was right, and they couldn’t get out. That part is really heavy.”

COMING HOME

McCasland has only spent the past 15 of her 53 years as a Slidell resident after many years living in Dallas. In a way, Dallas has still felt like home.

But when her flight arrived in the Metroplex late Monday, and she picked up her car in Dallas, it didn’t feel quite the same.

“I felt like I was home when I got to Slidell,” she said. “That may have been one of the first times I ever thought of Slidell as my home. It’s like you aren’t really from there, because you weren’t born and raised here. But that night as I took the turn into Slidell, I felt like I was home.”

Her two sons had arrived at school early Monday for cross country practice, and it wasn’t until a teacher mentioned the shooting that they realized what had happened.

“The teacher said, ‘Did anyone hear about the shooting in Las Vegas?’ and I said, ‘My mom is in Las Vegas,'” recalled Ben. “I didn’t know if she was at the concert or not, but I was still a little worried.”

After class, he texted his mom, who assured him she was safe and relayed the story of what happened.

“We were worried because our mom means everything to us,” the 16-year-old said.

McCasland told her boys she was getting in late Monday and to not wait up for her, since they would be up early again the next morning.

As she was driving home, she still recalled her “mantra” that helped her get through those moments when she was on the run. And although at that point it may not have had the same sense of urgency, she could still feel a deep need to get home to see her sons.

When she arrived, she found both boys asleep in their rooms. She hugged them, closed their doors and then sat on the couch and cried.

Whether it was luck or divine intervention that brought McCasland safely home to her boys, one thing is certain: Slidell had never felt more like home.

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