The Bonds That Unite

Humanity comes together in the face of evil at Las Vegas shooting

Getty Images

"It was awful," my aunt, Mary Sylvester—who was in Las Vegas for the Route 91 Harvest Festival—told me when I called her to make sure she was okay. "We just wanted to get inside somewhere where there were walls."

My aunt and her two friends were not the average 20- to 30-something concert-goers. All country-music fans in their 50s or 60s who live in California's Central Valley, the trio had decided to take time off work and spring for VIP tickets to the three-day event for a girls-only weekend getaway.

One of her friends had recently had knee replacement surgery—a reason they had paid extra money to sit in the VIP section so she could watch the singers without having to compete for space with the crowd.

They were enjoying the evening and had stayed to hear the final act, headliner Jason Aldean. He was singing when the shots rang out like firecrackers, my aunt said.

Like everyone else, my aunt and her friends didn't realize right away what was happening but soon figured out that bullets were flying and shots were hitting people located closest to the stage.

As they were realizing that the concert was under attack, people around were shouting, telling everyone to hit the ground and not get up.

When the first round of shots was over, and people started rushing for whatever cover they could find, my aunt and the friend closest to her could not seek refuge themselves.

With one of their party able to walk only with the aid of a cane, they were limited in how quickly they could move. Together they slowly made their way behind what my aunt described as a metal "food vendor," where they remained despite other people urging them to leave the area.

The pair were separated from their other friend but were in touch on their cell phones and learned that she had gone to the hospital to help a victim of the shooting.

With people rushing around them amid the chaos of not knowing whether the attack was over, my aunt and her friend were stuck, and faced several untenable options.

At one point, they contemplated trying to hobble across the space of two or three football fields in an attempt to reach their car but decided it would leave them too vulnerable.

They waited behind the food vendor and sent text messages to their immediate family members, letting them know there was a mass shooting at the concert.

It was still dark and my eyes were struggling to focus when I first learned that the deadliest mass shooting in American history had taken place while I slept.

I saw the CNN news alert, "Mass killing in Las Vegas" and immediately remembered seeing the photos of my aunt clearly enjoying herself with some friends at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on the Vegas strip in a few Facebook posts over the weekend.

In seconds, I had clicked on her Facebook page and learned she and her two friends had "checked in" to a page labeled "The Violent Incident in Las Vegas," marking themselves as safe, albeit extremely shaken.

It was 5:30 a.m. on the West Coast by the time I got her on the phone, but she and her two friends hadn't slept and were still in a state of shock, horror and grief at what they experienced just hours before.

What strikes me the most about my aunt's story about what happened that night is the depth of human altruism on display—even in the midst of such a senseless, sadistic act.

Most of the people, friends and strangers alike, were not running to save themselves, but stopping to help one another—amid the chaos and panic of the crowd.

My aunt didn't tell me how long she and her friend spent huddled in that spot, but conveyed a terrible feeling of not knowing if the attack was over and whether they would be safe if they emerged.

Finally, they were given the all clear to move to the Tropicana Hotel, where security patted them down and allowed them to stay in the ballroom to recover for several hours.

Inside the hotel, they let their guard down a little. She felt heartbroken while talking to a woman who lost her daughter when she was struck in the barrage. Another woman was showing others how a stray bullet had hit her cell phone and penetrated all the way through it.

After roughly three hours, the security guards allowed them to leave the Tropicana hotel, she said.

My aunt said she was especially grateful for an Uber driver who picked them up and gave them a free ride back to their timeshare where they were waiting to depart Las Vegas for home on a 2 p.m. flight.

"Frankly, we just really want to get out of here," she said.

President Trump has called on Americans to remember the bonds that unite us. I hope the nation can take some solace knowing that those powerful bonds of love and compassion were on full display even amid the terror that night.