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I survived the Las Vegas shooting

Ginny Winslow photographed at her Seattle home on Friday, March 23, 2018. Winslow was working at the Route 91 Harvest music festival when Stephen Paddock fired on concertgoers from the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel, leaving 58 people dead.
Dan DeLong for KUOW
Ginny Winslow photographed at her Seattle home on Friday, March 23, 2018. Winslow was working at the Route 91 Harvest music festival when Stephen Paddock fired on concertgoers from the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel, leaving 58 people dead.

I was working in Las Vegas at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. I looked at Caslin, my coworker, both of us confused but wary. She said, "It’s fireworks."

"No," I said.

"Or a car starting," she said.

"That's a gun," I said. I know that popping sound.

I looked around the corner of our booth and saw an older woman from security looking toward the sound, hand on her radio.

"That's gunfire," I said again to Caslin.

I grabbed my purse and the work cashbox in case I was wrong.

Another round.

I ripped open the Velcro wall under the line-dancing stage next to our booth and clambered inside.

It was dark, and no one else had hidden there yet. It felt incredibly wrong to be there. I already felt a wave of guilt flow over me as I realized I had found a spot no one else had. I was alone.

Machine gun still overhead. Not sure where it was, but I thought the shooter — or shooters — were outside the gate by the sounds. Thought of Columbine, other mass shootings. Stay down and be quiet and maybe they won't know I am here.

Finally Caslin came through the vinyl.

We laid down and covered ourselves with what we could find. Boxes, chairs, beer crates and boxes in storage. More gunfire and more staff came in.

A woman tried to grab the chair off Caslin; I pulled the chair back over us. Someone else grabbed the stuff off me, but I pulled it back. I felt guilty for pushing them off us. They were more terrified than me. I didn’t know what they had seen. I could only hear it.

More gunfire. Sounds of running and screams. We lay there, helpless in the dark. This can't be happening; it has to be over soon; is it coming closer; I can't die at a country music festival, not like this covered in garbage in Vegas, after everything. My mom died 15 years ago today — my first thought that morning. I was scared of turning 30.

"If you want to get out, go now!" A man shouted. He was standing, pointing towards an exit.

No hesitation. I grabbed Caslin and ran. We had no idea if he knew anything at all, but other than screaming, I couldn't hear shots.

We ran crouched, Mandalay Bay looming over us, no idea that was where the shots were coming from. I lost Caslin for a moment, but she leapt over a barrier and we found each other near the exit closest to Mandalay Bay.

Again, no thought but instinct. A bus was in front of us, doors open, people lying on the floor inside.

We climbed on top of them, on top of a woman bleeding from her leg. Something about a tourniquet, she didn’t know if she was shot, but her hip was broken, trampled. I couldn't hear and everyone was shouting at the driver to please go. Get us out.

My feet, in sandals, became slick with blood and oil from the bus. I don’t know.

I don't remember running into the Tropicana. I just remember thinking we hadn't been on the bus long enough to be far enough away. Found out later it was only next door.

Inside was surreal; we wanted to be elevated and not in the main lobby, so we ran up the stopped escalator. A theater was there. Guards guided us in, but it felt wrong. Too quiet, too many thoughts of shootings in theaters. People lying on the floors of the second to last rows, so we climbed over the seats to the very back where a young blonde girl was shaking and crying. We joined her, lying on the floors.

I texted my dad to say goodbye just in case, but accidentally misdialed my own number. Called my boyfriend and tried texting. He seemed confused at first. The girl crying asked to text her mom. Caslin gave her her phone. For some reason I had Caslin's cowboy hat. The new hat I’d bought the day before had flown off.

More shouting, looked like people were running. The girl left us and a pack of cigarettes behind.

Water. Some sort of shock was setting in, and my face was cold and then flushed. My lips were dry.

[asset-images[{"caption": "In the rush to escape the shooting, Ginny Winslow grabbed Caslin's hat. Caslin later took this photo of her hat, the festival satchel they were handing out for work, and the flowers their employer sent them after the event.", "fid": "143396", "style": "placed_left", "uri": "public://201803/caslin-hat.jpg", "attribution": "Credit You and the Lens/Caslin Rose"}]]We went to the bar, and the bartender gave us water bottles.

"Where are the stairs?" we asked.

"You will get trapped in a stairway," the bartender  said.

"Please. Just where is it safe?"

Everything was too open, too obvious. Every so often people would break into a run because one person panicked.

The bartender led us to a staff area, a place for show people, green rooms.

A group of elderly folks were already there, looking at us as they chatted, confused by our breathing wide-eyed panic. They didn’t understand the scale of what was happening. They offered us a seat.

Caslin and I sat together, holding each other, confusing them with our panic.

They had barricaded the doors but we could hear banging. Piles of random things and chairs shoved under.

I asked a man in a purple velvet suit — a performer? — where the access points were. He said he was watching them.

More banging. The older folks started picking up on the panic.

"Are we safe here?" I asked.

We entered a closet with two other women from the festival. One looked as scared as we were. We sat on the washing machine.

We heard shouting from security. We needed to move. It wasn't safe there. Or was it a sweep?

My boyfriend was calling. He was listening to the police blotter. A shooter was reported where we were.

One older, bearded former military man started fighting the security guard, asking what authority he had.

I threw up as we started moving, into my hand and hair.

Upstairs again. Music playing like the goddamn deck of the Titanic as it went down. At least the sirens had stopped. News was on near the bar. I couldn't watch, it was making me sick again.

Boyfriend listening to the police blotter let me know there may be a car bomb at my hotel. Saw someone moving with authority out of the corner of my eye. Grabbed Caslin again. The lobby was too open.

Moved again. SWAT came through and said we needed to go.

Caslin had to go to the bathroom again so she went while I sat on the floor near the sinks. A girl sobbed. Sitting on the floor I could see the bruises, blood and dirt on everyone. The Route 91 festival shirts seemed dark and ironic. Still wearing cowboy boots or no shoes at all.

The girl next to me spoke.

"Did you lose someone?" she asked.

“No,” I said. “Did you?”

"Yes." She crumpled and broke down crying again.

I hugged her and we left.

[asset-images[{"caption": "People seeking shelter and first aid in the conference room at the Tropicana Las Vegas, October 1, 2017.", "fid": "143426", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201803/holding-room-tropicana.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Ginny Winslow"}]]

Shuffled into another room, told we were safe now but on lockdown. Caslin and I didn't want to be near the windows so we crouched and sat in line to be brought into the holding area, a conference room.

An attractive man, shirtless, patted me down. Must have been a bouncer working with police.

We sat with hundreds, wrapped in towels and sheets. Woman and her husband in front of me with shirts covered in blood. Water passed around. It felt odd to hear a scattering of laughter.

By 5 a.m., we were allowed to leave. Wandered the empty strip in search of a way out.

A white, two-door sports car showed up. "Do you need a ride?"

"Promise not to kill us?"

His name was Manny. He was young, maybe 18, if that, just driving people off the strip. He brought us to Caslin’s boyfriend whose car was stuck on the other side of the closed highway.

“Do you like your job?” he asked, trying to make light conversation.

His question was so ordinary after everything that I laughed.

Ginny Winslow, 30, of Columbia City, Seattle, is a marketing professional in transportation and a fashion designer. She will be attending the March for Our Lives protest in Seattle, March 24. Despite an initial wariness of crowds, Ginny attended a music festival in Reykjavik in November to celebrate her 30th birthday. The bonds she made with individuals that October night are the only ties that would ever bring her back to Vegas.

The Seattle Story Project: First-person reflections published at To submit a story or note one you've seen that deserves more notice, contact Isolde Raftery at or 206.616.2035.