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Pennsylvania residents describe fear, uncertainty around Las Vegas shooting

| Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, 12:33 p.m.
A wounded person is walked in on a wheelbarrow as Las Vegas police respond during an active shooter situation on the Las Vegas Stirp in Las Vegas  Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Multiple victims were being transported to hospitals after a shooting late Sunday at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip.
A wounded person is walked in on a wheelbarrow as Las Vegas police respond during an active shooter situation on the Las Vegas Stirp in Las Vegas Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Multiple victims were being transported to hospitals after a shooting late Sunday at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip.

Ben Sweeney crawled to the bathroom of his Mandalay Bay hotel room in Las Vegas as the sound of gunfire reverberated outside.

The bathtub felt like the safest place to be.

Sweeney, 33, sent a text message to his wife of less than two months back in eastern Pennsylvania.

"Babe, I think someone is shooting here," Sweeney typed. "I'm really scared. It's loud."

Minutes earlier, Sweeney, weary from a day of traveling to Las Vegas for an IT conference, had been lying on his hotel bed in Star Wars pajamas. That's when he heard three distinct explosions that he mistook for fireworks. It was a little after 10 p.m., Las Vegas time.

"Boom, boom, boom," Sweeney said, describing the sound to the Tribune-Review. "I thought, 'If they're going to shoot them off, I might as well watch.'"

He opened his blinds.

"All of the sudden I heard a volley of 20 to 30 shots," Sweeney said. "At that point, I realized they weren't fireworks. It was so loud, I thought it was coming from the room right next door to me."

Sweeney shut off the lights, got on the floor and made his way to the bathroom. He heard helicopters circling outside.

Sweeney checked his Twitter feed and tried to piece together what was happening. He texted his wife Allison again.

"Yeah hon, it's an active shooter," Sweeney said, reading that text message to the Trib. "I swear it's right in the room next to me. It's so loud and it echoes."

Sweeney was on the 30th floor. He later learned the gunman in the worst shooting in modern American history was two floors above him.

"We kept texting," Sweeney said. "She was worried. I was worried."

Then Sweeney heard another loud explosion, followed by another one a minute later. He later figured the blasts were set off by police storming the gunman's room.

Sweeney peeked out into the hallway, and saw four officers dressed in military fatigues. He turned on the local news and followed developments on social media.

By 1:30 a.m., he calmed down enough to drift off to sleep.

Three hours later, he awoke to pounding on his hotel room's door.

Three police officers entered and checked the closet and bathroom. One officer kept a flashlight pointed at Sweeney. Another said, "Make sure we can see your hands."

When officers finished searching Sweeney's room, they thanked him.

"Thank you," Sweeney said he responded.

Although Sweeney's conference was scheduled to begin Tuesday, the Guardian Life Insurance employee said he decided to return home. As he left the hotel Monday afternoon, he said his elevator to the lobby was filled with hotel guests but quiet.

"Nobody knew what to say would be my guess."

Sweeney boarded a return flight home late Monday afternoon. The Penn State University alum lives near Allentown.

Brandon Foley of Pittsburgh's Beechview neighborhood also was in Las Vegas for a conference. He took a picture of the Route 91 Harvest Festival from his room at the MGM Grand before heading down to the lobby to gamble.

He saw a handful of people run through the lobby, then a stampede. People were screaming.

"At first I thought it had just been a fight or something. ... All of a sudden there was this big rush of people, a stampede," said Foley, 37. "I was running back to my room and I heard two shots from somewhere and two loud screams."

When the gunman opened fire on the Las Vegas Strip from a 32nd-story hotel window, Foley was among several Pittsburgh-area residents there to witness the shooting and its panicked aftermath.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police said 58 were dead and hundreds more were injured when Stephen C. Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nev., opened fire on more than 22,000 attending a Jason Aldean concert across the street from his room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Paddock apparently killed himself as police used explosives to blast into the hotel room where he had a stockpile of more than 10 guns.

Videos of the concert showed Aldean in mid-song when the rapid popping of gunfire could be heard over the music, followed by a pause and terror setting in. People hit the ground or fled in search of shelter.

Foley said he made his way down the Strip and away from the shooting scene, through other casinos where panicked people were creating more stampedes, unsure of where the shooter was or where they would be safe. At one point he climbed into a cab with two to three others trying to get as far from the shooting scene as possible.

"There was a honeymooning couple; she was pregnant and just wanted to get away," Foley said.

He ended up with a room at Caesars Palace, with phone lines too jammed to reach the MGM to determine when he could get back to his other room and his belongings.

"It sounded like boom, boom, boom. Real fast," Marissa Jones of Carnegie told Tribune-Review news partner WPXI-TV. "It sounded so close to us. I didn't know where it was coming from."

Jones said she and her friend, who is from McKees Rocks, were returning to their hotel, the MGM Grand. But as they were getting ready to go up a set of stairs, they were told to turn around as the gunfire erupted.

"We started hearing the gunshots and tried to find an exit. We just continued running. People were freaking out," Jones said.

Jones and her friend hid under a golf cart and held hands until they felt it was safe to come out.

Ryan Kubiak of Green Tree told the TV station he was about to leave for his flight back to Pittsburgh when someone yelled, "There's a shooter!"

"You don't know what's going on, so we wanted to take cover. We got in the back office and shut the doors. We don't know who was in there. It was pandemonium," Kubiak said.

Ben Schmitt and Matthew Santoni are Tribune-Review staff writers.

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