NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Many people from the Tri-State Area witnessed the horror of the Las Vegas massacre Sunday night firsthand – whether on business trips or vacations.
As CBS2’s Ali Bauman reported, one Union County, New Jersey woman had just finished up a three-day business trip Sunday night when she decided to go out with the group to celebrate. They were on the bar on the 64th floor of the Mandalay Hotel, 30 floors above the shooter.
After the initial gunshots, she went to the balcony and started recording on her cellphone. The video showed hundreds of people scattering from the stage, while many more remained hauntingly still lying on the ground.
There was a pause in the gunshots, and then those watching the chaos from the balcony began to realize what was happening below.
“All you see is people running for their lives and bodies not moving, and you keep hearing the fire and machine guns,” said Meghen Kavalus of Cranford, New Jersey.
Kavalus recorded the videos, and her terrified voice was heard in the background.
“Everything going through your head — this is it. We could all be going down,” she said.
Hotel security then told her about the 100 or so other people who were at the bar to stay put until it was safe. She took the video during the 11 hours they were locked inside.
Happening at the same time in the same hotel on the 29th floor, police officers from New Jersey were leaving dinner. Among them was New Jersey Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association Patrick Colligan.
“A police officer and security officer literally ran through the casino and then doubled back,” Colligan said. “I’ve been a cop for 25 years. There’s a look on your face of stress, and I knew this wasn’t going to be a minor issue.”
Also part of the police group was New Jersey State Trooper Pete Stilianessis, who was at his hotel just next door when he heard the gunshots.
“I looked outside just a few minutes after you can start to see the panic of people outside,” he said.
But without a radio or gun, the officers were among the helpless civilians.
“I couldn’t even imagine taking control of the Las Vegas strip and every hotel,” Colligan said. “To me, that’s just insurmountable.”
“We were wide awake all night how can we help what can we do,” said Stilianessis, president of the New Jersey State Troopers Non-Commissioned Officers Association. “You’re not traveling with a gun out of state, and you hear what’s going on and want to help people.”
The strip cleared out as the hours ticked away inside hotel rooms on lockdown. When everyone was finally allowed outside Monday morning, feelings of relief and grief were overwhelming.
“Shock, gratitude; gratitude and just grief for these poor kids and families who lost their loved ones in slaughter,” Kavalus said tearfully.
“I immediately called my wife and told her, ‘I’m safe, I’m OK,’” Stilianessis said.
Both Kavalus and Colligan were able to get out on flights home Monday. CBS2’s Bauman asked Collgan if the experience would change his behavior on the police force and he said no – he just has to answer the call and go.
As CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported, other locals who were in Las Vegas landed at Newark Liberty International Airport Monday night with those victims on their minds, recalling how frightening it was to see the city usually lit up on lockdown.
“Everybody started screaming and hid under chairs,” said Vincent Ramirez of Edgewater, New Jersey. “That was pretty scary.”
Ramirez was also inside Mandalay Bay at a different concert. He did not hear the shots, but he eventually heard the sirens outside and found out what was happening from his phone with his family on his mind.
“(I thought): ‘Am I going make it out alive? How are we going to get out of here?’” he said. “Not fun — a crazy experience.”
The death toll in the Las Vegas shooting had climbed to 59 people as of late Monday afternoon. Police said at least 527 others were taken to area hospitals following the attack, which happened as more 22,000 concert goers were attending the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival on the Strip.