Cheryl Wood, her husband Harlon and their daughters, Kelsey and Laura, arrived in Las Vegas the day before the Oct. 1 shooting that killed 59 people and wounded more than 500 others.
The trip was a gift from Kelsey and Laura to celebrate Cheryl and Harlon’s birthdays.
“It’s the first family vacation we’ve taken in a number of years,” Cheryl explained.
The family had left their hotel, the Elara, and were walking up the strip when they got their first sign that there was trouble ahead.
“We’d decided to go down to the MGM and we were walking on the strip, and a guy hollered, ‘Gunshots! Run!’” Cheryl recalled.
At that point, all was quiet. The Mandalay Bay hotel, where lone gunman Stephen Paddock fired bullets down on thousands of people attending an outdoor concert, was about five minutes away, and Cheryl didn’t hear gunfire or sirens.
Better safe than sorry, they figured, so the family quickly started heading back towards their hotel room.
Around them, others continued, unknowingly, towards the scene that was developing further down the strip, while others were moving quickly away.
“We didn’t know if it was just some guy run wild, if it was a terrorist,” Cheryl said. “We didn’t know if someone was making it up, but we figured we’d better go back, so we were moving pretty quickly.”
Two minutes later, the sirens started. They would continue for hours.
Back to safety
Back in their hotel room, the family could look out the large window that overlooked the strip and see the police cars.
“Walking back down the strip, your heart is just going, and when you come through the door and you know you’re safe, you start breaking down with tears,” Cheryl said. “That’s what we did. We were safe, but you just never know until you’re in that situation what it’s like.”
Like other hotels in Las Vegas, the Elara went into lockdown and the family huddled together to watch television coverage from the events just outside.
The sirens wailed on throughout the night.
“It was nerve-wracking until we knew they had the killer,” Cheryl said. “There were all kinds of rumours. Someone said there was something happening at Planet Hollywood, and you had to go through that to get to our hotel. It was scary.”
The family woke up to lots of text messages from concerned family and friends at home in Kings County as they looked outside at a changed Vegas.
“Outside of every hotel, there’s three police cars, and more officers outside the car,” Cheryl said on Oct. 3, two days after the shooting. “You know how it is on the strip in Vegas, hotels everywhere, and there are police cars in front of every one.”
The family had plans to see the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil show at Mandalay Bay, but all of the shows at the hotel have been cancelled indefinitely.
“At first, we decided we wouldn’t go to any concerts – if someone is going to do something like this, we thought they’d go somewhere crowded, like a concert,” she said. “So we said no crowds.”
They’ve since changed their minds and decided to continue doing the things they’d planned during their vacation, albeit with an eye to safety. Part of that is due to the resilience of the other people in Vegas.
“It’s all you hear about – on the buses, in the hotels,” Cheryl said, adding that there was also a sense that Vegas would continue on as usual despite one gunman’s best efforts.
“Yesterday, we realized it was just a single guy and we had to continue on as usual. We’re going to shows, we’re going to do what we planned. Nowadays, wherever you travel, it’s always in the back of your mind that something like this could happen… But you can’t live in a bubble. It can happen anywhere.”