One Minnesotan dies, another in critical condition after being hit in back in Las Vegas shooting; DJ tells her story
ST. PAUL --The morning after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the streets of Las Vegas felt “kind of eerie and quiet,” said Katie Toupal, a DJ for a Twin Cities’ country music station BUZ'N 102.9.
Toupal was one of more than 22,000 fans at the Route 91 Harvest Festival when a gunman opened fire on the crowd, killing at least 59 people.
Toupal was just one of several Minnesotans who experienced the mass shooting in Las Vegas. At least one was killed, according to a report by WCCO-TV.
A Minnetonka teacher told the TV station that her brother was among the dead, but she declined to give his name, citing family concerns.
Another man, Philip Aurich of Farmington, was shot in the lower back. According to a Facebook post by his brother Ben Aurich, Philip Aurich has undergone one surgery already and is in critical condition.
Toupal spoke from the airport Monday, just minutes before her return flight to Minnesota.
“The airport is tighter with security,” she said. “I can see Mandalay Bay (Hotel and Casino) from here, with all the top windows shot out. I'm trying not to look.”
Toupal was in the VIP section with her friends, enjoying the final night of the festival. “We were just hanging out and about five songs in, I heard a couple of pops,” she said. “I thought, 'What idiot would set off firecrackers?' "
But once the music cut out and the stage went black, she realized it was an emergency.
“I ran through the grounds and saw a lot of bodies, a lot of frantic people,” she said. “I saw one girl laying in the middle of the street. That's when it started to sink in.”
She found refuge in a nearby condo and sat huddled in the dark for hours.
“The more I think about it, the more scared I get,” she said. “You never think it's a thing, you know? I was just there to have fun with my friends.”
Toupal said she was ready to come home, but stressed that this won't stop her from attending concerts.
“I have been talking to my friends about how great country music is. Country music brings people together. If we stop going to these things, they win. We can't let them win, we have to keep going. I know that's sappy, but it's true.”
Toupal was just one of several Minnesotans who experienced the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
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SHOTS STARTED GOING OFF
Sunday was the day after Sherilyn Henderson’s 26th birthday. She, her boyfriend Kyle Lawheed, of Edina, and her younger sister Shelby Henderson were celebrating at Jason Aldean’s country concert in Las Vegas.
It was a “happy environment,” said Shelby Henderson, 23, and everyone enjoying themselves.
Partway through the show, the three friends moved slightly to the left of center to avoid cigarette smoke, just about fifteen minutes before the first shots were fired, the Hendersons said.
Shelby and Sherilyn Henderson, of Lakeville, estimated they were less than 20 feet to the left of the initial gun shots.
At first, they thought they thought it was just firecrackers.
The crowd momentarily paused and country singer Jason Aldean said, “Let’s turn it back up,” according to Sherilyn Henderson.
“That’s when we knew it wasn’t right, it wasn’t part of his show,” Henderson said. “That’s when people really started to get shifty, started looking around, and then the shots started going off consistently.”
First, they ducked. Then, they ran.
It was tunnel vision, Shelby Henderson said, and she soon lost sight of her sister and Lawheed.
Lawheed ran two miles back to the hotel.
Shelby Henderson had on boots with heels, so she made it only a few blocks before finding temporary safety in a building with several other concert-goers.
“I sprinted the other way. Everyone was running the other way, screaming. It was just this pure dread, pure panic. People were clawing over each other. We weren’t even looking both ways on the street,” Shelby Henderson said. “In that moment you’re not even thinking of anything, you’re just thinking of survival.”
Henderson described broken glass everywhere, people lying dead in the streets. She hid in a building with others, and then a girl with a bullet wound was brought and treated in a bathroom.
Sherilyn Henderson didn’t run immediately when she heard the shots. She loitered around for a few moments, looking for her sister and her boyfriend before eventually joining the crowds.
“It was a mess. People were screaming, and a lot of people were inebriated there, too. People were really drunk and disoriented, which was really sad,” Sherilyn Henderson said.
A group of men knocked down a fence in her path and someone else broke into a building nearby. Sherilyn Henderson estimated a few hundred people rushed into the building to wait.
Police arrived and escorted her group to relative safety, where she phoned her sister and boyfriend.
“Probably the worst moments were when I didn’t know if they’d pick up the phone,” Sherilyn Henderson said.
When police said it was safe, Henderson and her sister left their temporary shelters and returned to their hotel, where they were reunited with Lawheed. The Hendersons planned to fly back to Minnesota Monday night.
'HEAVY POLICE PRESENCE'
St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell and his son, also an officer, were reconnecting with friends in Las Vegas over the weekend, not far from the shooting.
“Being blocks away from the surreal and tragic act of violence last night was something I will never forget,” Axtell said in a Facebook post. “I am very impressed with the response from LVMPD and other agencies who locked down casinos and made sure everyone was safe. This morning, there is a heavy police presence and officers are being met with a tremendous amount of appreciation and support.”
DAYTON: WORK TO END INSANE VIOLENCE
Meanwhile, Gov. Mark Dayton ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of the victims of the attack.
"The terrible attack in Las Vegas has shocked and horrified the conscience of every American. I urge all Minnesotans and all Americans to call upon our own best natures, put aside our differences, and work for an end to this insane violence," Dayton said in a statement.
He also called for prayers for the recovery of Aurich.
"Peace be with the families of those who were lost or injured. I have faith that good people, with good hearts, doing good things, can help heal these wounds and move forward to real change," Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said in a statement, calling the accident a "tragic and senseless act of terror and violence."
Mara H. Gottfried contributed to this story.