I just want to start of by saying that this post is in no way representative of my employer, NetApp. This is solely my own opinion and recollection of the events that happened that night, October 1, 2017.
This was my 2nd time attending NetApp Insight, but 1st time as an official employee. I was very nervous attending in general because it would be my 1st time presenting sessions to a group larger than 15-20 people but was determined to do my job as best possible.
A little to know about me is that I’m the type of guy that over analyzes everything, while its great for my job to troubleshoot things it sucks for my personal life lol. In any case this makes me very aware of my surroundings. I always check for where my exits are and try to be close to one. I like a view of the entrance and not have my back towards it. When walking with a group I always fall a bit behind…not only because I’m fluffy and slow but also to cover everyone’s six. Think of a tactical column and instead of taking point or point man I’m in the back as the rifleman. This is more relevant later in the post.
Should be a normal day….or so we thought.
Sunday was a long day for me. Started at 5am with about 4hrs of sleep to get ready and get to the airport for a early flight to Detroit as my 1st leg of the trip, to land around 2PM in Vegas. Still at this point it was a pretty regular day. Check into the hotel, dropped bags off, went to registration to get my presenters badge and checkin to the speakers resource center where I got my shirts and did final approval of the powerpoint decks. Back to room to unpack, read emails, go over my speaker notes and rest for a few since we had a team dinner later that night.
Time to get ready for our team dinner. Made sure my dress shoes shinned bright and that my button down shirt and dress pants had crisp lines to look nice for the team. A team that I haven’t seen in months.
Made it down from the 33rd floor facing the pool area to the kick-off dinner for the NetApp A-Team at NetApp Insight. About 40 of us, dined and chatted in a private room at Libertine Social, connected to Mandalay Bay. Since I had a early session the next day decided to play it safe and just have a couple of drinks, some coffee and not part take in any after dinner parties.
As dinner wind down, some have already left to either hit another bar or just go to sleep since they too have been traveling all day. I too was ready to go when my old co-worker wanted to thank me for getting him on the A-Team by buying me a drink. Reluctantly I said yes…I mean how could I say know to my boy especially since he was so happy, and I knew how many doors would open for him being on the team.
Around this time is where my over active brain started to kick in. We had like 10 people on the wait staff including bartenders etc., and they all but 2 where ghost. I’m like I think we should go…when hotel security tells us to shelter in place as there is an active situation in the hotel. I’m like damn, if something pops off we’re stuck in a damn little room with no cover and 1 exit! 5-10 minutes later another security guard tells up to quietly exit the hotel to the Shark Reef Parking Exit. In theory not a big deal, its few mins walk and once they get that drunkass into a police car we can go back and go to sleep.
Around the area of the Border Grill, SWAT teams started popping out of doors I didn’t even know existed and running the opposite way I was walking to calmly. They started to yell at us to run for our lives! And run we did all the way to the Shark Reef’s parking lot.
My good friend and A-Team member David Brown caught this on his phone while we ran out to the Shark Reef parking lot, again I was behind the team watching their 6.
So now we are all outside the parking lot and should be safe right? WRONG! A helicopter swoops down, shines the spotlight on us and over the loud speaker says “Disperse from the parking lot, there’s an active shooter on the roof!” More cops start to pour in and usher us out of the parking lot to Vegas Blvd. People once again started to panic and almost stampede out of the parking lot. Running next to me was an elderly asian lady that tripped and fell. I went over to help her up miscalculated the distance to the floor and basically punched the floor trying to pick her up. I also blocked off of her like 2-3 people that would of just ran over her. Plus one for the wide fluffy guy!
The Exodus Begins.
Here is where I see a line of ambulances and my 1st dead body wrapped in a white sheet and most of the team gets scrambled in the mad dash out of the parking lot. So 1st rule in any disaster event is to bug out of the danger zone to a safe zone. We start by crossing over Vegas Blvd and stand there for a few mins trying to find everyone on the team. We start burning up cellular batteries trying to keep in touch with everyone. Slowly we start to regroup but LVPD keeps ushering us to leave the area. A wave of people start to migrate from the Mandalay Bay Hotel all the way to Sunset Road. We aggregated to landmarks:
- Harley-Davidson Store
- Welcome to Las Vegas Sign
- Maverick Helicopters
- Jack in the box
- Finally regrouping with the majority of the team at Sunset Road where all the tv crews where setting up their sat uplinks. Here is where we caught a break and found a shuttle bus going to the Hilton Gardens which we all hopped on and traveled further south down the strip.
With all this movements, regrouping and drinks that occurred at dinner. My old co-worker started to feel the effects of the drinks, the running and reality of what was going on. We had to stop several times to find a bathroom and never keep him out of my sight so we can regroup with the team.
Finally out of harms way.
We get to the hotel and was able to check in. Most of the team was with us but we knew where everyone else was staying at and the most important part was that they were safe. Most of us had close to zero battery. Some of the guys went to buy chargers and water since we left all of that in our rooms. Now comes the flood of information on the TV and makes things so much more real to us of what we just missed. We all started to speculate of what kind of weapon(s) were used, motives, etc. Around 4am or so I just couldn’t take more input and needed to lay down for a bit. I talked to my family to let them know I was ok and away from the danger zone and was going to try to catch a nap. Well about 1.5-2hrs later its wakeup time in the east coast where I’m from and the flood of calls/text/FaceBook/WhatsApp/SnapChat messages started to come in from my Friends back home asking if I was ok. The more time I took to respond back the increased frequency of are you ok messages came in. So this didn’t let me sleep at all and really who could but also not complaining at all, I’m very thankful that so many people reached out to me. I put on my shoes again and head downstairs where most of the team is still awake and having breakfast. We eat and after a few hours are told we can go back to our original rooms at Mandalay Bay. So we head that way.
I’ve been to Vegas dozens of times and Mandalay Bay is where I usually stay at. But walking through that casino floor that next afternoon was super scary. The casino no matter what time of the day or night is packed with people…this time I saw like 5. I hurried up to the elevators where police where waiting to check room keys and id’s to let you up. Once I got into my room, I barricaded the door with a chair in my room. Not like it was going to stop anyone really from getting in but it made me feel a little bit safe. Turned on the tv and saw the death toll was around 30 and about 200 injured, almost double from what the original numbers when we 1st got to the Hilton Garden. I forced myself to try to get some sleep as we had an all hands meeting at 5pm.
All Hands Meeting.
I finally take a shower and get changed. Remove the chair barricading the door. Look out the peep hole, don’t see anything. Open the door, pop my head fast out look both ways and go back into my room (standard room clearing technique). Walk very fast down the hall and get into the elevator. Before I get to the elevators there are police still sweeping the floor. I thank them for their hard work and tear up a bit. I walk through the ghost town to the expo area and find me a seat. I sit next to a great old friend of mine that use to be my SE way back in the day. Our CEO steps on stage and starts to talk to us about the senseless act of violence and the decision to keep the conference running. While he was talking I could see it in his face that he was exhausted, sad, mad and determined to not let us give into fear and gave at least to me the strength to continue the rest of the week at the conference.
Time to go home.
So at this point I think I’m over what happened and super ready to get home. Boy was I wrong. My inflight movie that I picked was Wonder Woman (which was fantastic and I’ll try to watch it again later). Everything was cool until I saw the no mans land scene. When the German machine gunners popped out of their nests and started to unload. I LOST IT! Knocked my headphones off and locked myself for a bit in the bathroom. Collected myself from loosing my shit and went back to my seat and picked another movie to watch.
When I get to Greensboro, NC I’m greeted by my little nephew holding a sign that said welcome home Tio and ran into my arms. I lost my shit a little bit but was so happy to see all of my family that I didn’t let it show and hugged everyone. After dinner and a few hours to rest my Friends wanted to welcome me home properly. We went to a local bar then back to their house to talk. They knew something was up with me as I was on edge and normally I’m very laid back when we go out. Both of these friends where marines and one in particular broke me down with how being in the shit totally changed his life and I was lucky to be back unharmed unlike his brother in arms. After a good cry I was ready to go home. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried a lot with my friends, had deep conversations with my parents and even had stomach problems for four days straight. Literally I had to get my shit together. I’m writing this now as I finally feel strong enough too move on.
Big shoutouts to the 1st responders of that tragic night, that put themselves in harms way to keep us safe. Mandalay Bay and all its staff for keeping us safe the rest of the week while we attended the conference. Starbucks and neighboring hotels that sent food/water and staff to help out the victims and 1st responders. The local people of Las Vegas that didn’t think twice to come out and help where ever they could, including donating blood. Our CEO who inspired his entire staff to not give into fear and that the show must go on. My boss that truly lead all of us to safety and made sure we had a place to rest. All of my Friends that are spread all over the world that kept in contact with me. My A-Team mom that started this wonderful little family. My A-Team brothers and sisters, because of you I will never: feel, eat much less drink alone at a conference nor anywhere else in this world since we are everywhere. Knowing that I wasn’t alone made the week fly by and felt safe because I was with my brothers and sisters.
Finally my Family that was my fuel and motives to stay alive. My Father that with his to the point very blunt words: “Steven, let me ask you something. Do you have a pair of balls and are you a Cortez? Because if you do, you know we don’t quit for nothing or no one nor are we scared of anything or anyone and always keep moving forwards….so man up and get the job done.” And we can’t forget the big man upstairs that has always took care of me and my family.
For some other perspectives of what happened that night I’m including 3 of my fellow A-Team members blogs that actually inspired me to write this one.
Becky Elliott: http://beckyelliott.com/blog/2017/10/09/mandalay-bay-exodus/
Michael Cade: https://vzilla.co.uk/vzilla-blog/netapp-insight-2017