Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Route 91 Harvest Festival Shooting in Las Vegas: My Story

I've shared my story a few times, but I wanted to give my full side so you can read exactly what happened from my point of view in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017. Please keep in mind that this is how I remember our experience and that it happened very quickly. I feel that writing this will help me come to terms with things.

Kymberli and I snapped this photo in our resort the night of the shooting. Image copyright Kymberli Quackenbush.

On October 1, 2017, my wife, Kymberli, and I were at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas with some friends. We had enjoyed some great country music and were singing along with Jason Aldean about 100 feet or so from the stage when the first shots rang out. My wife asked if that was real and I shook my head in disbelief because I thought it was either faulty pyrotechnics or sound. When the second barrage of gunfire erupted and Jason ran back down the stage, I told my wife and others around me to get down as we had no idea where the shots were coming from. A larger woman in front of me was extremely scared and didn’t want to go to the ground because she was afraid of not being able to get back up. Another man and I told her she needed to get down for her own safety and that we would help her back up. We were on the ground for a few seconds when more gunfire erupted and we immediately helped her up. Kymberli and I knew we had to get out of there as I realized we were in direct line of fire of the bullets. Only God kept us safe. He kept me completely calm (no idea how that happened) and I went into crisis mode and told my wife to go.

This is the general area where we ran. The mid-section is a blur to me.

Kymberli and I worked great as a team and I am super proud of her. We held hands and I kept my body between hers and the area where the shooting came from. People were falling all around us and at the time I didn’t know if they were shot or going to ground to protect themselves. As I think back at how they were falling, I am saddened to realize they were probably shot. We kept running toward the front corner of the grounds to get to a close exit and to be protected. Kymberli reached out to help some of the fallen and I told her to keep going as we had an eight year old at home we needed to worry about. It was at this point I realized we were both still holding our beers, I dropped mine and I told Kymberli to drop hers as it wasn’t worth it. She immediately dropped hers and headed for the opposite end of the VIP bar. She was great at spotting a barrier. She and I took cover behind the bar when another couple ducked in behind her. Another burst of gunfire that sounded closer, louder, and like it was coming our way. I was convinced there was a shooter inside the area. The other woman asked her man if it was real, he looked at me and asked if it was real. I looked at him and said it was real and that the reports were from an automatic rifle. At this point there had been around 200+ shots. Kymberli asked me what we should do and I said we needed to get out of there and go now. 

Kymberli grabbed my hand and darted for the opening where others had knocked the chain-link fence down. We watched helplessly as a woman fell and her camouflage purse caught inside a window in the fence. Kymberli immediately reached for her and said, ‘We need to help her!’ I saw the threat of being trampled and told her we needed to go and again, that we had an eight year old at home. Just then her friends helped pick her up and we took to the asphalt to get out. I looked up to see a man putting his belt around a persons leg as a tourniquet. The severity of the situation started to hit me.

Image copyright Kymberli Quackenbush.

As we ran I never felt fear. I was surprisingly calm and focused. I can honestly tell you I have no idea where that came from, but that God had intervened. I have zero, and I repeat, ZERO military, tactical, or emergency training. None. I was simply in survival mode and wanted to get my wife to safety. I kept telling people not to panic, don't shove others and simply move far away from the area. As we ran, we were getting further away, but we had the VIP area and food trucks between us and the shooter. It was a small barrier, but a barrier nonetheless. Once it opened, we found a police car where at least four first responders were there shielding people and telling everyone to get down.

We turned right and took off running at a sprint. When we made it to a concrete wall, people were climbing up and scaling it best they could. They were falling all over and there was a chain link fence on the opposite side. Kymberli thought we we have to go over it and I told her to stop. I stopped and stood still to assess the situation. Simply put, it was situational awareness taking over. I calmly told her we needed to find an exit and that we would not be going over the fence. In less than three seconds I saw a break in the fence and pointed saying, ‘There is our exit. Go!’ We got there in a few seconds and two women’ bodies were laying there. Both women were bloody and unconscious and looked to have been shot, but I didn't stop to check. I have no idea how they made it that far. They were not moving except for two people trying to pull one girl through the opening of the fence. People were panicked and shoving and falling over one another. I grabbed a bigger guy by his collar and pulled him back telling him he couldn’t panic. I told everyone that if we didn’t panic and went through calmly we could all make it. It worked as a steady stream of people began through the fence. Kymberli made it through either right before or right after the two people pulled their friend through. I don't remember which was first. She looked at the woman and said, ‘Al, we need to help her! We need to help her!’ I told her, ‘No! We need to get to safety.’ I love my wife and wanted her safe, but I knew she was right. We needed to help these people get their friend to safety. She had a boot on her right leg and nothing on her left but her sock. Her lifeless body was being dragged along the asphalt. I grabbed her right leg, Kymberli her left and we lifted her up with the two others. They never said a word and never asked for help. They were determined to help this person. I looked around and saw the closest protective barrier was a concrete pillar against a building wall. I told everyone we needed to get her there and we moved quickly. We carried the woman to safety behind the pillar. Her friends stayed and yelled for a medic. She was not responsive and we got out of there. We wanted to help more, but again I was reminded of our daughter. The shots continued even after we were out of earshot and we kept moving.

We found a female security worker from the venue who had made it out, but her brother had not. She was very worried and began crying. Kymberli hugged her and said he would be OK. We prayed with her for her bother’s safety and for the others. We reached Koval Lane by the airport and kept moving. We walked to the corner of Koval and Tropicana by Rebel Oil. Kudos to the Rebel Oil manager who offered shelter, water and any assistance we needed. The event security woman (forgot her name) called her mom. Kymberli called her mom to tell her what had happened and that we were OK. We said our goodbyes.

We kept moving and we knew we needed to try and get an Uber back to our resort. We walked toward the MGM and I contacted Uber. We were so fortunate to be able to get an Uber back to our resort before the lockdown. We stayed in the lobby to catch the news and do what we could. We felt safer and knew my mother-in-law and daughter were upstairs safe in our room. We stayed in the lobby because wanted to help others if we could. Kymberli consoled many who had been displaced from their families and were injured from jumping the fences. I spoke with others about the weaponry, safety of others, and watched the events unfold on the news.

There were EMTs (from Alaska) and military personnel in the lobby who offered assistance. The security team on the Wyndham Grand Desert Resort was on point and was awesome. Thank you all!

It was heinous and sickening to be a part of. I am still in disbelief. I thank God for protecting us, our friends and getting us all out safely. Without his protection and guidance I don’t know if we wold have made it. I feel very lucky for us to have made it out without an outward scratch. Inside I am torn up and continuing to pray for those who were injured and for the families of those lost.

I would like to say that the first responders were incredible and were there very quickly. I've never seen a team of LEOs and emergency personnel come together so quickly. Much love and kudos to you and your families for putting yourselves in harms way. Thank you.

Also, to the civilians who sacrificed themselves, put themselves in harms way, and went back in to help others. You guys are awesome and it chokes me up at how you went back to save others. Thank you all! Brave and selfless is how I describe you all. God bless.


Kymberli’s recollection of the night

Having a FANTASTIC time with Al and friends. Jason came out in a great mood, sounded great, and even joked how he wouldn't be dancing like some of those other country artists. About four to five songs in we heard what sounded like fireworks (to me). They kept going and he kept singing and I looked around thinking a pyro act had gone wrong. There was a brief pause and it started again. I could see Jason looking around and I heard the sound of his music start to get lower. I was waiting for him to say something about someone shooting off stuff and start the song over again. That didn't happen. I then heard people yelling "Get down!" and the crowd was like a wave and dropped down. I asked Al if that was gunfire and I cannot remember his answer. I remember everything seemed so quiet. Everyone was confused. Some thought it was gunfire, some said it was fireworks. People could not agree what it was. Then it happened again. We got even lower and I just braced myself. I think I knew it was gunfire at that point, but it was unbelievable at the same time. I couldn't understand how it could be happening. 

As soon as there was a break in the shots, we started to run. I remember holding Al's hand and running, bracing myself thinking I was going to get shot in the back. I remember him saying a couple of times "We have an 8 year old daughter." It was to 1) not have me stop and help everyone which I was starting to do and 2) realize I had to listen to him and try to keep calm. We made it to a bar and hid behind the bar. More shots and they sounded even closer. Al now thinks it was just the echo of the material the bar was made of. Again, I braced myself thinking a bullet was going to ricochet off me. This was the point where I almost could have lost it if it wasn't for Al. He stayed calm and either said "We need to run." or "We need to go." We grabbed hands and went to turn the corner. A girl fell and a bunch of us tried to grab her. When I saw others helping her better from behind, we kept going. 

Then I saw what I felt like might be the end. People were scaling chain link fences. It was mayhem. My mind started racing about how to be careful when it was time to scale the fence. People were falling and getting hurt. People started pushing each other. Al told them to stop pushing and to stay calm. He must have accessed the situation in a hurry because he found is a small opening in the fence to go through - the opposite way of the people scaling the fence. When we got out of that we came across two guys dragging a girl. There was blood everywhere. All I could think about was how scraped up the back of her legs must have been getting and I couldn't watch it anymore. I told Al we needed to help. We each grabbed a leg and her body was so heavy - like lifeless. I didn't look her in the face because I didn't want her to be dead. It kept me distant from the situation in a way. We got her to a building and helped place her there and her friends looked like ghosts and one yelled "Medic!" That's all we could do for her, so we ran again. 

I don't know at what point we took cover behind this police car, but shots were fired again. The amount of shots were unreal. I still couldn't believe this was happening. We got to the street and we're calming down a girl whose brother was still inside. She called her mom, I called my mom. We got across the street to a gas station and they were offering water and shelter. We kept walking to get as far away as possible. We were able to get an Uber before Uber heard what was happening. We came back to our hotel and just sat and comforted people who were hurt or crying. I shared my portable charger with a woman from another hotel. The staff was AMAZING. The first responders were amazing. For the most part, people came together.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sighting In Rifles with an Overlooked Component

A few weeks ago, my friends and I went to the shooting range to sight in our rifles and plink a bit. I had just installed three new Vortex Optics scopes and needed to get the three rifles sighted in for hunting. I had taken the time to properly level and mount each scope, so I was ready...or so I thought.

Three rifles accompanied me on this trip; my Remington 700 chambered in .300 Win Mag, my Remington 710 chambered in .270, and my AR-15 chambered in 5.56. I also brought along my Bullseye Camera System for tracking my shots on paper. If you don't have one of these you are working too hard. These not only save time, but they save frustration and get you dialed in quickly.

Back at home, I had set up my .300 WM with a Vortex Viper HS LR rifle scope for long range hunting. At the range, I set up my Bullseye Camera System and target at 100 yards to dial in on. Changing things up this time, I opted to bore sight my rifle and then adjust the scope to get on the paper faster. This works incredibly well and I highly recommend it. The ammunition of choice were hand loads of 38 gr of H4895 powder and 180 gr Barnes TTSX bullets. In nine shots I had three touching in the bullseye. No brag, just fact.

I moved on to my AR-15 because I really wanted to get it set properly for coyote hunting. Without the ability to bore sight, I guesstimated where I'd hit and I will be honest, it took a few more shots to get on paper. Even still, the combo of the Bullseye system, Vortex scope, and handloads allowed me to dial in quickly and make accurate shots out to 100 yards.

On to the Remington .270, which happens to be one of my favorite rifles. It was willed to me from my uncle a couple years back and I fell in love with the accuracy of this weapon, plus I am a bit sentimental and love the fact that he hunted with it. All of my scopes were properly set up at home and the rings torqued properly. I checked everything over and bore sighted it in. After a few shots, I made some adjustments and fired another group. This one was way off and I was now 9" away from where I was initially! I checked the scope, chamber, barrel, and didn't see anything wrong, so I sent another group down range. This time it was much closer. It fluctuated back and forth between being accurate and then way off. I took a much closer look at the rifle and felt a movement I hadn't felt before. On closer inspection, I noticed the actual picatinny rail base was loose! Not just a little either. It was very loose, but I hadn't noticed that on the bench. I packed it up for a closer look back home.

At home, I removed the scope rings and scope. The rail was loose, so I also removed that. That is when I discovered the problem. The screws were covered in so much dirt and crud that they weren't gripping when installed. It was amazing to see, but also a reminder that I should have taken things apart when I first received the rifle, cleaned it up, and reassembled everything. I cleaned up the screws with my Dremmel tool, cleaned the screw holes with Q-tips and alcohol many times, and then allowed it to dry. This time I used blue Lok-tite on the screw threads, too. After torquing everything down, the scope is now anchored properly and is ready to be sighted in again.

Let this be a lesson to everyone. It sure was to me. I consider myself very careful and safety conscious, but this was one time that slipped through the cracks. We are human and mistakes happen. I have learned much from this and hope you have, too. Now it is time to head back to the range and get this sighted in properly!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Bass Pro Fall Classic - Meet the Local Pros Recap

The Bass Pro Fall Classic is underway and last weekend was the 'Meet the Local Pros' weekend. I was blessed to be able to share about archery, bowhunting, and optics through four seminars over the two days. What a great weekend!

Photo courtesy of Shannon Gauthier

In my 'How to Find a Big Buck Seminar', I was able to pass around the Diamondback 8x42s and the Razor HD 10x42s. I got some great feedback and explained why the Razors are better for California hunting because of the superb glass, wicked smooth focus knob, and the fact that you can glass in really low light with ease. The next thing you know,  guys want to try them out and before long they are buying them. I was trying them out over two days and with that I came to the conclusion that I really want to buy a pair, but not of the 10x42s. The Diamondback 10x42s are great (especially at that price), but those Razor HD 12x50s I tried are by far the best glass I have used. To be honest, they are the only 12x50s I have found I can use because my interpupillary distance is so narrow that most binoculars don't adjust far enough for me to comfortably see through them well. Kudos to Vortex for making that happen. I had no idea that a company made some high focus glass that I could actually utilize well!

The seminar that most attended was fine tuning your archery set-up. I was surprised and delighted at the same time. I had a great time talking with everyone about what is happening with their gear, how to adjust it for better shooting, and I shared many tips and techniques for dialing everything in well. If you think that is a seminar you'd like to attend, let me know and I'll set another one up.

I'll be posting up a review of the Diamondback 10x42s in the next couple weeks, along with the new tripod mount. I will tell you that I love the new tripod mount. We had some good in-store discussion about that, too. Already have a few guys looking to buy their own this week. Sweet!

I am planning on heading to the desert this Saturday to get my three rifles dialed in. All three have new Vortex scopes and are ready for action. Let the fun begin!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Women's Hunting Workshop this Saturday at Bass Pro Shops!

How many of you women would like to get into hunting, but have no idea where to begin? It can be daunting and frustrating to say the least. Bass Pro Shops and Rachel Von Fleck are now giving you a chance to learn...for FREE!

Rachel Von Fleck is an avid Southern California hunter and fisher and will be giving a 'Women's Hunting Workshop' at 3:00 PM (in front of the fish tank) where she will cover many topics from how she got started, what she likes to hunt, and tips for YOU to get started! There will be some great giveaway items, so bring your questions because now is the perfect time to ask!

Follow her adventures on Instagram @VonFleck.