British Columbia

'I just covered her up until it stopped': Surrey couple survives Las Vegas attack

Patti and Doug Johnston were at the concert celebrating a birthday

Clare Hennig - CBC News

October 05, 2017

Doug and Patti Johnston, a couple from Surrey, were at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1. (Doug Johnston)

It's been four days since the Las Vegas mass shooting and for Patti and Doug Johnston, life is far from back to normal.

The Surrey residents were at the Route 91 Harvest music festival with friends on Oct. 1, celebrating Doug's birthday. They both escaped with bruises but one of their friends was shot.

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"At first, we thought it was just firecrackers," Patti told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's On The Coast.

"We looked at each other and thought: 'Why would somebody bring firecrackers to a concert? It's just ridiculous. That's going to spook the crowd.'"

A second round went off and the concert-goers began fleeing, they said. One girl who ran past told them people were shot.

"As the crowd thinned, you could see bodies on the ground, and we realized that this wasn't just a joke," Patti said. "We had to get out."

Panic to escape

Patti and Doug didn't know how many shooters there were or where the shots were coming from, they said. In the panic, they lost their friends in the crowd.  

"We lost sight and track of everybody and just started to try to get ourselves to safety. Whether that is selfish or not, my goal was to get Patti as safe as I could," Doug said.

They had been standing next to the metal VIP bleachers and, when the shooting started, Doug lifted up the guardrail to seek cover. His focus was protecting his wife as best he could, he said.

"I threw her on the ground and got on top of her, as much as I could cover," he said. "I just covered her up until it stopped and then I said 'Let's get the heck out of here' and we ran as fast as we could until the next barrage."

They made their way to the back of the grounds and hid in a storage container that had been holding toilet paper and other supplies for the concert.

After four or five minutes, they had to flee once again.

"Someone banged on it and said 'You got to go. You got to go," Doug said.

Still unsure if the shooter was in the crowd, they started to run again.

Doug said they could see bodies on the ground as they tried to make it to safety.

Outside the concert 

The couple headed to the strip of buildings outside the concert grounds, ducking into a casino through a back door and passing through a kitchen where people were hiding behind pots and pans. 

They decided to continue on, to get as far away as possible.

Patti said they got a text from one of their friends, saying her husband was shot, and they had become separated when he was taken by emergency response personnel.

"I got a phone call from her son, because she had phoned her son, basically saying goodbye to her kids because 'Dad's been shot. I don't know if I'm going to make it,'" Doug said.

Between phone calls, Doug figured out where she was — a casino he and Patti had run through earlier. He said goodbye to Patti and went back to look for his friend's wife, not knowing if he would be shot himself.

All four of them survived the attack and are now back in British Columbia.

"Now that we are home, it's getting easier every day, but there is still a lot of emotion," Patti said.

With files from On The Coast.

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