Toronto

'All these thoughts start flooding in your head': Canadians recall chaos, horror of Las Vegas shooting

At first the pop, pop, pop sounded like fireworks, but people quickly started climbing over fences and hiding behind dumpsters to escape the hail of gunfire from above.

59 people are dead, including 3 Canadians, after the Sunday night shooting

On Sunday night, Brandon Vanderloo was standing in a crowd of more than 20,000 people, watching country star Jason Aldean perform on stage in Las Vegas. All of a sudden, Vanderloo's partner Melissa said, 'I think those are gunshots.' (Greg Ross/CBC News)

On Sunday night, Brandon Vanderloo was standing in a crowd of more than 20,000 people, watching country star Jason Aldean perform on stage in Las Vegas.

All of a sudden, Vanderloo's partner Melissa said, "I think those are gunshots."

There was a bit of smoke. Some flashes. But Brandon assumed something else was going on; this was the hectic Vegas strip, after all.

But when one of the screens was hit, Aldean started running off the stage, and people in the crowd began sprinting towards safety. "We got under the bleachers," Brandon said. "I was laying on Melissa, and a couple other people."

There, peeking through to see what was going on nearby, a thought raced through his mind: If they made a bad decision, the couple's two children — four and six years old — might not have parents anymore.

"We didn't know what was going to happen," Melissa said, her voice trembling, on Monday night at Pearson airport.

"We're laying there with people, holding each other's hands under the bleachers, don't know if we're going to live or not — and thinking about the kids."

'It was chaos after that'

After hosting an e-sports championship on Saturday, Canadian broadcaster Arda Öcal wanted to explore the bustling downtown strip.

He strolled through the area — a maze of sidewalks and escalators, connecting to hotels and casinos — with two fellow Canadians on Sunday night. Then, Öcal headed inside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

That's when a team of security guards told the trio to stay put: There was an "active shooter situation."

"It was chaos after that," recalled Öcal, who currently lives in New York, in a phone call from the Newark, N.J. airport on Monday.

After hosting an e-sports championship on Saturday, Canadian broadcaster Arda Öcal wanted to explore the bustling downtown strip. After he headed inside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, a security guard told him there was an 'active shooter situation.'

Trapped inside the resort, people started hiding under food court tables and inside public bathrooms, while a stampede of others barged through a set of doors "with the fear of God on their faces."

And as security officers began directing people toward a parking lot outside, Öcal noticed a red liquid on the ground. He assumed it was red wine.

It wasn't.

Outside in the parking lot, a man showed Öcal a Snapchat video of the deadly shooting that was underway.

But it didn't capture the full reality of what would soon be known as the worst mass shooting in modern American history: 59 people dead, including three Canadians. 527 injured. And thousands more who narrowly escaped the hail of gunfire from a shooter on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel.

While Öcal was waiting in the lot, unaware of the danger above, a security guard approached the group and told them they were within sight of the shooter. People began to flee the area, he said, including a mother holding her child in her arms.

Raised in Oakville, Öcal said he never grew up fearing a mass shooting. "All these thoughts start flooding in your head: How many [shooters] are there? How many people are injured? How many people are dead? Is the active shooter going to burst through these doors at any second and shoot at people in this area?" he recalled.

Öcal and his associates headed north to the T-Mobile Arena to catch a taxi — and he said their cab driver hadn't heard what was happening around them until they told him about the chaos.

"The taxi driver literally said, 'You guys are my last fare. I'm going home.'"

'He probably saved our lives'

Bodies lying on a field, covered in sheets.

That's what Chris and Kimberly Battaglia saw from their Las Vegas hotel room on Sunday after escaping the carnage on the ground. 

Earlier that night, the couple were 20 rows from the stage at a country music festival when the shooting began.

At first the pop, pop, pop sounded like fireworks, but people quickly started climbing over fences and hiding behind dumpsters to escape the hail of gunfire from above.

Running — as far and as fast as they could — the pair joined dozens of others inside a hangar at the nearby airport, ushered in by a security guard.

"He probably saved our lives," Kimberly Battaglia said after returning to Toronto.

With files from Salma Ibrahim, Greg Ross

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