Updated: Monday, October 2, 2017, 10:25 PM
LAS VEGAS — Franco Salerno and Wendy Ianieri stared down at the scene in the fairgrounds: abandoned chairs, crushed bottles, the belongings of 20,000 people who had fled in panic and confusion.
It looked better than it had hours earlier, Salerno said. Then, there had been bodies. And they had seen the curtains blowing through the jagged windows from the gunman’s room.
The bridal shop owners from Warrington, Bucks County, in town for a conference, had heard the pops late Sunday night from their room on the 35th floor of the neighboring Four Seasons hotel. They assumed it was part of a show, not one of the most deadly mass shootings in U.S. history.
“You feel guilty, being this close,” Ianieri said in her room Monday evening, “[as if] there could have been something you could have done. You feel sick. You always hear about these things happening somewhere else. And if we were home, it would have been somewhere else.”
Like other Philadelphians in the desert city, and countless residents and visitors, they struggled to make sense Monday of what had happened, why a gunman had opened fire on a country rock concert and how the city — and country — would move on.
It had sounded like fireworks, people kept repeating on Monday. The young woman whispering into her phone in the corner of the hushed Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. The middle-aged man who pointed toward the fencing around the concert venue and said, “I was on the other side of that last night.”
Vegas, in many ways, was still Vegas: By late Monday, the slots whirled, the dealers dealt, the billboards for Celine and the Blue Man Group and Criss Angel still beamed from the strip. But in between them, outside nearly every hotel, flashed a simple message, white letters on a black background: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.”
Inside the Mandalay, workers smiled patiently, telling guests that police were still sweeping the upstairs floors and that they couldn’t check them in just yet. “I just can’t believe this happened here,” said a young woman working the front desk, her face falling for a fraction of a second. Another said guests were openly sobbing as they checked out Monday morning — many of them early, just trying to get home.
As the sun set over the city, only a fraction of the names had begun to seep out, but they seemed likely to touch every corner of the land — with reports of victims from Alaska, California, Tennessee, New Mexico, even Canada. The only Pennsylvanian to be identified as a possible victim in the first hours after the shooting was an elementary school wrestling coach from Shippensburg, southwest of Harrisburg. The coach, Bill Wolfe, was reportedly at the Sunday concert, according to Facebook posts, and his condition and whereabouts Monday were unclear.
On the sidewalk outside the Luxor, the closest the TV cameras could get to the scene of the shooting, someone had placed a single vase of roses and a bunch of balloons. Police officers waved reporters away from the caution tape. “Can we donate blood here?” asked Jennifer Altier, of Miami. She was in town to look at wedding venues and had hoped, before her flight left that night, to do something, anything, to help.
From the sidewalk, television cameras aimed their lens at the two jagged, gaping windows in the gleaming facade of the Mandalay Bay down the block.
A man who gave his name only as Marty I. talked wearily with a few reporters. He works in marketing in Los Angeles, had been at the concert last night, and had recognized the first shots as automatic weaponry. But the crowd didn’t realize that at first, he said. He remembered running and falling in the mud, hiding behind a food truck and a trailer, and waiting, waiting, waiting, until he finally gathered the nerve to run again.
He said he had spent the night on lockdown in the nearby Tropicana after police officers had shepherded them inside. He had come down to the site to try to move his car. He found himself shakier today — worse than last night, he said.
“During the shooting, you’re just trying to find some way to survive,” he said. “You don’t know if your life will be over in a millisecond. And then it’s an hour later, and that’s when the shaking starts.”
Salerno and Ianieri, the Warrington shop owners, said they would stay through Thursday, just as they had planned.
“I don’t want to not do what we came to do,” Ianieri said. “I don’t want this to stop us. You don’t want to shut down.”
Read full story: For Bucks couple in Vegas, a horrifying view of the carnage