When he got back to his Wilmington home, Steve Gold didn’t turn on the news. The images in his mind were enough to bear.
And the sounds of gunshots still ricocheting inside his head were more powerful than any grainy cellphone video could capture.
“It was so loud and like nothing I’ve ever heard in my life,” Gold said. “I’m hearing that gunfire a lot.”
Two days after the shooting that killed at least 59 people and wounded more than 500, Gold had barely slept and his tears hadn’t really dried, only settling on the surface of his bloodshot eyes in the moments between memories raw enough to disturb them.
The 42-year-old head groundskeeper for the Wilmington Blue Rocks baseball team had traveled to Las Vegas to attend the country music festival with a friend and explore a city he hadn’t been to in 17 years. On Sunday, he didn’t want to cram shoulder to shoulder near the stage. So when Jason Aldean started playing he hung back by himself toward the middle of the crowd.
At first, like so many others, he thought the sounds were part of the show.
Then he saw the people rushing towards him, terror on their faces.
Like them, he ran, his compass a mix of instinct and group mentality. He took cover for a few minutes in a food tent where he called his mom, told her he loved her, and hung up. He didn’t want to know what she was going to say. Worried a gunman was about to round the corner, he took off again.
As he tried to find an exit, the metal barricade seemed to come out of nowhere. Someone tilted it against one of venue’s exterior fences, then tossed another one over, making makeshift ramps on both sides.
Gold crawled up and felt the grips of people, concertgoers like him, pulling him over.
“I feel guilty. I feel lucky. I feel a lot of things,” he said. “When they said, ‘Go,’ I ran. And I don’t know if I should have stayed to help.”
He found refuge in the lobby of the Hooters Casino Hotel. Seeking to console others but also to find some semblance of peace himself, Gold walked the room, talking to everyone he could. There were so many tears, he said, and hugs between strangers.
One woman, kneeling in a ball on the floor, seemed particularly distraught. Gold knelt next to her. And as she opened up he learned that she and her boyfriend had been separated. The woman thought he had been shot.
Gold and others lent her their cellphones so she could call hospitals. But when they were let out of the hotel early Monday, she had yet to hear any update. Gold, somehow still wearing the cowboy hat he had put on before the concert, wrote “Cowboy Steve” and his number on a piece of paper.
The woman began to cry, then told him he and her boyfriend shared the same first name.
Gold was back in Wilmington, sharing a beer with a friend, when the woman texted him to say her boyfriend was among the dead.
“I’m standing here without a scratch on me,” he said. “There’s people without scratches on them and their heart is ripped out.”
His face bore a few days of stubble, his tired eyes shielded beneath a baseball cap. On his wrist, Gold wore a purple fabric bracelet. He had ripped it off after getting back into his hotel room early Monday, taking out his anger over everything that had happened in that venue on the wristband that had let him in. When he found it in his suitcase back home, he slipped it on.
“I put it back on for the love of the people,” he said, pausing to cry and then continuing in a whisper. “I might wear it a little while.”