Jersey's Vegas hero: I did nothing special

Las Vegas Shooting
Cece Navarrette places flowers Friday at a cross for her cousin, Bailey Schweitzer, who was among those killed during the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

The text messages and calls haven’t stopped. Fox. CBS. CNN. MSNBC. Booking agents for Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, Jake Tapper.

Michael McGarry has ignored almost all of them.

Camera icon Michael McGarry
Michael McGarry of New Jersey was praised by the White House for helping shelter strangers during this week’s massacre in Las Vegas.

“I don’t feel like I did anything special,” the New Jersey financial adviser said Friday. “I did, hopefully, what someone would have done for me or my wife or my family.”

And yet what has stood out about McGarry’s story amid the hundreds of tales of heroics and terror that have emerged from Sunday’s massacre in Las Vegas is that he did what many people cannot imagine themselves doing. He risked his own life for complete strangers, throwing himself on top of a group of young people to shield them from the gunfire.

“Others risked their own lives to save people they had never met,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a press briefing the day after the shooting. “Mike McGarry of Philadelphia laid on top of students at the concert to protect them from the gunfire. ‘They’re 20, I’m 53,’ he said, ‘and I’ve lived a good life.’”

McGarry, who lives in Marlton and works in Bala Cynwyd, traveled to Las Vegas with his wife for the Route 91 Harvest music festival. She’s a huge country music fan. He doesn’t care for the genre as much. But he said it’s growing on him and the couple enjoyed the relaxing days of live music, shopping and lounging by the pool at the Mandalay Bay casino, where they were staying.

On Sunday, they were about 100 yards back from the stage when country singer Jason Aldean started his performance. Like others, he thought the popping sound might be fireworks, until he saw people running towards him.

McGarry, hesitant to give a string of interviews about what happened next, barrels through the story.

They were worried they would be trampled, so they ran into a picnic area. A woman there had been shot in the calf. His wife, a registered nurse, found a belt and tied a tourniquet.  The bleeding, which had been strong, stopped almost immediately.

“I had never seen anything like that,” McGarry said.

When a group of people who looked to be in their 20s ran into the tent, McGarry said he told them all to pile on top of one another. He threw himself over them, then pulled a table over the group.

“I don’t know what made me say it. But I said, ‘You guys are a lot younger than me. Get under me. I’ll try to protect you.’ And I pulled the table over,” he said.

They stayed like that until the gunfire stopped, what felt like maybe 10 minutes later. Someone ran into the tent to ask if anyone was hurt, and the woman who had been shot was taken away.

McGarry and his wife kept moving and were funneled into the Luxor Hotel next door. Still fearful of other shooters, they and a few others left through an emergency exit, then walked for more than two miles until they stopped at a gas station.

There was a hotel next door, and McGarry booked a room.

His wife, still shaking, got in the shower to wash off the blood.

McGarry calls her the real hero.

He said that now home, she is still distraught, though she’s found comfort in spending time with the couple’s two grandchildren. She has declined to give interviews and asked to not be named. McGarry said she deals with grief internally, while he has tried to find normalcy by returning to work and spending time with his friends at the golf course.

“It’s a lot to process. We’re certainly trying to heal physically,” he said. “And I’m not sure where we are mentally at this point.”