They had escaped with their lives. Now they had to return to the scene of Las Vegas terror

Lynh Bui, Washington Post

Updated: Thursday, October 5, 2017, 7:44 AM

Before the shooting, Stephen Charshafian of Long Beach, Calif., said he thought about moving to Las Vegas because of the schools and communities. Now, he said, he doesn’t want to look back.

LAS VEGAS – It was different in the light of day.

Two people hug as concertgoers returned Wednesday to the scene of the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas to retrieve vehicles they left behind during Sunday's mass shooting. "It's strange to hear the silence," one said, "because all I remember was the noise." Salwan Georges / Washington Post
Survivors leave after picking up their cars Wednesday. Returning to the venue meant returning to a place that forever altered them. Salwan Georges / Washington Post
Photo Gallery: They had escaped with their lives. Now they had to return to the scene of Las Vegas terror

There was no sound of blaring sirens, no “pop, pop, pop” of gunfire, no screams.

Just a quiet, sprawling lot of cars abandoned by those, like Kassidy Owen, who escaped with their lives.

“It’s strange to hear the silence,” Owen said, “because all I remember was the noise.”

The 22-year-old was one of dozens of concertgoers who returned to the scene of the Route 91 Harvest festival on Wednesday morning to retrieve the vehicles they left behind as they fled from a gunman raining down bullets from high above in the tower of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino across the street.

Survivors of the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday needed their cars to move on with their lives – to get back to work, to school, home. It was the first time they were returning to a scene that would forever alter them, when joy and celebration and music turned into bloodshed and chaos and horror.

Before they could move forward, they had to go back to the place where they thought they were going to die.

On the night of the shooting, Owen texted her mother at 10:14.


There is a shooter


Call me

Its an active shooter

People are dead

Owen had run to her car to hide and had tried to drive away, but she couldn’t. People were running, bodies dropped to the ground, and cars bottlenecked in the parking lot. During a brief pause in more than 10 minutes of gunfire, she worried the lights of her SUV made everyone inside a shining target.

“‘They’re shooting again!’ ” her best friend’s brother screamed. “‘Turn off the car!’ ”

That’s when she got out and fled.

“I just remember slamming the door and running,” Owen said.

Now, nearly three days later, she was back, sitting in the driver’s seat of her SUV. Her eyes were puffy and red. This was a long way from over.

“You just keep hearing the gunshots in your head,” Owen said.

Carlos Alfaro-Sandoval had jumped into the back of a police cruiser Wednesday morning with officers who escorted him through a lot cordoned off by police tape and fencing to look for his white truck.

As he rode through, he noticed shattered glass on the ground, bullet holes in the concrete walls.

“It should be in that back parking where they had all the employees park with all those white tents,” he told officers as they pulled up to a lot that was sectioned off.

“That’s unfortunately going to be the closed lot,” the officer told him. “They released cars from there, but then the FBI thought there was going to be something related in the parking lot over there.”

Alfaro-Sandoval worked as a bartender at the country music festival. Upon hearing the gunfire, he briefly took cover but decided he had to start moving. He left his truck, backpack and tip money and just ran.

“I’ve got a 4-month-old and a 7-year-old,” Alfaro-Sandoval said. “That’s why I ran.”

He was hoping to reunite with his truck Wednesday to start returning to a routine life. Not being able to access it meant one thing: Having to return yet again some other day.

“The sleep is not fun. You start seeing the little visions or hearing the pops and people falling and just blood,” Alfaro-Sandoval said. “That’s the worst part. We were just jumping over people who were laying down or trying to help people up, but they couldn’t get up because they were . . . ”

His voice trailed off, too traumatized to say it: dead.

Before Wednesday, the last time Stephen Charshafian saw his maroon SUV, he and his wife were inside hoping to escape the rapid fire of bullets cutting through the night.

There, the 59-year-old military veteran heard the strike of metal on metal. Charshafian knew that sound immediately. They weren’t safe from the rounds hurling toward them.

“It sounded like it had ripped right through the car,” Charshafian said.

He and his wife bailed and scrambled out into a neighborhood, leaving his wallet and cash inside the abandoned vehicle.

Here he stood, again, on the same street where just days ago he had loaded wounded and bleeding concertgoers into the back of a Jeep and helped direct ambulances and traffic through the chaos.

Charshafian choked back tears recalling the carnage and the brief moment he had been separated from his wife.

Charshafian, of Long Beach, Calif., had thought about moving to Las Vegas before the shooting because the schools are better, there’s less graffiti, and it’s a cleaner place. That’s not going to happen now.

“I don’t want to stay any longer than I have to,” Charshafian said, his voice quaking. “I need to get away from here.”

Charshafian had gone back to the lot twice in previous days before he was able to retrieve his Ford SUV on Wednesday.

After inspecting a small dent beneath the license plate – where it looked like a bullet left a scar – Charshafian and his wife hopped in, finally able to drive away.

Lynh Bui, Washington Post

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