Canada Essex County cousins recall horror of Las Vegas massacre

00:42  06 october  2017
00:42  06 october  2017 Source:   Windsor Star

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“Pure chaos.”. That’s the only way one of two Essex County cousins can describe the harrowing experience of being in the crowd for a country music festival in Las Vegas as bullets began flying, resulting in the deadliest mass-shooting in U.S. history.

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Vegas.jpeg: Valerie Whitney, left, and Sarah Batal stand near the stage at the Route 91 Harvest concert in Las Vegas on Sunday. The photo was taken before shots rained down on the crowd from the nearby Mandalay Bay Hotel. © Courtesy of Sarah Batal Valerie Whitney, left, and Sarah Batal stand near the stage at the Route 91 Harvest concert in Las Vegas on Sunday. The photo was taken before shots rained down on the crowd from the nearby Mandalay Bay Hotel. “Pure chaos.”

That’s the only way one of two Essex County cousins can describe the harrowing experience of being in the crowd for a country music festival in Las Vegas as bullets began flying, resulting in the deadliest mass-shooting in U.S. history.

Sarah Batal, 35, from Lakeshore, and Valerie Whitney, 37, from Kingsville, had made the trip to Las Vegas just for the Route 91 Harvest country music festival, arriving on Friday afternoon.

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They had attended all three days of the festival and were singing and dancing along with thousands of others to closing act Jason Aldean a little back from centre stage just after 10 p.m.

“He was about the fourth song into his set when we first heard four shots, roughly, that went off, and we all kind of looked at each other like what the hell was that, because you could hear it over the music,” Batal said on Wednesday.

“We just kind of all brushed it off like it was fireworks or something. And then, maybe five, 10 seconds later it was continuous shots being fired and we just, everyone just got down on the ground, we didn’t know what to do, we just waited there.”

But as others in the crowd began running in the opposite direction of the shots, the pair began to fear they might be trampled.

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“We heard a couple of people saying we’ve got to get out of here, and I was saying to my cousin we have to move, we have to move, everyone’s going to trample us if we don’t go,” said Batal.

“That was our only choice and we got up and we started running, I was holding my cousin’s hand and we were just running and dodging people and fences and all kinds of things.”

Valerie Whitney, left, and Sarah Batal attend the Route 91 Harvest concert in Las Vegas on Sunday.

The pair eventually found themselves near a metal VIP platform and noticed there was space underneath and people were crawling under.

“We didn’t know where the shots were coming from,” said Batal.

“It was pure chaos, you didn’t know where to go, you didn’t know if they were in the venue on foot, you had no clue what was going on. So we just ran. That was the only choice.”

Once under the platform they could hear bullets ricocheting off the metal just above their heads.

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“We knew they were firing directly at where we were because it was very loud and it was pinging off the unit itself,” said Batal.

That’s when both women decided to call their spouses, Dean Batal and Steve Whitney.

“We thought that was it,” said Whitney.

“I was on the phone and I just thought, they’re coming for us. We didn’t know what was going on. We thought there were in the field and coming after us.”

Both women also have two children each at home.

“I didn’t know if my husband could hear me, I couldn’t hear him, and I just told him I’m sorry and I love him and we’re being attacked,” said Batal.

“We were taking cover and I didn’t know if he was hearing me so I just kept saying ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I love you’ and I hung up.”

The pair then made their way to the back of the trailer and out of the concert site onto a neighbouring street.

A woman told them police were helping people and they saw a police truck with the back door open and jumped inside, where there were two other women.

But they then realized there was a man who had been shot sitting in the driver’s seat and his wife was behind the wheel.

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“We thought the cops were getting us out, but then we realized there were no cops in there, it was the guy’s wife driving just desperate to get him out of there,” said Batal.

Then began a frantic search for the nearest hospital, the women in the back trying to find directions on their phones.

Eventually one found directions to the Desert Springs Hospital, but she had to hold the phone up to the thick glass partition between the front and back of the truck while the injured man tried to give directions to his wife, and they eventually made it there.

On arrival they were told the hospital was not a trauma centre, but they took the man anyway.

“We said there’s more coming, but they made us walk around to the main entrance and it didn’t take long before there were two, three trucks loaded up with bodies from the shooting,” said Batal.

The hospital and much of the area remained on lockdown until 5 a.m., and the pair finally made it back to their hotel and back to Windsor by Monday night.

Batal said she already had a fear of crowds.

“I always had some anxiety when it came to things like this, but I’d try to push myself past that and not live in fear, and then this happens, and I just don’t know if I’ll be able to look past that again,” said Batal.

Whitney said the ordeal has solidified her views on gun control.

“I can’t believe something hasn’t changed in the States because of all the shootings that have happened,” said Whitney.

“They’re saying this is the worst mass shooting in U.S. history and who’s going to be the one to outdo this one? It makes you think about wanting to go anywhere or do anything. I’m just very thankful, we were very lucky. It’s just so unbelievable that something like that happened and we came out of it.”

Both women said they plan to seek counselling to help deal with the experience.

chthompson@postmedia.com

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