Hank Brainard, an alumnus of Renaissance High School (class of 2017), was at the Las Vegas shooting with his father. He sent us his account of the events that day as well as his thoughts about gun control after his experience. We found his perspective very interesting and wanted to share it with our students.
By: Hank Brainard
When the first round went off, we were in the artist tent backstage at the festival; it was actually the closest point to the shooter, but we were hidden by the tent, so backstage wasn’t a target until later on. At first, it was just like everyone says: we thought it was fireworks. I remember laughing, thinking some drunk country fan had set some off on the sidewalk. Then, the second round came, and everyone started getting worried. Someone stepped outside and told us all it was a problem with the power lines overhead, so we all walked out of the tent. When the third round came and the music on stage stopped, I think we all understood just what was happening. Everybody took cover; my dad and I dove behind a tour bus and waited. We still weren’t positive it was gunfire, but then we felt some shrapnel coming off the roof of the bus.
In hindsight, behind that bus was the safest place to be, but you have to realize that we didn’t know the shots were coming from up above; we thought it was someone coming through the festival on foot. After about two minutes, we moved behind another bus, where we joined a group of people that included members of the event security. It was around then, between rounds, that we saw Jason Aldean being rushed off the stage to his bus; I suggested we follow them and hide inside somewhere. But before we could, the crowd backstage started to run, and so we ran too. We sprinted across the back of the stage and to the other side of the festival, where a mass of concertgoers were also evacuating; many of the fences on the perimeter of the event had been knocked over in the panic. Once we left the fairgrounds, we ran down a few side streets, away from Mandalay Bay. By then, police were rushing to the scene.
We ran for what must’ve been half a mile. By then, I now know, the shooter had killed himself, but none of us knew that, so we kept moving. We stopped outside the Tropicana and rested for a while, contacting family and close friends to let them know we were safe. I remember checking Twitter to find information; there was none. Eventually, we went inside the casino, where several survivors had gathered, many of them injured. This was a surreal moment: even though the casino was in emergency mode and a SWAT team was marching through the center, I saw several people still sat in front of slot machines, as if nothing had happened.
Going into the Tropicana turned out to be a bad move; once we were inside, the police didn’t let us leave. The thing you have to understand is that nobody but them knew what was going on, and so misinformation spread like wildfire. One such rumor: somebody inside saw a member of the SWAT team and thought he was another gunman. This caused a panic. Not knowing where to go, we ended up taking the stairs to the next floor up, where we walked the hallways cautiously for a while until we came across the Laugh Factory, a comedy club. We saw people rushing into it, so we followed, and thus began the scariest part of the night.
Inside the Laugh Factory were about a hundred fearful survivors, many of them hidden behind tables and under the bar. There were three exits, but, shortly after we entered, they were all blocked. A mob mentality had begun to spread, and a few men – all of them drunk, all of them shirtless – had taken charge. They ordered survivors to barricade the doors with chairs and tables. At each of them, one man would stand guard with a knife, ready to jump anyone who entered. A member of the hotel’s security team was monitoring the cameras to the hallway. Everybody was charting out different escape plans. Again, misinformation, dangerous misinformation, was beginning to spread: one woman stood by the stage calling out reports from the police scanner (remember: the police scanner doesn’t report what’s happening, only what’s been called in). There was talk of a second shooter, a third, even . . . car bombs traveling up and down the strip . . . a man down in the MGM Grand. Someone mentioned a shooter in the Tropicana; the crowd began to panic. The tension was rising with every second. It felt to us like a riot was coming. I remember ducking behind some red curtains in search for an escape; of course, there was no way out.
Finally, someone came over the intercom to report that the Tropicana was secure. Many people didn’t believe it, but we flooded back into the casino nevertheless. We sat by the bar and the tension broke, giving way to the most surreal feeling I’ve ever experienced. Eventually, everybody in the building was flooded down into the convention halls, where we were all patted down and made to wait until we knew the whole strip was clear. We entered the Tropicana near midnight and weren’t let out until five in the morning.
The following day was nothing but bizarre; Mandalay Bay, where, of course, we were staying, was on lockdown, so we were left to wander the strip until noon. There were flights coming in from the airport; people were checking into hotels that morning unaware of what had happened the night before. We ate for the first time in hours at a pub, and by then the shooting felt like days in the past. As soon as I hit the freeway the next day, an incredible weight was lifted. When I got back to Los Angeles, I didn’t go straight home; first I went to the Getty, saw the Monets and the Cezannes, and was overcome by the greatest catharsis I had ever felt.
On the topic of gun control: surviving such an event has both politicized me and left me feeling separated from the national discourse. Where I used to be only slightly to the side of gun control, I am now all the way there. I can no longer sympathize with any arguments for owning something more powerful than a hunting rifle. I see no sense in owning a machine that can kill sixty people from the thirty-second floor of a hotel hundreds of yards away. Then there’s the “good guy with a gun” defense, which is the most outlandish to me. I can only imagine thousands of rednecks emptying their pistol clips towards Mandalay Bay. Here’s the thing, though: my opinions may be strong and my voice may be more relevant than ever, but I have, since October 1, felt no inclination to join in the national discussion. I received an offer shortly after to appear on NBC News; I declined. All of the coverage, all of the discussions, all of the thoughts and prayers are useless to me because I know that they will not make a difference. They are all empty, and the gridlock on both sides of the fence is so massive that I know nothing will really change. Mandalay Bay is the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, but it won’t remain that way. Until there’s actual, tangible change to the way we do things, these events will only become greater in scale.