At least two Alaskans are dead, and another is wounded, after a gunman’s rampage at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. Many other residents were at the event and fled to safety, sending messages back to family overnight and into Monday.
48-year-old Mike Cronk lives in Tok, and was at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival when gunshots erupted late Sunday night. He described what happened during an interview with ABC News.
“It was very horrifying. At first it sounded like fireworks, and then my buddy that was standing right next to me said ‘I’m hit,’ and then we knew it was real,” Cronk told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
The friend hit was 52-year-old Rob McIntosh of North Pole. According to the Alaska Dispatch News, McIntosh’s family expect to make a full recovery.
McIntosh is one of more than 500 people injured in the shooting.
Cronk waited for the gunfire to stop before he and others climbed over a fence, put McIntosh on a cart and rushed to safety. They loaded four injured people into a truck and raced them toward medical care.
“One of the guys in our truck did not make it, either,” Cronk said. “I carried him out of the truck and he passed away in my arms.”
The shooting is being called the worst in modern U.S. history, with 59 people dead as of Monday afternoon. Among them is Anchorage resident Dorene Anderson, who according to social media called herself a stay-at-home mother. Her daughter wrote on Facebook that Anderson was one of the victims. The post was shared on a page for fans of the Alaska Aces hockey team, which was a passion of Anderson’s.
Another victim is 35-year-old Adrien Murfitt, a graduate of Dimond High School in Anchorage who commercial fished out of Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula. Murfitt’s mother, Avonna, described her son as tall, handsome and shy most of the time. He was a big country music fan and went to the festival annually. This year he was celebrating a successful fishing season.
“He decided to go down there with his friend, life-time friend from Anchorage, Brian McKinnon,” Murfitt said.
Murfitt began learning about what was happening from her son’s ex-girlfriend, who was also at the festival, and called crying in a panic to say she thought she’d seen Adrien get shot.
Murfitt stayed up all night.
“We’ve called the Red Cross, we called all the hospitals because we didn’t know if he was one of the ones who was in the trauma unit or not. But nobody had any records of him, so I still don’t know where he is and nobody’s called me,” Murfitt said.
“But Brian saw him die,” Murfitt said, referring to McKinnon. “I called Brian about 6:00 this morning and he finally told me.”
Murfitt said her son was killed in the first round of shots that rained down on 22,000 concert-goers. In videos posted to social media of the assault, long bursts of what sounds like automatic gunfire cut through a performance by country musician Jason Aldean. The New York Times reports that at least 20 rifles were found inside the 32nd floor hotel room of the suspected gunman, Nevada resident Stephen Paddock, including AR-15s, rifles set up on tripods and outfitted with scopes, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Paddock is believed to have killed himself before law enforcement reached him, and no motive is yet known.
Murfitt said that among his siblings, family and friends, her son will be tremendously missed.
“He was just enjoying life. And it’s just such a terrible thing that happened. Just a young man enjoying life, having a good time after a hard season of work,” Murfitt said. “And I love him. I love him.”
It’s not known how many Alaskans were in Las Vegas for the festival. Throughout Monday, stories came in of relatives calling and scouring social media to locate loved ones who’d attended. That included Governor Bill Walker, whose niece was in Las Vegas.
“We watched it last night, and we knew she was at the concert so we were very concerned,” Walker said in a short interview Monday. Eventually he got a text saying she was safe. “At that point they were hiding in a hotel basement.”
Walker spent part of Monday calling families of those killed and injured, some of whom he has personal connections with.
“I, of course, convey my condolences, but I also want to find out what I can do to help them,” Walker said. One request was made of him, and Walker said he’s following up on it.
At this point Walker has no plans of pushing Alaska’s congressional delegation for any changes to national gun policies.
“Today’s not the day to have that discussion. I don’t have any intention at this time of doing that. Right now we’re dealing with the loss and the tragedy,” Walker said. “I’ll continue to reach out in any way I can help the families of the victims.”
Flags in Alaska and around the country will be flown at half-mast until Friday.
This story contained contributions from Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove.