LINDSBORG — Ryan Ulmen-Kyler thought she heard firecrackers. Then, she realized they were gun shots.
The Lindsborg resident was attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Sunday in Las Vegas when Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd and killed at least 59 people and injured 527.
“Everyone was having a good time dancing, drinking and making new friends like you do at a concert. Jason Aldean came on stage and he had just finished his fourth song when the first couple rounds went off,” Ulmen-Kyler said. “We all thought it was firecrackers, like they were going to do a fireworks show. We all just looked at each other and kept going, like it was no big deal. The second round went off and that’s when I started feeling uneasy. There were no lights in the sky. That’s when people from the front of the stage started pushing back. After that second round, it just started raining bullets.”
The event has been named the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The 64-year-old retired accountant opened fire on country music concertgoers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel casino. Authorities found Paddock dead in the hotel room with 23 guns in the hotel room.
Ulmen-Kyler attended the three-day music festival with a friend. Both returned home this week.
“She and I hit the ground and lay there with several other people around us. There were people running and screaming, people getting shot. It was hard because you don’t know what to do — if you should stay laying there, do you make a run for it. My instincts said to stay there, and then there was a bit of a break so we took off running as far as it could get and when it started again, we dove under a table. Then it stopped again and we ran to a food truck and got as far behind the wheels as we could. We stayed there until the cops came and got us out of there,” Ulmen-Kyler said. “You see stuff like that on the news before and you tell yourself what you might do in that situation. For me, all I wanted to do was stay close to the ground. I really don’t know what I was thinking other than that I wanted to get out of there and get me and my friend back home. I just kept praying. I wanted to get home to my son. I’m all he has so I knew I had to make it.”
Ulmen-Kyler explained that after living through this traumatic experience, her political views remain unchanged.
“Everyone was a target. There were handicapped people, military people, kids, men, women, whites, blacks, Asians, there was everyone, and everyone was a target,” Ulmen-Kyler said. “He didn’t care who he shot, we were all sitting ducks.”
Back home, Ulmen-Kyler is focusing on quality time with loved ones, yet she still worries about those she met in Las Vegas.
“We were in the same spot the whole weekend so we had several people around us who came back to the same spot as well. You kind of make friends with them and it’s hard because I don’t know if they’re OK. I don’t know where they live or how to contact them to make sure they made it out OK,” Ulmen-Kyler explained. “I couldn’t believe it was happening. Now when I’m hearing about the magnitude of how bad it was, it’s gut-wrenching and heart-breaking.”
In the midst of tragedy, Ulmen-Kyler was encouraged by how concertgoers took care of one another.
“There was a lot of beauty to it too because of the amount of people reaching out to help each other. There was a lot of love as well. We were all trying to help each other, and help try to find each other’s friends they lost. It was good to see the good come out in people as well. The police and SWAT teams responded so quickly and they stuck close to us when they got to us. That was a good thing.”
Now at home, Ulmen-Kyler is reconnecting with family and friends.
“My son and I are pretty close, but I definitely don’t want to go anywhere without him anymore. I don’t think I’m allowed to go anywhere either; I don’t think my parents or anybody is going to let me travel anywhere for a while,” Ulmen-Kyler said. “Its overwhelming to see the people who have reached out to say they’re glad I’m home and asking if I’m OK. I have an amazing town anyway and the support I’ve gotten from people in town has been great.”
Contact Cheyenne Derksen Schroeder by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MacSentinel.