LINDSBORG — Ryan Ulmen-Kyler thought she heard firecrackers.
She then realized they were gunshots.
The Lindsborg resident was attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival Sunday in Las Vegas when Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd, killing at least 59 people and injuring 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 became the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Paddock, 64 and a retired accountant, opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. Authorities found Paddock dead 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,” she said. “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?”
She told herself to stay.
“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,” Ulmen-Kyler said.
The shooting stopped again. Ulmen-Kyler and her friend ran to a food truck, hiding behind the wheels, until police arrived to rescue them.
“You see stuff like that on the news before and you tell yourself what you might do in that situation,” Ulmen-Kyler said. “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 the shooter didn’t discriminate.
“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,” Ulmen-Kyler explained. “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. 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 chaos, 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,” she said. “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,” Ulmen-Kyler said. “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. It’s 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.