Mesa County deputy rushed in to help victims in Las Vegas
He and wife were listening to concert from nearby rooftop
Erik Olson’s first reaction when he heard rapid gunfire last weekend at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas was confusion.
His second was to run into the carnage to try and help.
Olson, a Mesa County sheriff’s deputy and 10-year veteran of the department, was with his wife Oct. 1, listening to Jason Aldean from a rooftop area on the far east side of the festival grounds when a lone gunman opened fire, killing 58 and injuring 489 others.
Olson didn’t want to give an interview about the events, but agreed to release to The Daily Sentinel a version of the first-hand account he wrote to share with family members and coworkers.
Olson and his wife had been in Las Vegas for the entire festival. By Oct. 1, the third day of the event, the couple was debating whether to pay an extra fee for rooftop access. While Olson’s wife spoke about wanting to be in the crowd near the stage on Oct. 1, the pair eventually decided in favor of the rooftop, which offered clear views, air conditioning and, most significant in their eyes, a private bathroom.
Looking back, Olson wrote, the decision might have saved their lives.
At 10:05 p.m., as Aldean neared the end of his set, police believe Mesquite resident Stephen Paddock used a hammer to smash out the windows of his hotel suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and opened fire on the crowd below.
“As we watched Jason Aldean perform, we were no different than most who were initially confused by the sound of rapid gunfire,” Olson wrote. “Our reaction was inevitably delayed as it sounded quite distant and the crowd wasn’t reacting as I would have expected. As the gunfire continued, I noticed the crowd below starting to run away in terror.”
Olson and his wife shoved over some tables and got down. Olson stayed on a knee, looking unsuccessfully for muzzle flashes.
“At this point, I think I was still in disbelief and truly thought it was a hoax, fireworks or maybe even failed pyrotechnics,” Olson wrote. “What happened next isn’t something I can at all explain. We’ve all talked about having the right mentality when dealing with these types of events but even looking back at it I don’t know the ‘why’ to what I did next. I simply looked at my wife and told her I had to go down there.”
Telling his wife to stay down and stick with a couple they had been hanging out with, Olson raced down the stairs. He made it well into the frightened crowd of people before turning back.
“I made it to the center aisle near the sound booth when the gunshots started again. Hearing and feeling the shots impact around me gave me an odd moment of clarity that I also can’t explain,” Olson wrote. “An image of a woman holding her own bloody face together will forever be burned into my mind, but was ultimately what spurred me to run back to my wife and get her to safety first.”
Olson ran back to where he had last seen his wife. He was able to find her quickly; she had helped coax others off the rooftop and had taken cover behind the bathroom that had been so instrumental in the decision not to watch Aldean from the crowd, Olson wrote.
Olson convinced his wife to make her way out of the festival and go back to the couple’s room in another resort while he headed back toward the shooting.
“Again without much thought, I ran back into the festival and teamed up with the dozen or more off-duty EMS, law enforcement and military vets that were rushing back into the festival grounds for the injured,” Olson wrote. “Without much direction, as perfect strangers we teamed up to load injured onto metal barrier fencing we had knocked down to use as makeshift gurneys. As we hauled injured out to the street, the overwhelming continued help of strangers was amazing. Anyone in a vehicle allowed the injured to be loaded into their vehicles without any hesitation.
“I couldn’t tell you how many trips back and forth we made, but it came to a point where we shifted our focus on evacuating the living who were still hiding for their lives. I believe the shots had stopped at this point but I promise no one in the festival had any idea if there was an active threat on the ground with us, or not.”
Olson wrote that he and others started coaxing frightened people out of hiding spots and running by their sides to get them out of the festival grounds. He recalled one woman standing next to a fifth-wheel trailer, clearly in shock.
“She told me she was too scared to move and didn’t want to leave. We pleaded with her and told her it wasn’t safe in the festival area and we needed to leave,” Olson wrote. “Knowing I wasn’t going to leave her there, I told her I would carry her out if she needed me to but she eventually agreed to run with me as long as I kept her shielded from what was behind us.”
At some point, Olson wrote, he got word that local police were clearing the backstage area and wanted the spur-of-the-moment volunteers to keep people moving out the festival gates. Even those who weren’t physically injured were in bad shape.
“Many of the people in the festival area were in a true ‘condition black’ and literally wandered in circles in complete shock,” Olson wrote. “We did what we could to urge them to come to us and directed them down the street.”
Eventually Olson made his way to the Tropicana Hotel, which had turned into a temporary refuge of sorts, the service corridors packed with people, rumors of other active shooters flying up and down the halls.
“We did what we could to continue to triage the injured and get them out to the ambulances that were pulling in near the loading dock,” Olson wrote. “The hotel eventually went into an official lockdown and I tried to stay busy and help as needed. I eventually fell asleep in a random hallway until we were allowed to leave to our respective hotels.”
Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis wrote in an email several days after the shooting that Olson had behaved admirably.
“I could not be more grateful Deputy Olson was not injured and I could not be more proud of Deputy Olson’s assistance to the first responders in this incident,” Lewis wrote. “His actions during this tragedy (are) another example of the courage and service men and women in law enforcement display every day in communities across this nation.”
Olson wrote that he and his wife are struggling in the aftermath of the shooting to make sense of everything. They don’t know why they were not wounded while hundreds of others weren’t so lucky. They’ve been awed by the outpouring of love they’ve seen from friends and family, and by the people who responded to the shooting in the moment.
“The ability of strangers from all walks of life and backgrounds to come together in helping others was truly inspiring and helps stand up my faith in humanity even during such an awful incident,” Olson wrote in the missive addressed to friends and family members. “Again from the bottom of my heart, thank you for every bit of love and support as we work to become whole after such an experience.”