Bayelee Burton of Gillette was “just hanging out” and enjoying the performances at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas on Sunday when a gunman began raining bullets down onto the crowd of about 22,000.
“I was just coming back from the bathroom when I heard the first four bullets — pop-pop-pop-pop. It was really quick,” said Burton, 20, a newly minted Campbell County firefighter. “Then the guy in front of me yelled, ‘Holy cow! That’s not funny!”
That’s when Burton said his emergency response training kicked in.
“I realized this is really happening and tried to tell everyone to get down! Get down!” Burton said Tuesday morning from Las Vegas. “I was just there and telling everyone to stay calm and stay low.”
Then there was a brief break in the gunfire — what Burton would later learn was 64-year-old gunman Stephen Paddock switching from one window to another in his 32nd-story perch at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino — that allowed him and other trained emergency personnel to get the terrified concert-goers to a safe location.
“We started to take off again to find safety, then he started (firing on the crowd) again,” he said.
While the shooting wsa going on, Burton said he hid behind a golf cart by a trailer. Then there was another break that allowed him to help funnel other people around a corner near a gas station.
“I was just making sure everyone was calm,” he said. “Just checking them (out) around there.”
That’s when Burton said he heard a call for someone with some medical training.
“‘I need someone to do CPR,’” he recalled hearing.
Someone was pushing a wheelbarrow with a man who had been shot. Burton said he tried to give the man CPR, but the man was already beyond help.
“We couldn’t do anything for him,” he said, adding that he had just become certified in CPR less than a week before.
“I just got CPR certified last Wednesday, and I left to go to Vegas on the 28th (the next day),” he said.
Burton would go back into what resembled a war zone twice more to help move people out of the area and to locate anyone missing or hiding. A Las Vegas police officer asked for people to go into the area to do those searches.
“We had no idea then if (the shooter) was done or not,” he said. “He was still alive up there shooting at (responders in the hotel). … We were asking for conscious victims to make noise if they needed help, then took them to the EMT tent.”
Burton said that along with other off-duty responders in the crowd, the Las Vegas contingent of law enforcement and medical responders saved a lot of lives that night.
“It’s not about me, it’s just helping,” he said. “And it’s amazing how awesome the first-responders did there.”
Father takes a bullet
Overall, Paddock’s assault killed at least 59 people and left at least 527 others injured, according to official reports, making it the worst mass shooting in American history.
He reportedly checked into the Mandalay Bay on Thursday, the same day Burton and his family left Gillette to attend the music festival. Also in the crowd were his father and mother, Clint and Cyndi, along with an aunt, uncle and four cousins.
When the shooting began, Burton said he and his father were separated from the rest of the family, who escaped safely.
Except for Burton’s father, Clint.
An avid concert-goer and music blogger, Clint Burton, 50, had made his way near the stage to take photos of the band performing, Bayelee said. During the ensuing chaos while he helped to evacuate and search for survivors, Bayelee received a text message from his mother saying everyone else was OK, but that nobody had heard from Clint.
“My mom and my whole family ran to the Tropicana,” he said. “We couldn’t get ahold of my dad. Finally, I got across the street and got to my hotel … and my cousins were in their room and let me in, and I just hung out there and kept calling people.”
It wasn’t until about 4:30 a.m. Monday that they learned Clint was alive and at a Las Vegas hospital with a bullet in his right thigh.
“We’re definitely feeling lucky,” Bayelee said. “There are a lot more unfortunate families out there who lost their lives and their loved ones.”
And if it weren’t for quick responders in the crowd taking action, Clint also could have died, he said.
“He said he crawled up to these set of steps and was kind of hiding and said, ‘I’ve been shot,’ and these two guys pulled him out of there and put a tourniquet on (his leg),” Bayelee said. “Then they threw him in a pickup, and people were jumping in and diving in. He was kind of out of it.”
Without that quick thinking to put a tourniquet on Clint’s leg, it’s likely his father could have bled to death near the stage, Bayelee said.
“They basically saved his life,” he said. “He lost a lot of blood. He’s had two blood transfusions now.”
Now his father is out of danger and is expected to recover, but is still hospitalized, his son said. The rest of the family is OK, but shaken. They remain in Las Vegas waiting to bring Clint home.
While the scene was chaotic and frightening, Bayelee Burton said he also saw plenty of heroism from others who also stepped up to help.
“People were using whatever they could,” he said. “People were using tables as cots, parts of fences as a cot. I saw one person use a ladder as a cot. People were ripping their T-shirts off to put on the faces of people who had passed away.”
Frightened, but proud
That so many of her family members were caught up in what would become the worst mass shooting in U.S. history was frightening, said Whitnie Wieweck, Bayelee’s sister, who remained in Gillette.
How her brother reacted and used his firefighting training — he graduated from the fire academy in June and is still in his probationary period with the Campbell County Fire Department — also make her feel very proud, she said.
“I’m still having a really hard time thinking about it,” Wieweck said. “My mom called me that night about 11:30 our time.”
It was later when she learned about her brother’s efforts to help others.
“I was already so proud of him for joining the Fire Department here, so yeah, I don’t even have words for how proud I am,” she said. “I’m still in complete shock that this even happened. … (Bayelee) would do anything for anybody and I’m very, very proud.”
Campbell County firefighters are also proud of how one of their own handled himself in a situation he couldn’t possibly have trained for, said chief Bill Shank.
“I’ve spoken to Bayelee already and told him it’s an unfortunate incident and that his father was injured, but obviously his training kicked in and the organization couldn’t be prouder of him,” Shank said.
“I think that’s what we expect from any first-responder. They’re trained to do a job and it’s not unusual to see people (with training) to perform in that manner,” Shank added.
Although newly through the academy and having barely begun his career as a firefighter after graduating from Campbell County High School in 2015, Bayelee Burton said Sunday’s experience hasn’t made him rethink his decision to be an emergency responder.
In fact, he has a cousin who’s an emergency medical technician and said he’s considering attending Gillette College to earn his own certification as an EMT.