A veteran Marine and his friends sprung into action in an attempt to save dozens of lives during the Las Vegas massacre.
Taylor Winston, 29, was close to the righthand side of the stage when gunfire rained down at the Route 91 Harvest festival. He said the first gunshots sounded like fireworks, but he soon realized people were screaming and saw bodies drop to the ground.
Winston, a sergeant who served in Iraq, and Jenn Lewis fled with the crowd. They separated from their buddy, Jason, who hung back to ensure his other friends made it to safety. One pal was shot in the bicep and survived.
But Winston and Lewis didn’t abandon their fellow music lovers. They spotted a work truck near the venue, with no owner in sight, and commandeered it to transport victims to the hospital, Winston told The Daily Beast.
“Jenn and I luckily found a truck with keys in it and started transporting priority victims to the hospital and made a couple trips and tried to help out the best we could until more ambulances could arrive,” Winston said.
A designer for the Country Rebel social network, Winston has been to country music festivals before and said he figured one or two work trucks would still have the keys inside. “So I just crossed my fingers and it turned out to work out,” Winston said.
In two trips, Winston and Lewis said they transported about two dozen people to the hospital. Victims were piled into the back seat and truck bed. Winston told people to apply pressure to the wounds, as he sped to Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center, wanting to get people there “before they bled out.”
One woman was wounded in the neck and chest, Winston said.
Winston doesn’t know which of his passengers survived. “I can’t be for certain. There’s a few that I don’t think probably made it. They were pretty limp when we were pulling them out of the truck, but they still had a pulse, so I’m hoping for the best.”
At least 59 people were killed and more than 500 injured when a gunman fired into the music festival from his 32nd-floor room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Some of the victims included a newlywed who saved his wife’s life but lost his, a special education teacher, and an off-duty Vegas cop who was a youth football coach.
When contacted by The Daily Beast on Monday, the veteran Marine was undaunted.
“I’m moreso just angry that someone did this, but I just gotta react. I can’t really dwell on it a whole lot,” Winston said over the phone.
Winston served in the military from 2006 to 2011, doing a tour in Iraq before he was honorably discharged, he said.
In his first tour, Winston worked with Iraqi police officers on a transition team. During his second deployment, the Round Mountain, Nevada native was on the USS Boxer—an amphibious assault ship working on helicopters and helped during the Capt. Richard Phillips rescue mission. Winston says he worked on the aircraft that dropped the Navy SEALs who would save the American cargo captain from Somali pirates.
Winston said his experiences overseas and military training might have prompted him to dash into danger during Sunday’s chaos. But he didn’t want to take much credit.
“People needed to get out of there, and we tried the best we could to get as many as could,” Winston said of packing 10 to 15 people in the truck per trip.
After his hospital trips were over, Winston learned that he saved the life of a friend’s sister. In the mad rush, he didn’t remember anyone’s faces.
“I was in such a speedy movement I didn’t assess anyone’s faces or anything,” Winston said. “Just wounds and who was most critical. I was just trying to be efficient and get the most serious critical condition people to the hospital first.”
Winston and Lewis were able to flag down a squad car while en route, and the cop put on the vehicle’s flashers, escorting them through traffic. “We had people in the back yelling. I think, fortunately, a lot of people responded well and got out of the way so we made it there in a timely manner,” Winston recalls.
When they got to the hospital, they lifted victims and dragged them in the lobby, where staff were waiting to accept victims of the bloodshed.
On Facebook, Winston’s friends hailed him a hero.
“A huge shout out to my dear friend and veteran for showing the fuck up for the people impacted by last night’s shootings. Taylor Winston people were so fortunate to have your guidance during the shooting and for your willingness to take the wounded to the hospital in a truck and for making more than one trip,” wrote one buddy, Jenifer Michelle.
“I know you didn’t do this for recognition but because it was the right thing to do and that’s what makes you such an incredible human,” she added.
Kacy Thompson, 29, of Chino, California, also aided people at the scene.
“We need to pray for the victims,” Thompson wrote on Facebook. “Scott and bree helped me treat 40 to 70 patients shot, covered 5 bodies and took medic kits from cop cars to help. Thank you both. Taylor Winston pulled in a truck he found and we loaded 6 patients because ambulances were staging in a safe zone. This man is a hero! Thank you bud for getting the wounded out.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Thompson said Winston wheeled in the white truck out of nowhere, as he and his friends set up a triage area.
Minutes before, Jason Aldean was halfway into his third song and Thompson’s wife left to use the restroom. The couple was with Winston and about 50 other fans belonging to the Country Rebel network.
“All of a sudden shots rang out, everybody ducked and got out and ran,” Thompson said. His wife was part of that crowd but he didn’t realize it. He stayed and waited for her, until a woman was shot in the head—10 feet in front of him.
After a stampede, concertgoers hid in coolers and underneath trailers at the scene. A friend called Thompson, a father to a 5-year-old boy, to say his wife had made it to safety. He opted to stay behind and tend to the wounded.
Thompson, a former EMT in Compton, California, and his friends broke into police cruisers to get medical supplies.
“Our triage area was just civilians,” Thompson says. “I had a firefighter with me, a trauma nurse, and we were going down the line, doing what we could.” They marked their triage patients with Sharpies and lipstick, Thompson said.
The bullets were still flying as Thompson aided the victims, helping load a girl who was shot in the lungs into Winston’s truck. “It was all civilian-run at this point,” Thompson said, adding that a city bus suddenly appeared to transport more victims.
He said there were no cops around to protect his makeshift clinic.
Someone said help was needed near the Tropicana, so Thompson darted over. But when he got there, he was pushed into a basement conference room, where 300 to 400 people took shelter.
By 4 a.m., the Tropicana’s shelter was emptied, forcing people into the street. Thompson’s hotel was on lockdown, so he went to Hooters. There, people rested on tables and on the floor, and the restaurant supplied blankets and coffee.
Thompson and his wife drove back to California without getting any sleep. “It’s been an emotional day,” the hero said. “We haven’t slept… we haven’t had time to process it basically.”
Meanwhile, a friend of Thompson and Winston described the festival near the Las Vegas strip as “an absolute war zone.”
“I can’t sleep. I can’t process this. I close my eyes and in great detail, my friends and I can visualize things we wish to never see again. But we can’t. I hear the sound of a gun and the pauses for the shooter to reload it. I hear the screaming and the terror in people’s voices. Running past people who most likely won’t make it home to their families tonight,” Jason Marc Zabala wrote on Facebook.
Zabala stayed at the venue to find his buddies after people fled, according to Winston.
“It was an absolute war zone. It felt scripted, like it couldn’t happen to me or my friends. Yet we were a few yards away from getting hit by bullets, literally a couple of feet away. Taylor, Kacy, Jenn: you guys are one of many who stepped up and saved so many lives tonight.”
Winston said that after two trips to the hospital, he returned to see most of the ambulances had taken the injured and that he wasn’t needed anymore.
Winston said he ended the night at Stoney’s country bar, where he parked the four-door, extended cab truck. He planned to return the vehicle to the scene Monday morning, but it was gone when he went to retrieve it.
“I’m sure they saw the blood all over the vehicle and thought that it should be towed,” he said.
In the aftermath, the hero asked people to pray for those who lost their lives, and to donate blood or pitch in any way they can.
“You can’t really plan for something like this,” Winston said, adding that music fans shouldn’t “let the terrorism stop people from joining up and having good times.”