Panola vacationers recount weekend terror in Las Vegas
By Myra Bean
Romanda and Michael Johnson and Stephanie Ford, all of Batesville are still taking deep breaths and thanking God that they got out of Las Vegas Monday morning alive and well.
The Johnsons went last Friday to celebrate their 19th wedding anniversary. They were scheduled to fly out Monday morning at 8:50 a.m. with good memories of a fun time.
However, a lone gunman interrupted their idyllic time as he let loose a volley of bullets killing 59 and injuring over 500 people who were at an open-air concert on the Las Vegas strip Sunday night.
Michael Johnson said he received a call in his hotel room, which was about four blocks from the shooting, at 11 p.m. that night. Fellow traveler and GE colleague, Stephanie, called to tell them there was an active shooter situation next door to her hotel.
Needless to say, sleep was an elusive commodity that early Monday morning.
“I went around turning the lights on and Michael came behind me turning them off,” Romanda said. “He said what if he was in our hotel. We didn’t want him to know we were in here.”
After the call, Michael immediately went to the window and saw police officers and flashing lights. They turned on the local news to get details. The airport and streets were being closed.
“Really, we were just scared and didn’t know what to do at that point,” Romanda said.
For the next several hours they watched the news about the shooting and got up around 3 a.m. to pack their rental car and go to the airport.
“All entrances and exits for the strip had been closed earlier,” Michael said.
By the time they left the hotel, some exits had been opened. They returned their car to the rental company where they were to take a shuttle to the airport, about 10 minutes away.
However, the shuttle had been used to take some of the wounded to area hospitals.
When the shuttle returned after a 30 minute wait, they rode to the airport with some people who had been injured.
At the airport that time of the morning, it was slow but as the time for their 8:50 a.m. flight neared, the airport became a hub as frightened passengers tried to book flights to their homes.
“At the airport, people came through crying and telling their experiences,” Michael said. “A lot of people at different casinos were saying how the police had come in and made everybody get down. It was just a bunch of chaos.”
Romanda said, “You just never imagined you would be in that setting after hearing things like that on the news. It was awful. It was very sad. People were coming in, telling their stories, trying to get tickets to get out sooner. There were people trying to get to their family members that were in Las Vegas.”
Michael did say they had a good time in Las Vegas up to the shooting point.
Earlier that day, they were on the strip exactly where the shooting happened. Romanda said they saw the stage where the concert was going to happen.
They had stopped at a Buffalo Wild Wings and watched the Cowboys game and had a good time.
On Saturday they’d attended a rock concert on Freemont Street, a separate event from the country concert Sunday night when the shootings took place after the Johnsons were back in their hotel room.
“Thank God we made it home safe,” Romanda said. “It makes you look at things and not take life for granted. You don’t know when you leave home if you are going to see your family again even if you leave to go to work, you never know. You can’t take life for granted.”
Ford treated her long time best friend from Marks, Gloria Hammond, to a trip to Las Vegas for her 40th birthday present.
They actually had plans to attend the ill-fated concert.
“I am thankful to be alive because my friend and I were supposed to go to the concert, but at the last minute she said, ‘I don’t feel that we should go.’ So we decided not to go,” Ford said.
Then 30 minutes later, Ford looked out her window of the Planet Hollywood Casino and saw a sea of police lights where the concert was held. She started to panic and texted family and friends about what was going on.
“I see this unfold on TV but actually watching it up close was just unreal,” she said.
At times the power was shut off at the hotel, but Ford did not know if they were trying to run the shooter(s) out and that sent her into another panic attack.
Ford, once an avid news watcher, has found it hard to watch the news since the shooting.
“I am just not ready yet,” she said.
Now, she is going about her days trying to fit her life into a new normalcy for her. After witnessing that destruction up front, normal has changed. She hopes one day she will want to go back to Las Vegas.
“My prayers are with all the families that lost loved ones. God spared my life and I’m grateful for that,” she said.