By the time country music star Jason Aldean took the stage Sunday night in Las Vegas, Jaelyn Duran had maneuvered toward the front through the packed crowd to get a better view of the outdoor stage at the Route 91 Harvest festival.
Among more than 22,000 festival-goers, Duran danced with her older sister and two friends — excited, because it was the first concert she’d ever attended with her sister.
Shortly after 10 p.m., chaos erupted and Duran, a recent Raymore-Peculiar High School graduate, suddenly went from having the time of her life to running for her life as authorities say Stephen Paddock began indiscriminately firing into the crowd from the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Duran, 18, her sister, Sarah, her sister’s boyfriend, Billy, and her friend, Ku’ulei, survived, but the mass shooting left 59 people dead, including Paddock, and hundreds more injured.
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Three days after the shooting, Duran is still trying to cope with everything she witnessed that night and considering seeing a therapist to deal with it.
Duran graduated from Ray-Pec in May and moved to the Las Vegas two months ago to be closer to family members. She attended high school in Raymore, but Las Vegas is her hometown.
As an 18-year-old in Vegas, entertainment options are limited for Duran and her friends, but they still enjoy visiting the Strip, though she can’t help but associating it now with the bloodshed that closed down part of Las Vegas Boulevard on Oct. 1.
“Me and my friends, we’re 18, so the thing we do is drive down the Strip and listen to music and just have fun or just go walking,” said an emotionally drained Duran, sad and tired from sleepless nights since the shooting. “Now, I don’t want to do that anymore, you know?”
Duran first shared her story of escape in an interview Monday with ABC News and said Sunday started out really well when her sister found four last-minute tickets to the sold-out Route 91 Harvest country music festival.
Duran got off work early from her job at a diner and planned to meet up with her friends — including Ku’ulei, who she knew from playing volleyball — at the concert around 6 p.m..
She parked at the Luxor Resort and Casino, not knowing it would be 24 hours until she’d see be allowed to return to it after police closed down part of the Strip in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, and walked to the festival grounds.
“I remember walking down and it was just so pretty,” Duran said. “I just remember taking pictures and seeing all of these people dressed up nice and all the guys and the girls. It was great.”
Duran watched Big and Rich perform then Jake Owen and made their way closer to the stage as a group for the festival’s closing act, Jason Aldean.
“Our song came on and we were just dancing,” Duran said with a sniffle. “He was probably to his third song or fourth song and that’s kind of when everything went down.”
When the first few shots were fired, Duran thought she was hearing confetti poppers, like the ones she had seen earlier among the crowd. More shots followed.
“At first, it was a few shots, then bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang — just round after round,” Duran said.
Confusion set in and thousands of people in the crowd went silent, Duran said.
When Aldean ran off stage. Duran, her sister, and her sister’s boyfriend initially crouched down, then they laid on the ground after realizing they were in the middle of a mass shooting, one that that would last for about 10 minutes.
Looking behind her, Duran saw a woman who had been behind them in the crowd was now lying on the ground with a gunshot wound to her back.
Amidst the panic, Ku’ulei had gotten separated from the group, but Duran later found out she was safe in the basement at Luxor.
At some point, Duran’s trio decided to make a run for it. They hopped a fence, with Duran’s cowboy boots landing into a puddle of blood.
Duran remembers the sound of bullets striking a metal fence. They ran toward another fence and hopped it, too — almost losing one another in the crowd as other concert-goers also climbed the fence to get away.
Duran remembers screaming in pain when one person stepped on her face.
To avoid running in the open, Duran said she, Sarah and Billy crawled closer to the stage, past more wounded people bleeding and lying on the ground. The group made it to one end of the stage where Duran recalls a man directing people to run on the count of three.
On “go,” they ran, a harrowing escape that was captured by a Getty Images photographer. A tearful Duran is shown in the photo running just a few steps behind Sarah and Billy in front of a concession stand inside the concert venue.
“I just remember while I was running,’” Duran paused to gather her thoughts and then continued, “‘I’m going to get shot in the back. I’m going to get shot in the head. I’m going to die. I’m literally going to die.’”
At one point, the group stopped running and hid inside a large trash container.
From inside the dumpster, Duran called her father to let him know she was OK. She also said she needed to hear his voice.
Duran remembers checking the time. At least 20 minutes had passed since the first shots were fired.
Not long after the phone call, the group was running again.
Eventually, the three, covered in dirt and blood, made it to a hangar about a mile away at the McCarran International Airport and were later taken by airport shuttle to the Thomas and Mack Center at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, where Billy’s mother picked them up.
Days after the shooting, Duran says she’s thankful she wasn’t alone and thankful for strangers who showed her kindness.
“I couldn’t stop crying,” Duran said. “But it was so amazing how people cared. We had many people come up to us and ask if we were OK, giving us hugs, sitting next to us. ... I don’t think I can cope with this myself.”
Duran said she’ll never forget the events that unfolded Sunday night, but she still has questions based on videos that have circulated on social media. She doesn’t believe that the shooter, Paddock, was acting alone that night.
“I’m just very confused,” she said, wondering aloud. “For one guy to not even have a motive just go and shoot these people? I don’t know. There’s something that doesn’t add up.”