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Sonoma County locals shaken after mass shooting at Las Vegas concert

“We all just got down on the ground and started crawling,” said Kim Schubert, 47, of Petaluma. “The shooting just kept going. Constant. It never stopped, just kept going and going and going.”

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Kim Schubert recalls the popping sounds. And then there’s everything else she’ll never forget.

People standing next to her shot. People behind her shot. And in front. All a few songs into headliner Jason Aldean’s Las Vegas show that transformed the three-day Route 91 Harvest Music Festival into a Sunday night death zone.

“We all just got down on the ground and started crawling,” said Schubert, 47, of Petaluma. “The shooting just kept going. Constant. It never stopped, just kept going and going and going.”

The transformation from a clear desert night of country music in Las Vegas to the most-deadly mass shooting in modern United States history swept a number of Sonoma County residents up in an attack that claimed at least 59 lives and wounded more than 500.

Among those killed was the husband of Sebastopol native Heather Gulish Melton. News reports quoted the 1987 Analy High School graduate, now a Tennessee physician, describing how Sonny Melton, a registered nurse, was carrying his wife to safety when he was shot in the back.

Others wounded included a 20-year-old Rohnert Park woman shot in the back and a Sonoma State University student — part of a group of SSU students attending the concert — with a liver laceration and fractured ribs from a shot in her right side.

“We extend our deepest condolences to all of the victims, friends and families, and we wish a full and speedy recovery to those who were injured,” President Judy Sakaki said in a written statement that offered campus counselors for those needing to discuss the tragedy.

The injured student was identified as Bay Area senior psychology major Paige Gasper. She is expected to recover.

A campus spokesman declined to identify the other students.

Several of the North Bay residents at the festival who spoke Monday to the Press Democrat hadn’t slept and were still in shock.

“It was a massacre,” said Jennifer McGrath of Sebastopol, a real estate broker who was with her husband Justin and friends Schubert and Joel Wahl, of Petaluma. “I don’t know how we survived. Everybody who got shot was within 100 feet of us. We were right in the fire.”

The foursome were in a VIP area, nearing the end of a long weekend of music, Vegas fun and friendship.

Schubert heard “popping sounds” and feared gunfire. Her companions assured her it was fireworks. Screams started as the popping continued. Jennifer McGrath’s husband, owner of JW McGrath Auctions, pushed her to the ground and said, “stay down.”

Jennifer McGrath saw a girl nearby who’d been shot in the chest. “We crawled over to her and my husband tried to give her CPR,” she said. When the gunfire eased, he’d resume efforts. When the firing would began again, they tried to cover the woman and protect themselves.

“There were just bodies everywhere and people everywhere on the ground. Everybody was carrying people out, laying them on the ground. Some had died and we put blankets all over them. The girl we had been working on, she died, too. I kept thinking, ‘I have babies at home. I can’t be here,’” she said, referring to her son and daughter, 8, and 5.

Wahl, a trained EMT who hopes to work as a law enforcement officer in Sonoma County, stayed in the crowd trying to help the wounded. Schubert wanted to stay with him, but also wanted to find a way out. They got separated from the McGraths.

“I was crawling over people,” Schubert said. “I’m pretty sure they were dead.”

She moved when the gunfire would pause, then huddle with the injured and others as it started again. “Another person got shot next to me in a group I was huddled with,” she said.

While hiding under bleachers, others nearby were hit by gunfire. Schubert called her 20-year-old daughter, Alexis. “I told her, ‘I’m hiding but I don’t know if I’m going to make it. I just want to tell you I love you.’”

A call to her ex-husband passed the same message to her son.

Once out of the concert viewing area, she hid with others behind a patrol car before being sent to a nearby hotel and put in lockdown. Schubert’s phone ran out of juice; she borrowed others, but texts to Wahl went unanswered. The event coordinator for HopMonk Tavern reached more family via social media. After a few hours she learned Wahl was alive.

“I cried. I just sat there and sobbed,” she said. “You can’t unsee that. You can’t unsee the screaming and people getting shot and people dropping like flies.”

The McGraths stayed together. Justin McGrath’s U.S. Army experience kicked in and he offered medical aid, working from person to person, said his wife.

They began carrying wounded away from the festival. One large man the couple helped carry out was bleeding heavily from a head wound. Her hands kept slipping on his blood-soaked shirt; she struggled to hold him up. No ambulances had arrived and the best option was to stop passing cars.

“We stopped them, shoving bodies into these cars, we were throwing people in cars,” Jennifer McGrath said, and shouting: “‘Take them to the emergency room!’”

Savanna Chasco of Rohnert Park had been by the main stage near the bar with two sorority sisters and one of their boyfriends. She thought the sounds she heard were the concert speakers shorting out.

As other concertgoers began running, Chasco, 20, and her friends did too, but something hit her in the back and knocked her down. She felt a sharp burning pain but didn’t know she’d been shot.

“I knew I couldn’t get up,” said Chasco, a 2015 Rancho Cotate High School graduate and a junior at the University of Nevada, Reno. “My friends told me to keep running. They pulled me up.”

As she fled the scene she called her parents.

“You could hear rapid fire in the background,” said her father, Eddie Chasco, varsity soccer coach at Rancho Cotate High. “I couldn’t be Superman and get there quickly. That killed me.”

He and his family immediately drove to Las Vegas. His daughter was released from the hospital Monday with the bullet still in her back.

Also at the concert were Katie Bertacco, 32, of Santa Rosa, and her boyfriend Matt Wigton, of Windsor. A military veteran sitting next to them knew from the start it wasn’t fireworks or the speakers. “‘That’s a machine gun, get down. That’s an active shooter,’” she said he told them.

People began falling, bloodied and others began running. The couple first hid under the bleachers, unsure where the gunfire was coming from. They made a break for an exit, and as they ran they encouraged crying, seemingly paralyzed women to run as well.

On Monday, recounting the event, it was difficult for Bertacco to accept she’d been there in person rather than seeing it as a news report.

“You see that kind of stuff on the news” from the safety of home, she said. “I’d be thinking ‘Poor Vegas, that’s so terrible.’ It was such a massacre. There was blood everywhere. So much.”

Staff Writers Paul Payne and Eloísa Ruano González contributed to this report.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707-521-5412 or Randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@ rossmannreport.

See all coverage of the Las Vegas shooting here.

See all coverage of the Las Vegas shooting here.

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