Americans woke up on Monday morning, October 2, 2017, to the most devastating mass shooting in our nation’s history. Steven Paddock, 64, opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, killing 59 people and wounding at least 515 concertgoers who were attending the Harvest Festival across the street.
Among those in the crowd that night were Army Veteran Geoff Bell, 44, and his wife, Brandi. They had traveled all the way from Midland, Texas to watch some of their favorite country music stars perform. As Jason Aldean took the stage, they had no idea what was about to happen. We spoke with Geoff while he was at the airport waiting for his flight home the day after the shooting and heard his first-hand account of that tragic night.
“I’m definitely still trying to figure out how to process it,” Geoff said Monday afternoon. “My wife is doing well. I think she processed it faster than I did. When it happened I was just trying to keep people calm. I was in a big red shirt and I’m a big guy at 6’5’ and almost 300 pounds and how I didn’t get hit only the Lord knows. I stuck out like a sore thumb, but I was just kind of pushing everybody down and trying to see where it was coming from because I didn’t know where to go to get people safe. There were a lot of people in front of the stage taking headshots. It was pretty bad.”
Geoff told us that at first many people in the crowd, including himself, thought that the gunshots they heard were fireworks. They had no idea people were getting shot until they started seeing those around them hit the ground.
“We were in the VIP section on the right side of the stage. I wasn’t concerned at first because the shots sounded really high-pitched, like a Black Cat firework, not like a gun at all,” Geoff remembers. “But then the guy beside us got shot and I knew that something was going on. He [Steven Paddock] shot off 10 rounds, then another 10 rounds, and then 20 rounds, and then it sounded like he went through like a 50 round belt or 100 rounds because it just kept going. There were probably at least 7 people that were shot in the VIP section, and he [Paddock] was trying to shoot where there were the most people. We weren’t as crowded in because we had a gate that kept us away from everybody, but they knocked it down real fast so everybody could run.”
Geoff says that Jason Aldean also had no idea of what was happening for a long time, and continued playing until the shooter had fired over 20 rounds.
“He probably couldn’t even hear it,” Geoff said. “Nobody knew what was going on. I mean, obviously, it’s mass chaos. He looked and probably saw those people in the front getting the bad part of it. He just ran.”
Geoff says he relied heavily on his Army training to react to the shooting, helping others find safety during the shooting and get medical treatment afterward. He served in the Army from 1991-1997 during the Gulf War and says while he is not a combat veteran, he received basic medical training while he was in the military that helped to save the life of one man that was gunned down right next to him.
"I was trying to get people to the sides so they wouldn’t be in the middle of the walkway,” Geoff recounted. “We couldn’t see where the shots were coming from, but there were people getting shot all over. We were right beside the bleachers and when the guy next to us got shot we pulled him under the bleachers with us and that’s how we kind of got safe. That’s when the military training kicked in because I was looking for the blood and trying to get pressure on it. I lost my shirt because I had to use my shirt to put pressure on it. I don’t even know who the guy was - I didn’t even get his name.”
Geoff was surprised that more police and medical staff weren’t on the scene at first, but said that he was amazed by how ex-military like himself, off-duty nurses, and everyday citizens worked together to get as many people possible the medical attention they needed after the shooting.
“We were using the gate fence panels that they use to keep people out of areas to carry people out after the shooting stopped,” Geoff told us. “When we took the people over to the ambulances there were only a couple, so people were piling the wounded into their cars and their pickup trucks and hatchbacks just to get them to the hospital. There weren’t a whole lot of people there helping because everyone was running. I don’t blame them. If I had half a brain I probably would’ve ran too, but all you can think of is that it might have been you or your children. I wouldn’t want to be laying there by myself.”
Geoff said that he personally helped get 3 wounded people out, carrying them the length of a football field to get them to the hospital. But one of the saddest moments he experienced during the aftermath of the shooting was carrying out the body of one concert-goer’s wife who had passed away before she could get to a hospital.
“He was freaked out and didn’t want to leave her there, so I helped him get her out,” Geoff said. “He broke down and told me they have 3 kids. It looked like the paramedics had been working on her because she had one of those oxygen pumps near her mouth, but she had been shot in the head and was already gone.”
He also said that he couldn’t imagine how the shooter could have been so cold, looking out the window seeing what he was doing to people below. Geoff was mostly worried about his wife and the other concert-goers during the shooting and told us that he wasn’t even thinking about his own safety.
“I wasn’t really scared for myself because that’s what I signed up for [when I joined the Army], but I never thought I’d have to have my wife in a situation like that," Geoff admitted. "It was a complete war zone. I was scared for my wife and for the other people, and I keep apologizing to my wife for taking her back in there. I feel bad, but it was something I wasn’t even thinking through. It was just something I needed to do.”
Geoff couldn’t help but think about how he would want someone to help his family members if they were injured. He told us that he is praying for the victims and their families.
“It was terrifying,” he said. “I can’t imagine being one of the people who got shot and not being able to walk or get out of there by myself, so it was good that people were there to help them. Prayers for them.”
Without his military training, Geoff may not have been able to help during this tragedy - proof that even if a veteran never saw combat during their service, the skills they learn in the military are indispensable. Geoff’s son, Jerrad, has followed in his father’s footsteps and is now serving in the Army as a Test Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment Maintenance Support Specialist, which he plans to turn into a career after his service. Thank you to Geoff for telling us this harrowing story, and we thank you and your son for serving America in the United States Army.
Our thoughts and prayers also go out to those we lost during the Las Vegas shooting and their families.
Do you or your loved one serve your country, either through military service or community service with military, vets, and their families? Has your military service helped you in your everyday life or to get through a tough situation like Geoff's? We would love to hear your story and share it with our audience on our blog, The Service™, or through our Community Awards.