DOWNTOWN — A Columbia College student was on her way to the airport in Las Vegas when she saw hundreds of people begin to sprint through the road and scream for help.
Sophie Peterson, 23, said she and her boyfriend, Alex Sapozhnikov, of the South Loop, were in a cab stuck in traffic Sunday night when they first saw the crowds. The people first walked toward the road, but then they began to sprint. Peterson heard sirens; over the cab driver's police scanner, officials talked of an "active shooter."
It was shortly after 10 p.m., Peterson said. A gunman had opened fire on a crowd at a concert nearby, just outside Mandalay Bay Casino.
The shooting — the deadliest in modern U.S. history — left at least 58 people dead and more than 500 wounded.
"It's just very surreal thinking about it," Peterson said on Monday afternoon, back home in the South Loop.
As the shooting unfolded, Peterson saw police cars and fire trucks pull up to the area. Over and over she heard people talking about an "active shooter" on the scanner. Hundreds of people ran through the streets, "yelling and screaming," Peterson said.
Peterson and Sapozhnikov discussed if they should even have their windows rolled down, though they wanted to listen and figure out what was happening.
People chased down Peterson's cab hoping to get inside and find friends or family, she said. Some of the people near the shooting ran all the way from Mandalay Bay to the airport.
When the taxi driver was able to get Peterson and Sapozhnikov to the airport, they found it was largely empty.
The airport went into lockdown just as the two got through security, Peterson said, and she saw officers with "massive guns" walking around. She could see flashing lights through the airport windows — which some other travelers avoided out of fear — and at one point a loudspeaker announcement in the terminal said there was possibly a shooter on the airport premises.
With flights grounded and nowhere to go, dozens of people gathered around the small, lone TV in the terminal, looking for updates. Some sat quietly while others discussed the shooting. Several people walked around, "sobbing and trying to figure out what was going on," Peterson said.
At that point, no one knew if the shooter was alive or dead, Peterson said.
"It was just a really weird feeling. Every time someone made even a remotely loud sound ... everybody's shoulders seemed to go up," Peterson said. "It was a really tense situation."
Peterson barely spoke as she sat in the airport. She marked herself as "safe" on Facebook and then sent messages to her sister and parents to tell them she was OK. She spent hours "furiously" refreshing Twitter, looking for updates on what had happened, she said.
The updates changed: Peterson saw reports of a bomb at a casino, attacks at the New York-New York hotel and a "diversion" at another hotel, she said.
"It sounded like it was pretty bad at that point. It was just weird because I think everybody was so tense that it was just a strange situation," Peterson said. "Everyone was just kind of looking around at each other, trying to stay calm. It was a very surreal kind of feeling. I've never been in a situation that felt that tense."
Some people watched videos of the shooting on their phones, the sound of gunfire startling Peterson. As the reports rolled in, Peterson realized how bad the shooting had been.
"I was just kind of in autopilot," Peterson said. "There were a lot of people watching the footage, which really freaked me out because it's all sounds of gunshots. It was kind of a strangely upsetting scene."
Peterson's plane was allowed to take off early Monday. The two were glad to go home and be safe, Peterson said, and the crew wanted to leave, as well. She and her boyfriend arrived back in Chicago.
Ultimately, officials said they think the gunman took his own life after shooting hundreds of people at the concert.