Time is catching up with us. We are making a mad dash from our dinner to a show we’re scheduled to see in just a few minutes. We walk through the casino at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, bobbing around any people or slot machines that come in our way. We’re surrounded by sounds of bells going off from the machines, coins being placed into slots, and people chattering. All I care about right now is making sure we get to the show on time. Eventually, we make it to the theatre entrance doors. The sign for Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque Du Soleil stands high above me in luminescent letters. My excitement for this show is through the roof.
Before making our way into the theatre and finding our seats, my two cousins and I decide we want to grab some drinks before the show starts. Can you blame us? We’re in Vegas, and it’s my birthday! With outrageously large drinks in hand, we decide we should head into the theatre. We find our other family members and settle into our seats. At last, all twelve of us are finally together and ready to enjoy this exhilarating performance. The lights dim—show time! Michael Jackson’s marvelous music fills my ears as dancers flood the stage, performing to the rhythm. They come from everywhere, shuffling down the aisles between audience seating, twisting and flipping about stage, and flying down from the ceiling by wire. Glancing around the audience, I see an uncountable array of awe stricken faces.
We sit and watch, amazed for some time. But then everything suddenly stops. Michael Jackson is now faded, in the background, and dancers have fled backstage. It was odd timing for an intermission. My older cousin Carrie, who’s seen this show before, says this is not normal. Concern grows and the audience’s confused jabbering loudens. Finally, all is silenced by a voice from a loudspeaker: “An incident has occurred in the casino, but we are keeping it under control. We will keep you updated with any new information.”
Our only way of finding out what is happening outside is our cellphones. My older brother, Brandon, searches “Las Vegas” on Twitter—there headlines and hashtags, “Active Shooter at Mandalay Bay.” The second I see these headlines my heart sinks. I cannot believe that I am here, in a Las Vegas casino hotel, which is the center of a tragedy. We are put on lockdown and nobody is sure when—or if—we will make it out of this theatre.
The only thing that keeps me calm is my being surrounded by twelve of my closest family members, but I also imagine the family members and friends that I may leave behind if something happens right now. Police officers file into the room to comfort and protect us. The dim theater has gone completely dark. We’re trapped inside for hours. In dire need of the bathroom, I leave my seat momentarily, scared of seperating myself from my family. I make my way through the doors toward the bathrooms and see officers with bulletproof vests, holding guns almost as big as my body. This is real. This is no joke.
In the theatre, people move from their seats to the floor, hiding for safety. Brandon has his arm around me and I am praying that nothing will happen. This feeling in my stomach is something I can never explain. I am not exactly sure why we all duck and cover but, as I sit here on the floor, I can’t get certain thoughts out of my mind.
Will I make it out of here alive?
Different scenarios swirl around inside my head, the most prominent being that someone in disguise may be in the theatre, waiting to start the next attack. I cannot express this fear, I worry that it could spread as rumor. With so little information of what was going on outside, my fear was of a terrorist attack rather than a one-man murder spree. After a time, the audience gets off the ground and back into their seats. Things feel almost O.K. People begin to doze off because we’ve been there so long. It’s past midnight.
One of the theater doors jostles from the outside and, in an instant, everyone is ducking and covering again. Those sitting nearby the door panic, bolting to the other side of the theatre, causing domino effect of people moving and hiding. Peeking up, I notice two men sitting across from me, snapping pictures of the panicked people. One aims his camera toward my family and takes photos.
Enraged, I shout at the man, “Can you please stop doing that?”
I cover my face and eventually he stops. Again, the scene calms and people return to their seats.
Although I am scared for my life, I can’t help but think about the school work that I need to hand in before the end of the day. It seems trivial, but my mind will not be at ease unless I hand these assignments in. My phone is on its deathbed, ten percent battery left. I trying to complete my school work so that I can send it to my friend back home to upload for me.
I need to email my professor to inform him I will not make it to class and will be missing the midterm that is happening tonight. Meanwhile, my family communicates with my dad, who is home in Philadelphia, to try and change our flight plans. We were booked for a seven A.M. flight. It’s already five. Our unease worsens, not knowing how or when we will get home.
Hours later, we remain in lockdown, trapped in the theatre. People file in from the casino and hotel rooms for protection. We meet someone who was evacuated from a hotel room on the same floor as the shooter. The minute he’d opened his doors for officers, he was thrown to the ground, patted down, and searched. I can’t imagine what was going through his head at that moment—the fear he must have felt. Finally, an officer comes over the loudspeaker and announces that we are safe and that evacuation will begin. We march towards the theatre doors, stop, sit, down, and repeat. It takes almost forty-five minutes to make it out of the theatre, into the lobby. The bright lobby lights overpower eyes that were trapped darkness. Everybody spreads out over the lobby floor and gets as much rest as they can.
When it is finally time to leave the hotel for good, after nine hours of being trapped, we shuffle toward the exit doors, fearful of what awaits outside. What will I see? What will I hear?
The theatre has sheltered me from the madness of what was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. By the time the hotel’s lockdown ends and we’re outside, it’s seven in the morning. Thankfully our flight was shifted to eleven. We cannot wait to get home to Philadelphia and reunite with our loved ones.
I walk with my family along the evacuated streets of the strip and think about all the damage done, not just to Vegas itself, but to the American people. This place is supposed to be crowded, bright, and noisy—but it’s gone dark and quiet. We divert to walking along side streets, listening to the directions from police officers.
Time is catching up with us again. Our flight is in a couple of hours. We race back to our hotel, gather up all our things, and depart to the airport. This is a birthday that I will never forget, although I am going to try my hardest to.