It took a Jackson County native who found himself in the killing fields of a gunman who opened fire on concertgoers Sunday night in Las Vegas quite some time to be sure of what was happening.
It didn’t, however, take 52-year-old Rick Baughman very long to figure out one thing about the event that would become the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history with at least 59 killed and 527 injured.
“It didn’t seem like anywhere was safe,” said Baughman, who attended the Route 91 Festival concert with his fiancée, Colby Cobb, and their friends, Kevin Gadd and Jessica Kindle.
They were about 80 feet from the stage at the time 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire on the crowd watching country star Jason Aldean perform.
Although he wasn’t injured, a bullet sliced through one of the legs of his cargo shorts, something he didn’t discover quite some time after the shooting. Gadd also sustained a flesh wound on his backside from a bullet and was treated and released.
Baughman and Cobb, who live in Denver, Colorado, and Gadd and Kindle, who live in Plainfield, had spent the weekend in Las Vegas attending parts of the country music festival.
The couples both arrived Friday and went to the Eric Church concert that night. They skipped the concerts Saturday but wanted to see Jason Aldean on Sunday night before they went back home Monday.
Baughman said the foursome arrived at the concert venue near McCarran International Airport on the south end of the Vegas Strip between 7:30 and 8 p.m. Sunday. They then grabbed a drink and a sandwich.
“We got there in time to watch Jake Owen,” he said.
The stage was elevated, but the only seating was for VIPs along both sides of the venue, Baughman said.
“Everyone was just standing,” he said.
Owen was scheduled to perform until shortly before Aldean was to take the stage at 9:50 p.m., Baughman said.
Aldean appeared right on time and had been playing for about an hour when, during his song “When You Call Baby,” the shooting began, he said. That just happens to be Baughman and Cobb’s favorite Aldean song.
Baughman said he and Cobb have seen Aldean several times, and his shows often feature fireworks, but something just didn’t seem right when he heard the sounds this time.
“After the first time, it put me on high alert, and it began again,” he said. “I looked up and saw flashes coming from Mandalay Bay.”
Baughman said he then looked at Gadd, who was on the ground with everyone else.
“He said, ‘I think I got hit,’” Baughman said. “I told him to just stay down. I don’t think it had really hit me yet. I almost felt like it had to be a joke. We’re in the United States, and this doesn’t happen here.”
And then it stopped again for a short time.
“I told them, ‘Let’s get the hell out of here,’” Baughman said.
At that point, everyone at the concert just started dispersing.
Although a chaotic scene, there was plenty of room for people to leave without trampling each other, Baughman said.
“Everyone was helping people,” he said. “When I got up, the girl next to me had got shot in the leg. I pulled her into a tent. “A guy came sliding in after me and flipped over one of the eight-foot tables.”
And an off-duty paramedic came into the tent and offered to take care of the girl.
At that point, Baughman said he didn’t feel safe and told everyone they needed to get out of the tent.
By that time, he had become separated from his fiancée and friends, but the gunfire was still coming.
“It felt like it was two hours,” he said.
After leaving the concert venue, Baughman said his first thought was to find Cobb because he had promised her dad he would take care of her.
He didn’t know where she was, and he found her cellphone in his pocket, so she couldn’t call him.
“She had given it to me,” he said.
He eventually ran into Gadd and Kindle and told them to return to the Venetian, where the four were staying.
Baughman said he then returned to a nearby convenience store, which was a meeting point for people being dropped off and picked up at concerts in the past.
“I thought maybe she might to there,” he said.
Some people were giving a guy CPR.
“He didn’t make it, and we covered him up,” he said.
Baughman then reached into his other pocket, and that’s when he discovered a bullet had sliced through his shorts.
He said he decided to go back in the concert area to search for Cobb even through police didn’t want him to do that. By that time, the gunfire had stopped.
“I told them they would have to arrest me, but I was going back to find her,” he said. “They let me go.”
The place looked like a war zone, he said, with people receiving medical treatment and tents and tables knocked over.
“No one was lying alone, though,” he said. “People were helping others.”
A few minutes later, he received a text message from Cobb, who said she had run to an airplane hangar.
Baughman said he eventually made his way to that hangar, but it was a mile to a mile and a half away from the concert venue.
“That’s how far they had run,” he said.
Baughman said he then joined Cobb and about 30 others, including a police officer, inside a cinder block building, and they stayed there for about three and a half to four hours.
The police officer was able to monitor radio traffic so those in the hanger had a good idea of what was happening.
They were then bused to the Thomas & Mack Center on the University of Las Vegas campus before being released to find their way back to their hotels.
Although it was early in the morning, the four couldn’t sleep, Baughman said.
“We talked,” he said. “We decided we can’t live like this. We all wore flip-flops to the concert. That’s not the best thing to run in. No one did a survey of the exits.
“It’s definitely a different world than the one I grew up in in southern Indiana,” said Baughman, who is the son of Gloria Baughman and the late Herschel Baughman, who served as the sheriff of Jackson County from 1990 to 1998. His mother still lives in Vallonia.
He said none of the four could believe that they had come that close to being shot and killed.
“We’re so fortunate and blessed to be not hurt,” Baughman said.