GREAT FALLS – Dakota Whetham of Great Falls is among the survivors of the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history.
A man perched on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas casino opened fire on an outdoor country music festival below, killing 59 people and leaving more than 500 people injured as thousands of frantic concert-goers screamed and ran for their lives.
Whetham’s return flight from Las Vegas landed at the Great Falls International Airport landed at around 7:30 p.m. She was greeted by family members.
Her mother Stacey was on the phone with Dakota when the shooting began.
Stacey recalled, “She said, ‘Mom they’re shooting people,’ and I said, ‘What? Get to cover!’ and she goes, ‘They’re shooting people mom!’ and I said, ‘Dakota get to cover and call me when you’re safe.’ She says she can’t get the images out of her head. She said she saw somebody shot in the head right next to her, so that’s something she’s not going to be able to forget.”
Dakota was in Las Vegas to celebrate a friend’s bachelorette party and it was the second year in a row she attended the music festival.
Whetham said that when the shooting began, she and her group of about 15 friends initially thought it was fireworks.
She said she was in shock at first, but when she saw a man get shot in the head and then several other people drop around her – that’s when her adrenaline and survival mode kicked in.
Dakota said, “We saw these people and we wanted to help them, but we knew if we stopped we’d be right next to them and we felt awful about that but we just put it in our minds, get out, save your life, and that’s just all you gotta do.”
Dakota told MTN that her group of friends broke down a barrier to escape. After they got out of the festival venue, she said they ran more than a mile in just a few minutes.
The gunman was found dead at the scene and has been identified as Stephen Paddock. Investigators are still trying to discern Paddock’s motive.
Authorities found 16 rifles and one handgun in Paddock’s hotel suite. They found 18 additional firearms, explosives, and several thousand rounds of ammunition in his home.
Officials said Paddock shot and killed himself before a SWAT team breached the door.