It’s especially busy when the Harvest Festival comes to Las Vegas. Country music fans worldwide are in town to see some of the biggest stars in the business perform live on stage. We get slammed at the club all weekend because the musicians come over to Mandalay Bay after their set to greet fans at Foundation Room. People are packed wall-to-wall from around 11 pm until early into the morning. We had been running at high speed over the last two days, and on Sunday, with Jason Aldeen on the stage across the street to close out the festival, we were gearing up for our busiest night.
I was the last one out of the building the next morning and still couldn’t believe the previous 12-hours, even though I was right in the middle of it.
Just after 10 pm Sunday, a staff member assigned to the patio called over the radio to tell me there were “shots fired.” I had no idea where or even what he was talking about. He asked me to come out onto the patio where I could see people in a panic running everywhere, as well as lying on the ground. I could hear the faint echo of gunfire ringing in the air. It seemed so far away that we all were just looking down at the street. But once we realized it was happening at the festival, we assumed that someone was shooting inside the concert venue. I remember hearing the automatic gunfire and trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Then several loud shots rang out that were very, very close to where we were.
I immediately had my staff clear the entire patio, as people were curious and were out there trying to see what was happening. Security instructed everyone to go inside and remain there.
My first phone call came from our GM checking on everyone and asking what information we had received. I stated that we heard over the news, and through police scanner apps, multiple reports of shots being fired all over the city. But what I knew, was that there was a shooter in our hotel. A shooter five floors below where I had 36 staff members and about 90 guests barricaded and trying to decide our next move.
As I explained to the GM that my team was still on the patio trying to get a visual on the street and prepare for evacuation, a call came out on the radio, “THEY ARE IN THE KITCHEN, THEY ARE IN THE KITCHEN!”
I immediately hung up and ran toward the kitchen through the dining room. I thought if this were our chance to overpower the shooter, we would do it in the kitchen – before he could enter the restaurant. I don’t remember being scared at the time, just that I had a responsibility to the people in that room to do whatever I could.
Once we realized that the kitchen was clear, we went back on the radio to clarify who was where. Then the call came that, “THEY ARE IN THE LOBBY!” And again, we made a move—only this time more quickly and without checking corners before we went around them. I was right between the restaurant and the entrance to the women’s restroom when I saw the gun. I ran straight toward it – rookie move – and I closed my eyes and accepted my fate. As luck would have it, the “they” in “they are in the lobby” happened to be SWAT. The officers instructed everyone to get on the ground and spread their arms and legs. I let them know who I was and that I had managers and employees in the back offices and needed to let them know to come out and lay on the ground. I asked that they unjam our radio signal allowing me to give the instructions that officers would be coming through the venue to clear it and make sure the was no danger.
Once SWAT passed the “all-clear,” they moved the guests and employees into the venue’s main room. They started on the roof where our club is located and began working their way down, searching for the shooter. It became evident they hadn’t encountered the suspect yet or had any new information they could share. By now, my phone had rung about 100-times with family and friends, other managers, and executives trying to get in touch with me to see what was happening, but as you can see, I was a little busy.
As the hours went by, we got everyone water, posted staff at all fire doors watching the roof access, and turned on the news so everyone could focus their attention on something. It dawned on me while we were doing this that if I had not chosen to barricade ourselves in, I could have taken 120-people down one of three exit stairwells. If I had chosen the wrong one, we could have walked right into the line of fire, and been trapped, like fish in a barrel, going down 50-flights of stairs. The truth is I didn’t know where the shooter was other than below us. I felt staying there, so we could see easily see someone coming, was the only safe play.
I continually shared any information I got from the hotel or law enforcement with everyone in the room. They needed to know as much as I did and let their loved ones know they were safe. I told them who I was, what the plan was, and that we were in this together. That was the truth. My wife, nephew, and some of my best friends were in that room with us. I made it personal, and it helped me remain calm in my mind. What other choice did we have?
It was almost 11 am Monday before law enforcement had entirely cleared the casino and hotel and allowed us to go home.
Fifty-eight people lost their lives that night in what is now the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. Another 411 suffered wounds by the 1,000+ rounds of ammunition that Steven Paddock rained on Las Vegas that night. Hundreds more were injured by the ensuing panic. For those who think “it will never happen to me,” I hope your right. But in the meantime, you should be preparing for it because it absolutely can happen to anyone. Remember those we lost and all those affected by one man’s choice and how impactful the choices we make can be.
Chad Holt is the Security Operations Manager for The North Group. On the night of October 1, 2017, he was the Director of Security and Compliance, overseeing the Foundation Room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
About The North Group
The North Group is an intelligence-driven, global risk management firm that provides security services customized from inception to resolution. We deliver protective services, risk management consultation, and intelligence reporting at both the individual and organizational levels. Our success capitalizes on our 100+ combined years of military, law enforcement, and private sector experience.