When the loud popping noises erupted in unison from the sky behind him, Mike Goguen and his wife, Jamie (Goguen) Stephenson, assumed it was fireworks.
“We turned our heads right to Mandalay Bay and automatic fire started pouring down,” Goguen said in an interview Monday evening from Las Vegas.
“Your brain doesn’t expect something so horrible and unusual.”
Goguen and Stephenson, who are full-time Whitefish residents, were among the crowd of 22,000 people attending the Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 when a gunman, identified as Stephen Craig Paddock, began shooting people from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino hotel. Authorities say Paddock had 16 guns in his hotel room, including rifles with scopes that were modified to make them fully automatic, the Associated Press reported.
Goguen and Stephenson, sitting near the stage on the right-hand side, were directly exposed to gunfire but successfully fled to safety. They arrived at a stone retainer wall where people were filing out and made a decision to stay to help anyone they could. Goguen, the founder of the Two Bear Air search and rescue program, has trained for a variety of emergency medical responses with the local sheriff’s department and has been involved in rescue events in Montana.
“She stuck with me and we started going to victims, and we helped get them up and out onto the road,” Goguen said.
They helped one man who was crumpled up against a wall with an abdomen wound and carried him out to the street, where they loaded him into a passing vehicle to be transported to the hospital. They also passed victims who had died from their wounds.
“Initially in all that chaos, it felt like forever before there were any ambulances,” Goguen said. “They got there as soon as they could, but we started stopping vehicles on Kobal Lane and tried to get them to take victims.”
“We were carrying severely wounded victims who needed to be taken to the trauma center,” he added. “We had several others trying to assist in carrying victims.”
This process went on until a full fleet of first responders arrived to handle the tragedy en masse. When it was over, both Goguen and Stephenson had blood stains on their clothes and blood on their hands.
By Monday afternoon, 59 victims were dead and 527 wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
“Of course there were people who were distraught, friends and relatives of the victims,” Goguen said.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Goguen and Stephenson said they are not allowing fear to overwhelm them and hope others do no either.
“It was terrorizing what this man did to us, but it’s not the way we should live every day, living in fear,” Stephenson said.
“Love will always win.”
Goguen added, “There was clearly chaos but it was much more aligned with everybody trying to help and being selfless. To see the vast majority of people try to help and the goodness that comes out of something like that, that was certainly the case last night … People were very selfless.”