Felton couple survives mass shooting in Las Vegas

FELTON — When she gets home to Felton today, the first thing Joanie Messick-Rauda will do is hug her kids, Madison, 13, and Neal, 19. If Sunday night went differently, she may never have had the chance.

“I just want to be home,” said Ms. Messick-Rauda awaiting a late night flight home from Las Vegas on Tuesday. “We’re just going to be together as a family, and just be thankful.”

Ms. Messick-Rauda and her husband Carlos Rauda just survived what’s being called the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The Felton couple had arrived in Las Vegas last Thursday to attend the Route 91 Harvest Festival — a three-day country music festival that reportedly played host to around 22,000 people.

“We love country music and we got married in Las Vegas so we always try to come back once or twice a year,” said Ms. Messick-Rauda. “The first two days were awesome and we had a great time, and the third day was fun too until the Jason Aldean show.”

Felton husband and wife Joanie Messick-Rauda and Carlos Rauda are pictured together at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. (Submitted photo)

Country music singer Jason Aldean, who was the last performer of the show, was in the middle of singing around 10 p.m. on Sunday when a gunman, later identified as local resident Stephen Paddock, 64, started firing on the audience from his 32nd-floor room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

Ms. Messick-Rauda said it took them a while to realize something “wasn’t right.”

“All of a sudden, we heard a popping noise,” she said. “At first everyone thought it was fireworks, or even the speakers crackling, so we didn’t pay much attention at first. Jason Aldean kept on singing and he even made it another few verses, but then there was a second round of popping noises. Then the music stopped and people started screaming: ‘it’s gunfire, get down!’”

Ms. Messick-Rauda recalls seeing a girl three people up from where she was standing get hit by gunfire and fall. Shortly afterward, the crowd was in a near stampede for the venue exits, and Ms. Messick-Rauda was soon underfoot.

“Carlos started running, but then he noticed that I was getting trampled and was stuck,” she said. “He rushed back and was able to get people off me, but we didn’t know if we should be ducking or running. Eventually, we were able to get over and hide underneath these large VIP Coca-Cola trailers.”

Soon after finding the cover though a woman hiding near them was hit. The couple knew they weren’t safe and had to keep moving.

“I don’t think the trailers were made of much, but the bullets seemed like they went right though,” said Ms. Messick-Rauda.

She notes that the hail of bullets whizzing and pinging around them would come in bursts, so they would use the pauses to run and move from obstacle to obstacle, trying to find cover. However, unable to determine where, exactly, the gunfire was coming from made this difficult.

“We didn’t know who was shooting, but we knew that the bullets seemed to be coming from above,” Ms. Messick-Rauda said. “There were so many gunshots — it was absolutely crazy. At one point, we got really scared because there was a helicopter flying overhead and we couldn’t tell if it was shooting at us.”

The couple was able to push back toward a rear parking lot and duck intermittently behind parked cars while trying to make their way to an exit. Running through the parking lot, Ms. Messick-Rauda said she saw blood and bodies everywhere — some people were wounded and others appeared dead.

“I’m a nurse, so I really wanted to stop and help, but I was just so scared,” she said. “Also, I’ve been told if there is an active shooter, you should first get to safety yourself so you can start helping people.”

It turns out she was able to lend her assistance. After working their way out of the parking lot, they went up a “residential street with timeshare condominiums” and were invited into one of the residences to hide.

“There were people letting others who were running come in and hide because no one knew what was going on,” said Ms. Messick-Rauda. “Inside a bunch of other people were hunkered down too. A lady who tried to hop a fence but fell and sort of impaled herself came in. She was bleeding, but we were able to get her in the bathtub, clean her up and pack the wound with some towels. She was cut up around her leg and butt. An ambulance showed up later, but wouldn’t take her because they were only picking up the worst wounded at that point. She wasn’t in significant danger, but she probably needed stitches.”

Stopping to catch their breath also gave the couple a moment to examine themselves.

“We looked at each other and saw that Carlos had blood all over his pants, we were like: ‘oh my god, either you’re hit or I’m hit,’” said Ms. Messick-Rauda. “With all the adrenaline pumping through us, it was hard to tell.”

Both walked away with only scrapes and bruises — the blood was someone else’s.

The couple stayed at the residence until police were able to clear the road they were on — sometime around 3 a.m, she said. Then, they were then able to share a Lyft with another couple back to their hotel.

“We were so lucky because people were having a hard time getting out of the area,” she said. “We met a Lyft at a gas station up the road, and even though the other couple had called him, he agreed to take us both. I’ve heard that a lot of Uber and Lyft drivers were helping people get away.”

Officials have said the shooter killed at least 59 people and wounded at least 527 more — a number that may still change. The Raudas, horrified with the tragic shooting, count themselves lucky and are thankful they decided to drink less alcohol on the last day of the festival.

“That’s what you do at those festival — watch country music and drink,” said Ms. Messick-Rauda. “We believe that might be part of what saved us, we hadn’t been drinking much that day. A lot of people seemed a bit dazed, some were just standing there while others were running. Your senses just really aren’t fully there when you’re drunk.”

Mr. Rauda, a cook at Piazza Mia in Dover, says he’s just overcome with gratefulness.

“Thank God for letting us survive this horrible event,” he said.

Ms. Messick-Rauda says they’ve tried to keep themselves occupied since Sunday night, but it’ll probably take awhile for the trauma of what they’ve survived to sink in.

“Yesterday, we were just laying in the hotel room and we were like, ‘we have to get up and out of here,’ we can’t let this ruin us,” she said. “We got out and played some bingo and ate at a buffet. Sometimes, you have to get out and get going. It’ll take a while for this to truly sink in. It’s unbelievable at this point — totally unbelievable.”

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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