“I just have this mental image of the guns firing out of the window, knowing now that I was watching someone murder 59 people.”
Lucas Bruch had just arrived in Las Vegas on Sunday night for an information technology conference the next day. He checked into his hotel room, grabbed a bite to eat and headed outside to take a quick look around. It was a warm night—unlike the 40-something-degree evenings that have marked the beginning of fall in the North Carolina mountains where he’s from.
He left his wallet in the room, planning to be back and drifting off to sleep in about 10 minutes. Then, 10 minutes turned into 12 hours.
“As I was out front, I heard a cracking sound and saw glass falling down from the upper levels of the hotel,” Lucas said.
The glass landed about 10 feet in front of him. At the same time, he recognized the sound of gunfire. His first thought was that some kind of terrible fight had broken out in a hotel room, and a stray bullet had shattered the window.
“And then there were a couple more gunshots and another window broke out. I was still thinking it was the same thing. Then there was about a 10-second gap, and all of a sudden the automatic rifle started firing.”
Lucas ran about 20 feet to his left and ducked behind an SUV, keeping an eye on the window up above. He prayed a silent, “God, protect me” as the adrenaline surged and he went into survival mode.
“I could see the end of the rifle and the muzzle fire,” he said. Tattered pieces of hotel curtains were exploding from the window with the bullets.
Down on the ground, many people were frozen in place, looking up at the window.
“They didn’t really recognize what was going on and were all gathered in the street looking up and really exposed,” Lucas said. He called out for them to take cover.
A few minutes earlier while checking into his room, Lucas had seen the concert going on below, and he could hear the music when he stepped outside. Now, as he looked up at the shattered window, he knew the bullets were directed at the crowd. He called 911 but couldn’t get through.
“The police were responding at the concert, but nobody was at Mandalay Bay, which is why I was trying to call.”
During this time, he estimates a couple hundred rounds were fired. A few minutes later, SWAT teams showed up and rushed the hotel.
At some point, the gunfire stopped. A few of the SWAT officers exchanged quick words with Lucas as they moved past.
“I told them I was gonna be praying for them, and I stopped there on the sidewalk and prayed for the teams responding to the incident,” he said.
Moments later, he was forced to leave the area.
“It was crazy. The music stopped and everyone was running from the concert and screaming. I met up with some of the concertgoers. Some were covered in mud and blood. Some had one shoe, some had no shoes. One girl said she was running and tripped and fell onto a dead body. It was just a scene of chaos and carnage.”
Lucas ended up at a gas station about a mile away. He called his wife, waking her up in the middle of the night to tell her what happened. He spent the rest of the sleepless night on the gas station floor.
By the next morning, he was physically and emotionally exhausted, but thankful to see the sun rising over the Nevada desert.
When he heard Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains were in Las Vegas to offer emotional and spiritual care to people who are suffering, he thought about all the concertgoers and first responders he had met throughout the long night—”the people who saw all of it or ran over dead bodies or had somebody die in front of them.”
“There’s a lot of people still in the hospital, and a lot of the first responders saw a lot,” he said. “One first responder—he pronounced 20 people dead.”
Many of the chaplains who are ministering in Las Vegas are current or former first responders—including a trio of LAPD officers using their personal vacation time to volunteer with the Rapid Response Team. The chaplains will look for opportunities to talk and pray with law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMTs who are struggling with the horrific things they saw in the midst of what is now the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
“I think that will be really needed and really important,” Lucas said.
There are also thousands of people who, like Lucas, may not have been at the concert but have been traumatized after being so close to such evil.
“Now that the adrenaline has stopped, it’s emotionally getting a bit more difficult,” Lucas said around 10 a.m. PDT on Monday after finally making it back to his hotel room.
As he recalled the awful carnage of the night before, he also remembered the good things he saw: The first responders who put their lives on the line, the people who helped treat the wounded, the man who bought blankets for tourists stranded outside the gas station, and the good Samaritan who gave Lucas a couple bucks for a drink and some potato chips when he was hungry in the middle of the night.
As the Rapid Response Team chaplains work alongside Las Vegas-area churches to offer comfort and compassion in the coming days, their prayer is that God will bring something good out of an unspeakable tragedy.
Jack Munday, the team’s international director, explained the ministry this way: “It doesn’t dismiss the pain and it doesn’t answer all the questions, but it does bring comfort and hope in someone’s life after they experience great loss. … And people need to know that God loves them and desires to be with them in such a time as this.”
Lucas finds himself wondering whether the people who died knew that God loves them. And while he’s eager to get home to his young family, he’s also eager to help share the hope of Christ with a broken world, especially after seeing that brokenness up close.
“It really is a struggle when you’re looking at sin in the world and how it affects the world,” Lucas said. “It just impresses upon me the urgency for the need of the Gospel around the world.”
Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
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