The first round of shots rang out.
Cpl. Ryan Herst, an off-duty Buena Park police officer and about 10 friends were taking in the final performance of the three-day, Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas on Sunday.
“We were just looking at each other, like asking ourselves, ‘What was that?’” said Herst, upon hearing the initial gunfire overriding singer Jason Aldean’s guitar riffs.
Herst, his girlfriend, Monica, and a group of friends that included other Buena Park officers, a Corona police officers and an Anaheim PD dispatcher, were near the left-front corner of the stage, facing the Mandalay Bay Hotel across the street.
A second round of shots echoed throughout the outdoor venue, where 22,000 concertgoers were jamming.
Now there was no doubt.
It was gunfire.
In an instant, terror ensued.
“People just started screaming and running,” Herst said. “Some of our group hopped the fences. Others pushed through fences.”
As a 16-year veteran of the Buena Park PD and a member of the department’s SWAT team, Herst, 38, instinctively went into work mode, backing up and watching, making his way with his girlfriend to an exit on the west side of the venue.
“There were just massive amounts of people running down the street,” he said. “I saw walking wounded … people with cuts and scratches.”
Still having no clue how many shooters there were and where the shots were coming from, Herst and his girlfriend found safety behind a parked car and started yanking others, complete strangers, behind the car with them.
They came upon a woman with a deep gash around her wrist.
Herst took off his shirt and used it as a tourniquet.
They made their way toward a small industrial complex on Reno Avenue and banged on the locked door of a business until a man let them in.
Herst saw a 20-something man with a gunshot wound and pulled him inside. He pulled others in, too.
The corporal took on a leadership role as the office space filled.
They barricaded the door.
Among the dozens taking refuge in the office were an L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy and an EMT.
The people in the office were missing shoes and had lost cell phones and purses, Herst said.
“There were people hiding under desks so terrified, they wouldn’t come out,” Herst said. “There were some people who were hysterical … We tried to get them to take deep breaths.”
With Herst, the sheriff’s deputy and the EMT taking the lead, a makeshift command post was set up.
An employee of the business handed out water and chips.
Meanwhile, they were receiving information on what was unfolding on the outside.
Herst, who once risked his life and sustained injuries while rescuing a toddler who was crossing the street after wondering off from his home, helped walk the wounded man outside and to a nearby bus that was transporting injured concertgoers to the hospital.
Herst figures they were inside the business for at least four hours before getting word that the shooter was dead.
“So, we were like whoever wants to leave can leave,” he said.
As the sun was starting to come up on Monday, Herst and Monica reunited with their friends.
They checked out of the Luxor and began the drive home.
While on the road, reports of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history consumed every radio station.
They shut the radio off.
“We just lived this,” he said. “I don’t want to hear it.”
On Tuesday, Herst, for the first time, recounted his actions and the carnage he witnessed from Sunday night into Monday.
“You kind of have to talk it through and try to make sense of it.”
This officer has seen a lot of violence in 16 years on the job.
But what happened in Las Vegas was different.
“I think this is going to be the worst,” he said. “Because now I am a victim and there is nothing I can do about it.”
Herst is scheduled to return to Las Vegas in a few weeks for a friend’s party.
He’s going to pass.
“I don’t see myself going back there anytime soon.”