Chula Vista Police Agent Fred Rowbotham and his wife Katie were in Las Vegas last weekend.
Katie wanted to treat her husband to the weekend getaway, which included passes to the three day Route 91 Harvest Festival featuring numerous country music acts, to celebrate his 45th birthday.
The celebration turned nightmarish Sunday night when Stephen Paddock, 64, opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, using a semi-automatic rifle and spraying the concert venue across the street with bullets.
Fifty nine people were killed and more than 500 were injured.
Fred and his wife were about 100 feet from the stage when the bullets started peppering the area. He was grazed on the left hip by a bullet that Fred said peeled off about three inches of skin.
He said his wife sustained cuts to her knees after she fell while running away.
“When Jason Aldean began his set, he was a few songs in and we heard the sound of automatic rile fire. It was very pronounced, very loud,” Rowbotham said at a news conference Wednesday morning in front of Chula Vista police headquarters. “Myself and (a friend) that was with me, we immediately recognized it for what it was.”
Intellectually he recognized the sound as that of gunfire but there was a part of him that tried to explain it away as pyrotechnics or electical problems from the sound system.
Suddenly the bullets stopped and Fred Rowbotham let himself believe that what he had heard were electrical problems.
But “just a couple seconds later the sounds of the rifle fire started up again,” he said. “We immediately realized this really is what it is. We grabbed the hands of our wives and yelled to them and yelled to the people standing around us ‘We gotta go, we gotta get out of here!’ ”
He said he immediately figured out that gunfire was coming from Mandalay Bay.
The 20 year police veteran, who is the department’s special events manager and oversees security measures for all special events in the city, described the concert venue as a giant parking lot with temporary beer carts and tents set up.
He said there were not many places to seek cover so he, his wife and a group of people started running for exits Rowbotham had identified before the concert.
Rowbotham said he was scared during the shooting that, he said, “felt like it lasted 20 minutes,” though police said the shooting lasted between 8 and 10 minutes.
He said as he was running away from gunfire he could feel something hitting him on the backside.
“As we were running towards the exit we could feel like what was bee bees hitting us on our backs and our legs,” he said. “It was probably bullets hitting the ground and chipping up asphalt that was peppering us as we ran.”
Katie stumbled as they made their way toward a side exit leading to McCarran International Airport.
“As we were running towards the exit my wife fell, I reached down picked her up, she told me that she had cut her knee,” he said. “I think she still hadn’t taken a full grasp of how serious the situation was and I told her ‘You need to get up, we have to go!’ I grabbed her and we continued running.
“As we were running we continued to be peppered by the asphalt and then I could feel in my back lower left hip that I got hit by something far more substantial. It almost felt like a baseball bat that was swung and hit. As we were running I reached down and I could feel the blood (from the gunshot) on my hand.”
Fred said he noticed a group of men running with them, some carrying what appeared to be lifeless bodies of women. The women and others were placed into a truck that pulled up and whisked away, he presumed, to the hospital.
Fred and his group continued on toward the airport runway, with someone kicking in the security gate to make passage.
Eventually they were met by Las Vegas police on the runway and were directed across the tarmac and into airport, where they stayed for several hours following the events via social media.
Authorities offered to have Fred taken to the hospital for his injuries but he declined, stating there were others who needed treatment more urgently than he.
Instead Rowbotham later treated his wound at a friend’s house in Las Vegas.
Rowbotham said he was not carrying a weapon at the time because he was off duty. Even if had one, he said, the gunman would have out powered him and there was no way he could fight back. His only choice was to run to safety.
Chula Vista Fire Union President Darrell Roberts was also in Las Vegas that weekend at near the Las Vegas strip when the shooting started.
He was about one mile awayinside a comedy club in the MGM Grand watching the Mike Tyson comedy show. While he was not directly in the area of the shooting, he described the scene at the MGM as “chaotic.”
Roberts said once he got his wife to safety he went upstairs to try and help administer aide. He said the MGM lobby was “like a triage area.”
In 2001 Rowbotham was one of the officers called to the scene when a gunman in a Chula Vista senior housing complex, Congregational Tower, killed four people, shot at police and then killed himself.
That was the most dangerous situation he had been in while serving as a police officer. Until Sunday.
Nothing can compare to what happened to him, his wife and hundreds of others that night on the Las Vegas strip.