Las Vegas officer recalls shooting: “The fire just started hitting us”

Four police officers who were among the first to respond to the deadly Las Vegas shooting last week recalled what they were thinking during the dramatic 12 minutes of the attack. The officers formed an ad hoc SWAT team and stormed the shooter’s hotel room.
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Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, who murdered 58 people and injured hundreds more last week, opened fire from his hotel room on the 32nd-floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel. Paddock would likely have murdered more people who were attending the country music festival across the street from the hotel had a security guard not made it to the hotel room’s floor within 12 minutes from the beginning of the shooting.

At the same time, several Las Vegas police officers were assembling themselves as a SWAT team before they breached Room 135, where they found Paddock’s body after he had shot himself. In an interview with CBS, the officers recalled the dramatic moments of the deadliest mass shooting in US history.

Photo Credit: Sky News/Channel 2 News

“The fire just started hitting us,” Casey Clarkson, a police detective who was at the concert along with 22,000 other people, stated. Clarkson added that he remembers that the bullets were like “white sparks.”

“I’m just watching these rounds hit all, like, right next to us,” he said. “And I'm like, ‘How is he [Paddock] so accurate?” Clarkson was injured by shrapnel outside of the hotel.  

Detective Matthew Donaldson was busy with paperwork at police headquarters when the shooting began. He quickly jumped into a police vehicle and drove toward the hotel. Eventually, due to the chaos, he had to abandon the vehicle and continue on foot. However, the cowboy boots he was wearing were slowing him down, so he decided to take them off and continue barefoot. “I just threw them in the casino,” Donaldson said. “That was slowing me down. I was faster barefoot, and I was gonna be more effective barefoot.”

The officers stated that they were told that there were gunmen not only on the 32nd-floor but also on the 29th-floor. “We’re thinking multiple shooters at this point,” K-9 officer Joshua Bitsko recalled. Bitsko and two other officers arrived at the 32nd-floor shortly after the hotel security guard, Jesus Campos, came under heavy fire in the hallway.

Watch: An excerpt from the interview

However, the officers quickly realized that Paddock had barricaded the stairwell door in order to slow them down. “He had screwed shut the door - with a piece of metal and some screws,” Bitsko stated. “He knew we’d be coming out that door to gain entry into his door, so he tried to barricade it as best he could.” Luckily, another officer had a pry bar and managed to open the door.

“There’s a room service cart with wires going on it underneath the door,” K-9 officer Dave Newton recalled seeing when they entered the hallway. “There was something black on top of the cart. So, initially, I'm, you know, I’m thinking, ‘This is a booby-trap. It’s, it’s going to explode.’”

Las Vegas Sheriff Joseph Lombardo spoke during the 60 Minutes special about the time it took for his officers to reach the Paddock’s room and stop the shooting. Lombardo said that while 12 minutes sounds like a long time, it’s actually a very short period of time to “get the intelligence, figure out what the hell is going on.”



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