Sugar Land couple witnessed Las Vegas shooting

Sweetlands had just arrived for conference there

By Joe Southern

A makeshift memorial went up next to the concert venue where 58 people were killed when a gunman opened fire on a concert in Las Vegas. (Submitted photos)

Sugar Land residents Brian and Tracey Sweetland found themselves witnesses to one of the greatest atrocities in United States history Oct. 1 as they were staying at the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas when a gunman opened fire on thousands of concert-goers on the street below, killing 58 and wounding 489.

The Sweetlands were not harmed, but the attack made for an unsettling start to their trip to Las Vegas last week. Tracey was there to attend a conference and Brian tagged along for a vacation. They arrived around 4 p.m. that day and checked into the Four Seasons hotel atop the Mandalay Bay building. Six hours later Brian was running for his life and Tracey was hiding in their room just five floors above and well behind the room on the 32nd floor from where Stephen Paddock, 64, made his 10-minute assault on the crowd below.

The couple had returned to their room from eating dinner and Tracey went to bed early, as she was exhausted from a conference they attended a couple days earlier in Chicago. Brian wasn’t ready to sleep and went down to the casino, not to gamble but to watch people and start conversations.

Brian Sweetland of Sugar Land is interviewed by a radio reporter from Sweden outside the Mandalay Bay the day after a mass shooting there.

“I went down there and 15 minutes later people came running by calling for police and saying there was a shooter. I was wondering what in the world was going on,” Brian said.

Officials ordered the evacuation of the casino and Sweetland joined hundreds of others on the street in a back wing of the building.

“Three police officers with AR-15s ran by and shouted, ‘you people need to get the H out of here!’” Sweetland said.

The crowd of about 350-400 people moved to another location. That’s when a police helicopter flew overhead and an officer on a bullhorn yelled down, “you people need to get the F out of here now!” Sweetland recounted.

Once again the crowd scrambled away, coming to a stop at the intersection of Sunset Road and Las Vegas Boulevard. There the crowd mingled in safety, trying to grasp what had happened and waited for word it was safe to return. Sweetland, whose cell phone was running out of power, checked in with Tracey. She was hunkered down in their room and stayed up all night talking on the phone with her sister, trying to find out what was going on.

From that point Sweetland began talking with and consoling people.

“There was this guy from Brazil and another guy from Minneapolis who followed me around like lost puppies until 3:30 in the morning,” he said.

Sweetland said he met many people from all over the country and the world that night. Having just gone through Hurricane Harvey a few weeks earlier, Sweetland said he was encouraged by the selfless acts of caring he witnessed in both situations. He said all Uber and cab rides that night were free and people were helping others in need or distress.

By 7:30 a.m. Monday he was finally able to rejoin Tracey in their room. After making sure they were OK and making reassuring phone calls to family, they went to bed and slept. Tracey’s conference was cancelled, so they spent the next few days playing tourists. Later on Monday, Brian walked outside and was interviewed by a radio reporter from Sweden. She asked him if this experience would affect his travel in the future.

“No, it will not,” he said. “I’m going to continue to live my life.”

After watching news coverage and seeing a picture of Paddock, the shooter, Sweetland said he isn’t certain, but he seems to recall seeing him a few minutes before the shooting at the elevator in the casino.

“I’d almost swear I passed him,” he said.

When asked how he felt about the incident, Sweetland said he felt blessed.

“I got inconvenienced for a night. Compared to what happened across the street, I was blessed,” he said.

He said he believes God put him there for a reason.

“He put me there to help those two young men calm down,” he said.

The Sweetlands flew back home on Wednesday. Brian said he isn’t ready to return to Las Vegas any time soon, but he is willing to return. He said his opinion has nothing to do with the shooting. It has to do with the fact that the industry there is designed to separate people from their money.

“They don’t build those big hotels off the winners,” he said.

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