Area native saves lives during Las Vegas shooting

SETH NOLAN/Sun-Gazette Justin Hepburn, shown at center, with a friend, left, and some of his family.

In the week since 59 were killed and over 500 injured in what is being called the deadliest shooting in modern American history, stories of the selfless actions of many in Las Vegas last Sunday have been a positive streak in the massive coverage of the incident.

An area native, Justin Hepburn, worked for hours after the shooting began, carrying many to safety.

Hepburn, a 2006 graduate of Loyalsock Township School District, was planning on going to Las Vegas for a gaming expo related to his job that Monday. But some friends who live in the area had an extra wrist band for the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Hepburn flew up one day earlier, instead.

“It was a normal day,” Hepburn said. “There were a lot of good artists playing … (the shooting was) just something you never would’ve expected.”

Hepburn was at the front of the stage with his friends for most of the night. He was three or four rows back when the first string of shots were fired from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel.

“It was odd how it started,” Hepburn said, “the music still playing and everything. It didn’t occur to you that it was shots you were hearing.”

It was a friend who first absorbed the unlikely reality of what was happening and said there were bullets whipping past them.

“It just didn’t seem like that’s what was going on until another round of shots came and the music stopped playing,” Hepburn said. “Then everyone went into a panic.”

After the chaos of about 22,000 other people trying to get to safety began, Hepburn said adrenaline and instinct took over, but the speed of the tragedy make the details hard to remember.

The first thing he tried to do is to get everyone around him onto the ground.

“But then we kept hearing the bullets and had to get out of the open area,” he said.

It took about 300 yards to get all the way out of the venue. But there was a concessions area where people could find cover and get out of the open field where most of the bullets were landing.

“That was the big thing at that point,” Hepburn said. “To get everybody out of the open and back behind something that was decent enough cover.”

Once people were able to get behind cover, many were able to get completely out of the venue and to the Tropicana Hotel.

After Hepburn’s group got to safety, he ran back into the venue and began helping carry as many people as he could behind cover and to the emergency medical services who could help them treat their serious wounds.

Hepburn is in the Army National Guard and is training to become a commissioned officer but has limited medical training other than the basics, he said.

“So that’s what I was trying to do is to get them to safety so someone else could help them,” he said. “To get them to medical personnel and to keep people from bleeding out.”

Hepburn kept going back in to help more people even after the shooting stopped.

He said he couldn’t say how long the shooting lasted, but he felt like he was only there for minutes.

He didn’t get back to his friends until nearly two hours after the shooting started. And the only way he knows it was that long was because of the call log on his phone, showing frequent calls from his friends checking up on him, he said.

After the scene was as calm as it could have gotten after an incident of that scale, Hepburn met his friends at the Tropicana, he said.

Many of the streets and places in the area were still on lockdown, so they were kept in the building until about 5 a.m.

Hepburn stayed in Las Vegas for the rest of the week, getting home to Florida Friday afternoon.

He didn’t know the severity of the shooting as far as numbers during the incident, but he said he is amazed by how many people emergency medical services were able to save, knowing how serious it was afterward.

“It’s just very hard to piece all of it together,” Hepburn said minutes after getting back to his house. “Moving from body to body, helping those who could be helped, and moving from those who couldn’t be helped … you really think back on things. But those are things you have to do to save those you can.”

Hepburn added that his family had a huge part in his actions that day.

“My family is everything,” he said. “I couldn’t do the things I’ve done without them.”