By Wendy Nugent, Newton Now
Newton High School grad Trent Koland was casually having a drink in the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas with his sister, Lindsey, and her fiance, Danny, on Sunday night. They were in Vegas to celebrate their parents’ 40th wedding anniversary.
“We had just come from North Las Vegas where one of our cousins lives,” Koland said. “We were having a great day. It was our last day there, and we were all tired. My parents had returned to their room for an early night, and we were out at the bar for one last drink for the night ourselves.”
They had no idea they’d be up all night, hiding in hotel tunnels, away from a crazed gunman who murdered more than 50 people at a nearby concert and ended up turning the gun on himself. They also had no idea they’d be experiencing a huge range of emotions, from fear to survivor’s guilt to extreme compassion.
The Luxor Hotel is across the street, it appears, from the concert site on Las Vegas Boulevard, where the Sunday night mass shooting took place that left at least 59 dead and more than 500 wounded.
Initially, Koland, his sister and her fiance noticed people running by when they were in the bar and coming out of a hallway, which they thought was odd. Then they were advised to go to a different bar, so they obliged.
“We had no idea what was happening,” Koland said. “I couldn’t hear what was happening outside. We started to joke a little to make ourselves feel a little better, to lighten the mood, but then a security guard told us not to laugh, because there was an active shooter situation and someone had died.”
He said that shut them up pretty quickly.
The 1999 NHS grad said that after that, they were led to the staff tunnels at the Luxor. The Luxor is situated between the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and the Excalibur Hotel, according to a map at billboard.com. The map states Madalay Bay Resort is about 400 yards from the concert site, and that’s the hotel where the gunman did his shooting from the 32nd floor.
Koland said visitors never get to see the tunnels if they’re staying there. They were put in a small break room, where there was a TV news station on describing what was going on right outside the front doors. First, it was reported one person was dead, and then two, and then 10.
“By the end of the night, it had grown to 50 and hundreds of people had been shot,” said Koland, who is a senior art director for a communications firm called Edelman. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. At around 3, they started to let people go up to their rooms if they were staying in the Luxor. We weren’t guests at the Luxor, so we had to stay put for another hour and a half.”
To keep people comfortable, staff brought out sheets and pillows for all to use in the hallways of employee corridors under the casino. Koland said hundreds of people were lying down there with linens on the ground “just looking dazed.”
“Around 4:30, we saw that people were coming over from our resort, the Excalibur, so we decided to walk underground over to our hotel,” Koland said. “We had to show our hotel room keys to police and security to let them let us go up to our rooms. By 5, we had made it back upstairs to the 18th floor where our room was located. We gave our parents a quick hug, and then laid down for 45 minutes, since we had to leave around 6 to make it to the airport.”
He said they slept as well as they could but then realized no cabs or Ubers were going to their hotel.
“Everyone was looking for how to get out of there, and it was slow,” Koland said. “We had to walk across the street to another casino just to get where cabs were picking people up. I felt like I was going to throw up the entire time.”
Koland realized the situation was dire when the security guard told them there was an active shooter outside and that someone had died.
“I wasn’t prepared for him to say that,” said Koland, 36, who now lives in Chicago.
In a post on Facebook, Koland talked about his range of emotions, including survivor’s guilt and compassion.
“It’s been nearly a day since this whole thing started,” he wrote. “I still feel really numb. And I feel bad because my whole family and I got out of there with nothing more than a terrible story to tell. There’s a lot of guilt, but then I step out of my body and turn into that person who was comforting people last night. And I’m telling myself that none of this is my fault.”
One thing he said he vividly recalls is approaching a woman sitting on the floor who was crying and a little hysterical.
“It was clear she needed somebody there,” Koland said. “She kept saying that she was a trained first responder and that she was outside when everything had started to happen, and she felt guilty for not doing more, because she knew what to do in this situation. I told her that her decision to get out of harm’s way immediately probably saved her life and that she needed to be strong because we would need her skills much sooner than later. And she gave me such a big hug.”
The hugs didn’t stop.
“And those hugs just kept coming down there in those tunnels where Lindsey and Danny and I were being held,” Koland said.
They were moved around three to four times, and Koland said that each time they were moved, he kept thinking, “Oh my God. This is getting worse. Is someone going to walk through that door and start shooting us?”
He didn’t have time to sort through those emotions because so many others were scared. He said he knew if he just talked to them, they would feel better.
“Some people lost friends, and there’s nothing you could do but just be there and help absorb the grief that was coming off of them in waves,” Koland said. “I came out of Las Vegas unscathed, yes. But I absorbed so much fear and anger and grief this morning to last a very long while.”
On Monday night, Koland said he still feels numb and that he’ll start crying out of nowhere.
“I will probably feel a whole host of emotions come tomorrow morning,” Koland said. “But I’m just glad to be home in my own bed and surrounded by people who love me. It was a little overwhelming to see how many people reached out to me to see if I was OK. It nearly ran down my phone. But that kind of support made me feel very loved.”
During the experience, Koland kept friends and relatives posted of their situation with Facebook posts, one of which read, “I am underground […] we are under lockdown. We’re keeping as calm as possible.”
Koland said his parents slept through most of the ordeal.
“I was able to text my mom around 2:30,” he said. “The first thing we did when we got up to our rooms was to give my parents a hug. It was a lot to experience.”