The moment Alisha Pitkanen realized she was hearing gunfire is frozen in her mind.

She had a pair of earrings in her hand, a gift for her friend Amy.

Pitkanen remembers clearly looking into the faces of Amy and her other friend Nicole and thinking, “That’s not fireworks. That’s gunfire. That’s something not right.”

Then the jewelry vendor who was selling them the earrings near the entrance to the Route 91 Harvest Festival turned over his merchandise tables and told them to get under them.

“I said, ‘No. We’ve got to run,” Pitkanen said.

They ran.

The Bakersfield woman, a UC Davis communications major, was in Vegas working the festival for Wallet Buckle, a company that sells cowboy-style belt buckles that double as a secure stash for credit cards and identification.

Pitkanen and her friend Nicole had been near the main event stage just eight minutes before gunfire began raining down on the crowd.

But they’d gone back to the entrance to buy earrings.

Pitkanen said she doesn’t really remember what she saw as she ran toward the Tropicana hotel.

“I kind of blacked out a little bit,” she said. “I don’t remember running. I just remember hearing.”

Pitkanen remembers the first “clip” of gunfire.

Then it ended and she heard the worst thing she would that night.

“The scary part was hearing everyone screaming and crying,” she said.

Then the gunfire began again as she and her friends ran, chasing them all the way to the Tropicana.

The shooting, Pitkanen said, didn’t stop.

When she and Amy got to the Tropicana – missing Nicole, who had been lost in the chaotic race – they leapt over the reception counter to hide.

Pitkanen tried to call her parents but they couldn’t hear her.

There were rumors that there were multiple shooters and that each hotel was being targeted.

Waves of people began surging into the hotel covered with blood and dirt and nursing bandaged wounds.

Every time Pitkanen ran or hid, losing friends and finding them again.

Finally word came from SWAT officers that the Tropicana was secure and they were barricaded in.

There were quiet moments where Pitkanen shared her phone charger with frantic people who were desperate to communicate with loved ones.

Finally, at 5:30 a.m. on Monday, her co-workers and friends were released from the Tropicana.

They wandered the streets of Las Vegas looking for food.

The city was surreal.

“No cars. No lights. No music,” Pitkanen said. “No one was speaking a word. Nobody had anything to say.”

They finally made it back to their hotel rooms in Luxor.

But she didn’t sleep well.

“I had reoccurring nightmares of the shooting,” Pitkanen said.

Pitkanen was supposed to get on a plane back to UC Davis at 2 p.m. Monday.

But she caught a ride with Nicole’s parents to Barstow where her dad, Matt Mayo, picked her up.

“I didn’t want to go back,” she said.

She needed to be home.

But Las Vegas followed her to Bakersfield.

“I’m honestly still in shock. I don’t want to go on social media. I just want to be at home,” she said. “I wanted to go to the vigil last night but I couldn’t. I don’t want to be around large crowds right now.”

A co-worker saw a woman shot in the face in front of him. A friend was cut on a beer bottle as he fled the music festival.

And Bailey Schweitzer – whose family runs Bakersfield Speedway where Matt Mayo and her little brother Matthew Mayo often race – died.

Pitkanen asked the community to pray for the Schweitzer family.

She was the lucky one, she said.

James Burger can be reached at 661‑395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @KernQuirks.

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