Gunfire drove Chelsea Laurent, barefoot, across the chaotic grounds of the Route 91 Harvest Festival Sunday night.
She’d taken her boots off just minutes before bullets began raining around her, fired from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel.
Now there wasn’t time to do anything but run.
Her boyfriend Jason Scott, best friend Crystal Cravins and brother Jimmy Laurent – all of Bakersfield – scrambled with her out of the country music festival's grounds surrounded by panicked crowds.
Then they came to a gate.
It was wrought iron, painted green, with spikes on the top.
It was locked.
So they started to climb.
This weekend was part reunion, part rite of passage for Laurent and her friends.
She and Scott had gone to Route 91 all four years it's been held.
This time they were joined Cravins, Jimmy Laurent, friend Dustin Gilbert of Kansas and the Laurents’ cousin Zachary Nelson from San Diego, as well as other friends.
Laurent, who is moving from Bakersfield to Leavenworth, Kansas, this week, couldn’t bear to get on the phone to talk about the horror they all faced.
So she wrote it all down and gave it to The Californian.
“We were all celebrating new jobs, college graduations, big decisions in our lives and this was the weekend to reconnect with my brother Jimmy, who currently lives in Las Vegas,” Laurent wrote.
The weekend was special.
“It was like a big reunion. We were all enjoying ourselves on day three and talking about how Big & Rich were so amazing,” she wrote. “We had just finished singing 'God Bless America' and all of us had goosebumps and tears in our eyes because we love this country so much.”
The group, which usually pushes up to the front of the crowd, hung back this year, Laurent wrote.
Performer Jason Aldean took the stage right before Laurent and Scott went to get some pizza from a vendor.
Fifteen minutes later the bullets started flying.
“When we heard the first pop, Jason Aldean started to slow down his singing and look to his left. When the second pop rang out, the woman directly to the right of my brother fell to the ground. She just hit her back and was grabbing onto her stomach and yelling, ‘Help me, help me, call 911!’" Laurent wrote.
“I will never ever forget that image and those sounds. After the 3rd pop, we started to realize what was going on, but we were still in shock, so we started running, but didn't know where to run.”
From the left side of the stage, from the audience's vantage point, they headed for nearby shelters.
“We took cover at one of the lounges they have near one of the beer booths,” Laurent wrote. “I felt and heard a bullet hit the roof and we all continued to run out toward the exit. I have never seen so much chaos. Running over people. We were crying hysterically. My best friend was reaching for my hand.”
They made it out of the festival gate.
But they lost Dustin Gilbert in the wild scramble.
Then they reached the gate.
“It was a very tall gate, but it had cinder blocks at the bottom and it created a bit of a step,” Laurent wrote.
They started the climb.
“I tried to get my left leg over first, but I'm short and don't have the skinniest thighs, so my inner thigh was caught on the spike at the top of the rod,” she wrote.
Flushed with adrenaline, she didn’t feel it.
Then she was sent toppling.
“I was pushed by someone else and ended up falling over while still impaled by the rod and I was now upside down in a dress stuck to a gate,” Laurent wrote.
People tried to help.
“But I was being twisted every which way and all it did was open the slice and allow the spike to exit my leg in another location,” Laurent wrote.
Finally Scott grabbed her by the dress and lifted her off the gate.
But they were still on the wrong side of the barrier.
“My dress was ripped to shreds. Jason screamed out, ‘She's hurt!’ but I honestly did not feel anything at all. I lifted up the front of my dress to see my fatty tissue hanging out of my leg, but no blood,” she said.
Just then the weight of the crowd pushed the gate open and it was time to run again.
But Cravin and her brother were gone.
“We made it to a parking structure, but still heard so many gun shots ... so many. After hiding behind a white sedan, we made our way to Las Vegas Blvd. and looked for our hotel,” she wrote.
She called her mother while hiding behind a white sedan in a parking structure.
Then they ran to their hotel, Laurent’s leg bleeding.
They got into the hotel, got help from staff there and got Laurent into an ambulance to Mountain View Hospital.
“Once I arrived, the surgeon said he was able to fit his entire hand inside my wound and poke his finger out the other end. My brother and best friend made it to the hospital by car and she got checked out for an elbow sprain and possible concussion,” Laurent wrote.
They were safe.
But they are far from healed.
“The car ride back to Bakersfield was quiet, although myself, Jason, Crystal, and Dustin all tried to lighten the mood. We all just can't stop thinking about it," Laurent wrote.
She's starting a new phase of her life. But she'll carry last weekend with her forever, she wrote.
"I wish I could forget the things I saw and heard that night, but I just can't. It will haunt me forever. It's easy to say that I won't allow myself to be negatively affected by this and I'll just look forward, but it is incredibly difficult to do so.”