The image of the boy keeps coming back to Billy Bob Mason.
“That’s the worst image in my head,” he said.
He and his fiancé, Regina Harris, were running from the main stage of the Route 91 Harvest Festival Sunday night as bullets ripped through the air around them.
They were watching people drop. Then the Bodfish man stopped.
“I saw a kid on the ground who had gotten hit,” Mason said.
He couldn’t keep running.
“I couldn’t just run to my truck and drive away,” he said.
So Mason rushed to help a man who was already cradling the boy’s blood-covered head and neck.
Mason was checking the boy’s pulse when a rain of bullets began to land around them.
“You can literally feel the bullets flying by you,” he said.
There were little eruptions as the projectiles slammed into the earth. Then the bullets hit flesh.
“The kid on the ground got hit on the abdomen and I got hit on the foot,” Mason said.
The two men dragged the boy to safety and then Mason rushed after Harris, whom he’d told to run to their grey Ford F150 4x4 truck.
Harris had overshot the truck in her rush.
Mason got there and pulled his boot off.
The bullet had glanced off his bone, tearing into the flesh of his toe. It ruined his boot.
But it was a flesh wound.
He tied his sock around his foot to slow the bleeding.
He got out of the truck.
And he went to help get more people to safety.
“There were a bunch of people that were trying to help,” he said. “It’s a basic instinct for people — at least I hope it is.”
And, in his opinion, people at a country music festival might just have a bit more of that instinct than other groups.
“A lot of us are good old country boys. It’s what we do,” he said.
“We had pulled a few people out and gotten them behind the barrier,” Mason said.
One man had been shot in the back.
Mason pulled him into the back of his truck and – with Harris back – they started driving toward a hospital.
Along the way they saw several ambulances across the road near the Tropicana and Mason drove across the median into opposing traffic lanes and took the man to the ambulances.
Then they turned around and headed back to the festival grounds to pick up more people. When they got there, law enforcement and emergency crews had arrived.
“They said, ‘Just go. Get out of the area,”' Mason said.
So Mason and Harris headed for Sunrise Hospital to get his foot treated. But he couldn’t go in.
“They were overwhelmed, so badly overwhelmed,” he said.
Mason works as a certified nurses’ assistant at the Kern Valley Healthcare District and is studying to be a registered nurse. He couldn’t ask the hospital to treat a flesh wound, he said, when other people obviously needed more help.
So they drove to their hotel, where staff helped him wrap up his foot and suggested he go to urgent care.
Urgent care sent Mason back to the hospital.
But by then he was done.
The truck was already packed up. So he turned his truck west and headed for home.
“I drove straight through the night. I didn’t want to be in Las Vegas anymore,” Mason said.
He drove to the hospital where he works and got his foot tended there.
Now he’s recovering.
But he struggles with the future.
He loves the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
He’s gone every year.
"It’s my vacation every year. I look forward to it," Mason said. "I love my country music."
It's such a part of their lives that he and Harris were planning to get married in Vegas during next year’s event.
Now, Mason said, he’s “not sure that’s going to go through.”
Vegas is different now.