The worst mass shooting in U.S. history also took a tragic toll locally, claiming the lives of two from Bakersfield and a former Shafter resident, and wounding others including an off-duty Bakersfield police officer and Tehachapi woman.
Bailey Schweitzer of Bakersfield, 20, was among the at least 59 people killed when a gunman opened fire at a country music festival opposite the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, her brother, Dakota Schweitzer, told The Californian. Their father, Scott Schweitzer, owns the Bakersfield Speedway.
Also killed was Jack Beaton of Bakersfield, who was shot while shielding his wife from the gunfire, his son Jake Beaton said on social media.
“Lost my best friend. I love you so much more then you could ever imagine,” he said on Facebook. “Please watch over our family. You will forever be remembered as our hero!”
Another victim of the carnage was Bakersfield Police Department Officer Aaron Mundhenke, who was shot in the hip and taken to a hospital for treatment but was expected to survive. He had surgery Monday morning in Las Vegas and will be in the hospital for a few days, said Sgt. Ryan Kroeker.
He was among at least 10 BPD officers at the concert, Kroeker said. All were accounted for.
As the toll of local residents killed or injured continued to climb Monday, condolences poured in, including from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, who represents many of them in Congress.
“Our community is shaken and deeply saddened by the senseless violence against our innocent neighbors who were attending a country music concert in Las Vegas,” he said in a statement.
"Judy and I are praying for each victim and their families during this tragic time. These horrifying times lead us to God for solace as we try to understand how such inhuman acts can happen.
"As this situation continues to develop, may God bless our country as we all mourn and search for healing.”
'IT WAS PURE MAYHEM'
One of those healing was Rachel Sheppard, a Tehachapi woman who was shot three times, said friend Cliff Suazo, owner of the Doghouse Saloon and Savannah's Old Town Saloon. He was in Las Vegas at a separate hotel at the time of the shooting and spoke with Sheppard's father around 11:30 a.m. Monday.
Sheppard's father said she was shot three times and was on her way to surgery, Suazo said. She was reportedly coherent but confused, and able to move her toes.
Sheppard's father and son were reportedly on their way to Las Vegas to join Sheppard's mother, who was already at her daughter's side.
Suazo said he was at the Harris Hotel at the time of the shooting and forced to evacuate after guests were told there was a bomb threat made on his and other hotels.
"Everything came to a complete stop, and it was pure mayhem," Suazo said.
After leaving his hotel, Suazo said, he saw crowds of running people trying to escape the gunman's fire.
"I've never seen so many scared people in my whole life," Suazo said. "The older people were running, too, and crying. I made sure people got rides to back to their hotels. I couldn't just let them walk out."
Sheppard has worked at Don Perico's for four years, said manager Daisy Guevara.
"I called her best friend, Sarina West, this morning, and she said that Rachel is in critical condition," said Guevara.
Guevara said she would be speaking to the owner later in the afternoon about hosting a fundraiser for Sheppard and her family.
Suazo will also host a fundraising barbecue Saturday around noon at the Doghouse Saloon. He will be accepting donations on behalf of the family, including with tip jars at both his restaurants starting Friday.
"It will be a long time before I go back to Vegas," said Suazo, adding, "I will probably never go back. Words cannot describe the chaos and the horror I saw yesterday."
'IT DOESN'T FEEL REAL'
Also killed was Victor Link, a 55-year-old loan processor who was born and raised in Shafter before moving to Aliso Viejo, his nephew, Vincent Link of Shafter, said.
Link savored life — and he loved music, Vincent said. He and his fiancé, Lynn Gonzales, had spent months traveling up and down the state for one concert or another.
So it was no surprise to Vincent that Link and Gonzales headed to the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas with another couple. They were always living the high life, he said.
But before the concert’s end, Link was shot to death. His friends survived.
“It doesn’t feel real,” said Vincent, who had been watching Link’s Instagram posts all weekend from the concert. “It’s hard to grasp that he’s gone.”
The exact details were still murky, Vincent said. He was unsure where Link was shot, and how many times, and whether he was transported to a hospital or died at the event center. He was unsure whether the others in Link’s party were physically hurt.
Gonzales was treated at the hospital for shock, Vincent said.
“They came back from a two-week trip from Europe a month ago, and they were traveling and living life,” Vincent said. “From that high, to this low — the shock, and what’s next?”
Victor also left behind a 25-year-old son, Christian, whom he adopted.
“He’s that type of person,” Vincent said. “He’s such a welcoming person. The kind of guy who’s going to give a shirt off his back who I could always go to for guidance. I’m going to miss him more than I could imagine in this moment.”
Vincent was watching the news Monday morning with his wife, distraught, tears in their eyes, when their 6-year-old daughter walked in the room. They already knew about Link. She didn’t.
Vincent tried explaining to her why she wouldn’t ever see her young, vibrant uncle again. He told her there was a lot of evil in the world. That sometimes it’s senseless — that even he couldn’t make sense of it right now. That her uncle loved her dearly, but that he “went home to be with the Lord.”
“All we can do is pray for our family and everyone else involved,” Vincent told her. “It’s one of these things you don’t ever want to explain to your children, but when you do, it’s hard to find the right words.”
'THEY'RE JUST IN PAIN'
Two other Kern County women were shot in Las Vegas Sunday.
Romero Hernandez at Gabby’s Restaurant said owner Angelica Soto and her friend Carmen Alegria are OK and about to leave the hospital where they were being treated.
“I know they are getting ready to be released," he said. "They’re just in pain."
‘IT JUST KEPT GOING’
The Route 91 Harvest Music Festival has been an annual event for years for Karla Vanessa Gomez of Bakersfield, who was also there Sunday night but not hurt.
She didn’t think much of the first round of loud popping noises. She thought they were fireworks, part of Jason Aldean's performance, because he said he doesn’t like to talk much during shows.
But then she looked around and didn’t see any fireworks. That’s when Aldean stopped singing and things went silent for just a few seconds before the second round of shots was fired.
“Everybody kept saying, 'Get down,' and everybody got down on the ground,” said Gomez. “We didn’t know where it was coming from. It just kept going.”
Gomez, 38, said everybody around her held onto each other.
“We were all united.”
While she took cover on the floor, she thought it was a terrorist attack.
“To be honest, I was waiting for a bomb to go off just anywhere,” she said. “It was scary.”
Gomez and her friend Norma Jimenez of Los Angeles were trying to get out when she heard people yelling, “We need help here.”
Gomez and a man ran to help a young girl whose face was covered by a jean jacket.
“We saw her lying on the floor in a puddle of blood under her head,” she said.
Both shaking, they uncovered the woman, who appeared to be about 25, checked her pulse and realized she had died.
Gomez and her friend were still stuck in Las Vegas Monday afternoon because their car was at the crime scene.
“I’m still in shock. I’m sad,” Gomez said. “But I am blessed and grateful that I am alive and got out of there safe.”
'JUST SUCH A HORRIFIC OCCURRENCE'
Other locals had been in Las Vegas Sunday but left before the shooting. They were still rattled.
Bakersfield resident Lauren Naworski, along with her family, boyfriend and best friend, was celebrating her parents' 30-year anniversary at the Las Vegas concert.
They had been there all weekend, and planned to come home Monday but decided at the last minute to head home Sunday night instead, just hours before the shooting occurred.
“This whole thing is just so crazy,” said Naworski.
Naworski, 24, said she was staying at the Mandalay Bay in room 25-135, and the shooter was staying just seven floors directly above her.
Throughout the weekend at the festival, Naworski said, she felt safe. Security checked all bags going into the venue and went over everyone with an X-ray wand.
“This made me feel somewhat safer to know everyone at the venue had been checked pretty well,” she said. “It never really crossed my mind that someone from outside of the venue could be a threat.”
“It is just such a horrific occurrence, and I think it will make a lot of people a bit uneasy the next concert or sporting event they attend.”