Alumna was there for deadliest massacre in modern US history
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Aside from the 58 people killed by Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, 546 were injured.
One of them was Philip Aurich, the boyfriend of Alyson Opper, ’07.
Along with about 10 friends, Opper and Aurich attended the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival on Oct. 1 and were caught in what would become the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Opper said that their group, which suffered three injuries, was probably in one of the worst areas of all.
That was the right side of the stage closest to Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, where Paddock carried out the massacre from his 32nd floor corner suite room.
Around 10 p.m., soon after country music singer Jason Aldean took the stage, Opper said she heard what she initially thought was a problem with the speakers because of its digital sound.
“In a lot of reports people said they thought the first noises were firecrackers,” Opper said. “But when the girl in front of us heard it, she jumped up and held her ears and said, ‘I thought that was a gun.’
“And in that same moment, a group of people 10 feet in front of us fell to the ground.”
That’s when Opper and her group of friends turned to run.
As they began running, one friend said, “I’ve been shot; they hit me.”
Opper said she turned around to see him holding his arm but told him that he had to keep going.
“Every time you hear a shot, your initial reaction is to hit the ground and lie as flat as possible since you think the person is coming by foot,” Opper said.
The second or third time the group hit the ground was when Aurich said he had been shot.
But at first Opper didn’t believe him.
“He was holding his side, but I didn’t think he had actually been shot,” Opper said. “We all had blood on us at this point, which was other people’s.
“And I didn’t see blood where Phil was holding himself.
“I expected a bullet wound to just be explosive. So I thought the pain came from someone kneeing him in the back, as someone had just done that to me.”
The group kept pushing Aurich to keep going, but as they neared the end of the festival ground, they became more and more scattered.
“We kind of lost everyone along the way,” Opper said. “The friend who got hit was along us for the longest time until he took a different turn.”
When Aurich and Opper finally got off the festival grounds, she could tell there was something wrong with him.
“He was gasping and could barely catch his breath,” she said.
But even so they kept going.
Aurich and Opper turned down a side street and kept running until they entered a building.
“We thought we still were being chased since the gunfire hadn’t stopped,” Opper said.
When they entered the building, Aurich ripped off his flannel shirt, and blood poured out of his side.
“The adrenaline kicked in,” she said. “I don’t remember thinking about the future at that point. I was thinking about how I can get Phil out and to a hospital.”
Opper said she realized she couldn’t see the blood when he first said he had been hit because he was wearing a compression shirt, which was partly blocking the flow.
She then held the flannel down on Aurich’s side as he lay on a futon in the lobby.
A woman who said she was a nurse walked over and offered to hold the flannel down so Opper could call 911, she said.
But she had to use Aurich’s phone since she had dropped her own. And then her calls weren’t going through.
And a call she made to her father wasn’t picked up either.
Opper said she then looked outside and saw a police officer parked in the middle of the street with people running past him.
She tried to go through the building’s front doors to get help from the officer, but the people inside wouldn’t let her out. They had already blocked the front door, turned the lights off and were hiding behind objects as they too thought the shooter was on foot.
So her only way out was through the back door, she said.
Opper wedged something in the door to keep it open, ran to the policeman to tell him that she had someone who was shot, and then returned to the building.
She pulled Aurich up, and she, along with the support of a man Opper said she thinks is ex-military, brought him to the police car.
But she wasn’t the first person with this idea.
“Ten people were circling this same car because they also were injured,” she said.
Opper said that she could see three ambulances farther down the road, which a policeman had blocked to secure the perimeter.
The next step was getting to one them, which they did with the help of the ex-military man.
“Phil would lean on him and me, and throughout it, the man told Phil he had to keep going so that we could get to the ambulance,” Opper said.
But when they finally got there, the ambulances had driven off.
“We definitely were feeling helpless at this point,” Opper said. “We were in the middle of nowhere with one police car in front of us.
“We looked and felt stranded.”
But then the policeman barricading the road decided to leave his post and load Aurich, along with another man with a chest wound, into his car and leave, Opper said.
“The cop said, ‘Screw it! Get in my car,’” she said.
So she got into the front seat and another woman sat on her lap. And then they were off to the University Medical Center hospital.
Opper now knows that the police officer who left his post saved her boyfriend’s life.
“The doctor said Phil ultimately would have bled out if he didn’t get to the hospital in the time that he did,” she said.
Opper and Aurich were separated immediately when they arrived.
“They put (relatives and friends of other people) into a back room almost like a parking garage,” Opper said.
She then got a call on Aurich’s phone from a nurse, who said he was going into surgery.
“But before I could get an answer of how bad his injury was or for what he was going into surgery, she hung up,” Opper said.
When Opper was finally let into the hospital, she sat in a waiting room with a TV, where news outlets named the shooter and described what had happened.
Aurich was in surgery by 11:07 p.m., but Opper wasn’t able to track him down until three hours later and couldn’t see him until about 3 a.m.
That was after his first surgery. And he would need another one within 24 hours.
A bullet had gone through Aurich’s side, and inside it broke two ribs, doctors later told Opper.
The bullet ended up in his lung, collapsing it, she said.
“It’s about a centimeter from his heart, so (doctors) will leave it there indefinitely,” Opper said.
Parts of the ribs ended up in Aurich’s spleen and colon, so the first surgery was supposed to repair the lung and the colon and remove his spleen. But the doctors couldn’t finish the colon surgery that evening, so he needed the second surgery.
Aurich remained in the hospital until Oct. 16, over two weeks after the shooting.
But Opper didn’t see the full extent of the massacre on news outlets until several hours after it actually happened.
“It was after that first day that I stopped watching stuff (like that) because (the shooting) was becoming every moment of my life,” Opper said.
“I wanted to focus on Phil getting better and my family.”
Opper told her father about the shooting and Aurich’s gunshot wound as she was walking to one of the police cars, when he called her back.
“I told him that Phil got shot and that I was trying to get him to an ambulance,” Opper said. “He asked if there was still shooting, and I said, ‘I don’t know.’
“I may have hung up (on him); I don’t remember.”
Opper finally filled her father in on everything when she got to the hospital.
“There was a half-hour gap when my dad didn’t even know if I was alive,” she said.
Her father flew from Sacramento the next morning, and her sister flew from Los Angeles.
Now Aurich’s road to recovery is long, Opper said.
Nurses come each day, and he participates in therapies to help him breathe and walk.
And he’s expected to make a full recovery.
“Over the next couple months we are hoping he gets his strength and puts on the weight he lost while in the hospital,” Opper said.
The optimism Opper has for Aurich’s injuries is also evident in Las Vegas, according to Opper.
“I haven’t been to the Strip yet, but I’ve heard from colleagues and friends that there definitely is an eerie sense over by Mandalay Bay,” Opper said. “But everywhere else there is an uplifting feel to it.
“People ask, ‘Were you there? Did you know anyone there?’ because they’re genuinely concerned for everyone’s well-being.”
And Opper can tell them that her two friends and her boyfriend are all recovering.
Opper says that the shooting has also brought everyone together.
“On the first night people brought cell-phone chargers to the hospital, and someone brought me a change of clothes,” she said.
People were also asking if others needed money, she said.
The flights for Aurich’s family members, who live in Minnesota, were also taken care of, Opper said.
“While there’s a definite sadness around, I think it’s covered up by a sense of community,” Opper said.
“The one thing that Vegas has always struggled with as such a transient town is that there isn’t a sense of community, and sometimes you forget that people live here.
“Right now you’re seeing the community side of Vegas, which is a first in a long time.”
Companies and venues are focusing on attracting locals and making sure they feel safe, Opper said.
“They’re informing us of additional and continued security they’re going to be taking on the Strip,” she said.
And one of those is figuring out how to secure tall buildings.
Opper, who is a private event planner for the T-Mobile Arena on the Strip, said the shooting wouldn’t have happened in an arena setting.
“Unfortunately a man found a hole in the system by finding an opening in a tall building facing an open ground,” Opper said.
“It’s something new they’re going to have to check, and not only in Las Vegas. There are many cities that have festival grounds with tall buildings (nearby) – like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.”