Correctional Officer Craig Lee responded to the Las Vegas shooting by running into the gunfire to help victims. The October 1, 2017, Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting left 60 dead and 411 wounded from gunfire.
The three-day festival was meant to be an epic weekend for the Valley State Prison correctional officer and his friends.
“It’s one of the best weekends I’ve ever had,” said Lee, who started his CDCR career as an officer at California Correctional Institution in 1994.
Didn’t realize it was gunfire
On the last night of the concert, everything changed.
“We initially heard what we thought were fireworks. I was sitting in the VIP section. Right behind us was Las Vegas Boulevard,” he said.
He recalls looking around for the fireworks but didn’t see any.
“Then a second round (of shots) came out and everyone asked if it was fireworks or gunfire. Then Jason Aldean started singing again,” he said.
When they heard gunfire for the third time, he knew something was wrong.
“I told everyone to get down,” he said. “I saw the pit area try to clear out. They were running out of there.”
Blood and bodies left in wake of shooting
As the concertgoers fled, what remained was a field of blood and bodies.
“When most of them were gone, all you could see were bodies lying out there. I told some friends to get everyone underneath the bleachers,” he said, assuming the metal bleachers would provide cover. “I told my buddy Vince that I was going out because guy was doing CPR and I wanted to help him.”
Vince La Novara protected his wife, Michelle, while he watched his longtime friend run into the open area.
“There was still gunfire going off and I had no idea where the bullets were going,” Lee recalls.
He managed to reach the man doing CPR but was told to go help others.
“The guy said he had it and didn’t need help so I went to the second person. He was still alive, shot in the side,” Lee said. “Two more people ran out to help me. We started doing basic first aid and talked to the guy.”
Pulling victims to safety
The open area had turned into a sort of kill zone and they knew they needed to get the victim to safety.
“We were trying to get him to a safe area while gunfire was going off,” he said.
He and his other helpers managed to get the victim to an area not so exposed. A man ran up to them and said he was a doctor.
Much like others at the scene, Lee was concerned about the possibility of a second shooter.
“It sounded like another shooter, not just one,” he said.
Leaving the victim in the doctor’s care, Lee ran back into the open area to help others.
Back into the open to help others
“I checked eight bodies, looking for vitals, and some I didn’t even check vitals on because you could tell they were gone,” he said. “There was a guy in a sound check area near the stage. He was injured but that guy refused to move, saying he thought he was safer where he was.”
He spotted another man trying to make it to the bleachers with a woman.
“This all happened (shortly) after the gunfire started,” he said. “I was trying to get the second guy I was with to a safer area. We moved him to a safer location, farther from the stage. I must have moved four of five people out of the area.”
Each time, Officer Lee ran back into the open area.
“Then my buddy Vince and I hooked up again,” he said. “We were carrying people who were breathing.”
They returned to the victim at the sound check area near the stage.
“The guy was no longer breathing. He was gone,” he said.
Lee’s buddy, La Novara, told a Fresno news station they helped those they could and had to leave behind those they couldn’t.
“(We) found the one young lady, I believe it was her sister that was hunched over her screaming, ‘She’s all I got, she’s all I got,’” said La Novara.\
Helping others for over 40 minutes
Officer Lee stayed on the scene for more than 40 minutes, helping others. He doesn’t take credit for helping so many. He insists civilians stepped up and did what needed to be done to help those injured in the shooting, calling them “people with great hearts.”
“You’ve heard of the Good Samaritan? Well, this was a Samaritan response to help get people moving, to get them out of there. The last guy we brought out, we had to put him in a cop car,” Lee said.
He doesn’t consider himself a hero.
“I just ran out there to help people. It’s something that clicked in me,” Officer Lee recalls. “I knew I needed to help that guy doing CPR even with the gunfire and bullets. It was an experience I don’t ever want to go through again.”
By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor