(CNN)It was the eeriest of timing. The intro guitar riff had ended and country singer Jason Aldean had just stepped to the mic to belt out the first verse of his hit, “When She Says Baby.”
At the same time, the rat-tat-tat of automatic gunfire filled the air.
For a few seconds, no one seemed to react. His guitar strapped around his neck, Aldean sang the next line of the song — about a woman helping him through bad days — as dozens of gunshots, maybe as many as 50, peppered the crowd.
It wasn’t until the third line — “Some days I’d rather be a no show” — that Aldean realized something frightening was happening. He stopped singing and darted to the back of the stage. The singer, his wife, his band and crew eventually fled to safety.
The crowd, some 22,000 people, gasped and looked around, confused but not yet in a state of full-blown panic. That would come shortly.
Thirty-two floors above them, behind the gilded windows of the Mandalay Bay hotel across the Las Vegas Strip, a 64-year-old man — later identified as Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada — was raining down bullets. By the time Paddock was dead, it was the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.
From concern to chaos
Taylor Benge, 21, said he was with his sister, who threw herself on top of him, telling him, “‘I love you, Taylor. I love you.’ And I’ll never forget that,” he said.
After they realized the bullets were coming from the direction of the Mandalay Bay, the two made their escape, but there were many obstacles, Benge said.
“Even hurdling over everything and getting over the fences and whatnot, it almost felt like we were getting closed in because no matter which direction you went in, no matter where you took cover, there was at least two to three bodies that were a part of it and you didn’t know where you were safe,” he said.
Corinne Lomas was one of those near the stage. She had blood on her legs from the bodies of injured people around her.
“People had to fall on top of each other, whether they were alive or not,” she said. “I could see a guy with a bullet wound in his neck. … People started dropping like flies.”
Monique Dumas, who attended the show with her sister, said people in yellow shirts told the crowd, “Go! Go! Go! Go!” Before she fled, she saw someone on stage had been injured.
“The band was rushed off the stage, the floodlights came on the crowd and you see on the right hand of the stage the person who was injured. So they’re calling for medics, calling for security, then there was gunfire again,” Dumas said. “The gunfire never ended, it seemed like it went on and on and on.”
First responders arrived, led by law enforcement carrying long rifles and wearing combat helmets. Many police officers took cover behind squad cars as they assessed the situation.
Amid the trampled grass littered with plastic beer cups and water bottles, concertgoers in cowboy hats huddled together, looking for a place to hide. Others peered out from behind stanchions as mayhem spilled onto the Strip and into nearby hotels.
Mad rush to safety
Videos from the scene show people performing first aid on a sidewalk, women weeping on the curb, shirtless men in blue jeans helping people to safety and a man being ferried away in a wheelchair.
In one image, frantic concertgoers carry a wounded woman by her ankles and elbows into the Tropicana Hotel, one of the many nearby hotels where frightened people sought refuge.
Red crowd-control fences around the venue were toppled as concertgoers fled. Some people repurposed them as gurneys, using them to carrying the injured to safety.
One witness told CNN affiliate KLAS there was more bedlam in the parking lot as scared concertgoers — many separated from the rest of their parties — hid beneath and behind cars.
“My husband and I ran out toward our car, and there were people hiding underneath my car for cover,” said the woman, who didn’t give her name. “And there was a gentleman who was shot and he said, ‘Can you help me?’ And so I put him in my car and I had like six people in my car, people without shoes, running, just to get away.”
Bullets were “whizzing and just bouncing off the ground nearby,” said photographer Brendon O’Neal, who was on the stage when the shooting began but quickly made his way to the parking lot, where he hid behind a police car.
“It felt like minutes that these heavy machine guns were just going on and wouldn’t stop,” he said. (It’s not clear if Paddock was using machine guns; authorities have described guns found in his room as rifles.)
‘Like shooting fish in a barrel’
Judging from the descriptions and audio from the scene, CNN law enforcement analyst James Gagliano said he suspects Paddock was using a “military-style weapon” with bullets being fed into the gun via a large drum or belt.
That, combined with Paddock’s elevated vantage point, maximized casualties, he said. As of midday Monday, at least 58 people had been killed and more than 500 injured.
“He just had to point at the center (of the crowd) … and squeeze the trigger,” Gagliano said. “To use the analogy, it was like shooting fish in a barrel in that space.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of country singer Jake Owen.
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