Hallie Johnsrud, her husband and their four friends went to Las Vegas last week for the Route 91 Harvest country music festival.

"I'm a big Sam Hunt fan," said Johnsrud, a Watford City native.

They checked into the Mandalay Bay on Thursday. Most of the group attended the entire three-day concert, but on Sunday just four of them bought VIP wristbands, which allowed them to stand on a balcony suspended several feet above the crowd and to the left of the main stage.

On Sunday, they witnessed a mass shooting at the festival that left 59 dead and more than 500 wounded.

Johnsrud, while sitting with her friends — who all managed to escaped unscathed — in the McCarran International Airport Monday afternoon, said she's struggling to comprehend the harrowing moments after automatic gunfire rang out.

"I’m still in shock," she said. "I didn’t think I was going to see my friends or family again."

The four of them — Hallie and Kris Johnsrud, Kayla Koch and her boyfriend Brett Wold, all from Watford City — bought wristbands and stood above the House of Blues bar, located at the site of the concert, the Las Vegas Village and Festival Grounds.

They were singing and dancing as Jason Aldean took the stage. Then they heard a "pop, pop, pop, pop, pop," which they thought perhaps were fireworks, but didn't see anything. Then another round of gunfire erupted.

They all dropped to their stomachs on the balcony. A security officer told them to stay put, but Johnsrud said all she could think about were her 2-year-old and 3-month-old back home.

“My thought was, I can’t sit up here; you’re a sitting duck," she said.

So, she grabbed her husband's hand and they ran down the staircase and behind the bar. They heard bullets whizzing past them and hitting the metal structure on which they had been standing.

She said she saw people, bloody, trampling over fences, barricades and each other. People were getting shot left and right from ricocheting bullets.

“There were people falling all around us," she said.

They left their cover behind the building and ran "as fast as we could and we went until we felt like we were going to puke and couldn’t breathe," she said.

The shots were continuous, and they resumed running. She and her husband became separated from the other couple, Koch and Wold, with whom they had attended the concert.

They made it the Tropicana hotel, where someone opened a service door at the back entrance.

Johnsrud and her husband wandered around until they got into an elevator with older people from Orange County, Calif., who allowed them to stay in their seventh floor hotel room.

"We were there with about nine strangers until about 3-3:30 a.m.; everyone on the floor with the doors locked and the lights off, watching TV," she said.

From the safety of the hotel, thoughts swarmed their heads: How were they so lucky as to get out alive? How was it that the man police identified as the gunman had been staying in the same hotel as them, just several floors above? They spent the night watching the news while helicopters whirred and sirens blared outside.

The other couple made it to Hooters Casino Hotel, where they stayed in a freezer until some kind strangers admitted them into their hotel room. It was more than an hour after the shooting when the friends were able to hear back from one another.

At about 9 a.m., they were allowed to retrieve their belongings from Mandalay Bay. When they emerged from the hotel room at the Tropicana, Johnsrud said she saw  armored soldiers with machine guns and dogs, and people lying with blankets all over the casino floor.

“It looked like a war had just happened," she said.

They managed to get a taxi on Monday, and they all headed to the airport to await their afternoon flight. Johnsrud said they're "incredibly blessed and grateful" to have made it out alive.

Asked if she or any of her other friends were injured, she replied: “Physically, no. Mentally and emotionally, I don’t know,” she said, adding she couldn't wait to return home Monday night and hug her kids.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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