Concert survivor: ‘It felt like there was going to be a bullet in our back any minute’

Teri Guerra and a friend were enjoying Jason Aldean’s country sound when it was interrupted by a steady stream of “popping.”

Like many attending the Route 91 Festival on the Las Vegas Strip, the Fort Worth woman assumed the noise was fireworks.

“It sounded like firecrackers and I turned to my friend and said, ‘Is that firecrackers,’ and he said it was,” Guerra said.

Then Aldean scurried off stage, prompting Guerra and her friend to do the same.

“We turned around to kinda make our way out of the concert area ... and a guy ran into the friend that I was with and my friend said calm down,” Guerra “The guy told him, ‘I’m not going to calm down — my friend just got his face blown off.’ 

Guerra described the fear and chaos while waiting on her luggage at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, a day after gunman Stephen Craig Paddock unleashed a stream of gunfire on concertgoers, killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 500 in attendance.

“At that point hit it as hard as we could to get out of there,” Guerra said. “My inclination was to hide behind things ... and just to get down down and not expose myself.

“We were running away from the sounds of where the bullets were coming from,” Guerra said. “And it just felt to me like someone was chasing and it felt like there was going to be a bullet in our back any minute.”

She said they kept running before finding safety in a patio area in a hotel or apartment complex.

‘You could see the flashes’

For Joe and Heather Illiando of Frisco, seeing Aldean in concert was going to be the perfect end to a fun weekend with family and friends.

“We were listening, dancing,” Illiando said. “We were all having a great time. It was a great night. A great couple of days. And then we heard the popping. Everyone was looking around.”

While most of the group didn’t believe anything was wrong, Illiando was sure the sound was gunshots. Then something caught his eye and he immediately moved to protect his wife, Heather, and his sister.

“You could see the flashes from the Mandalay,” Illiando said. “Then the video monitors went out. That’s when I grabbed and tackled her and my sister and tried to cover them up. I tried to get them as far away as we could. We were pinned down behind a couple of beer vendors.”

Then they found a woman who had been shot twice in her shoulders and tried to comfort her.

“It was crazy,” Illiano said. “It was scary.”

They eventually made into a guest room at the Desert Rose Resort, where a couple let 20 people take shelter. They were there until morning.

“There were some who didn’t make it out there,” Illiando said. “It was a pretty gory scene in the street right there behind the venue.”

His wife, Heather, was still traumatized when they arrived back at DFW Airport.

“I’m still shaky,” Heather Illiando said. “It seemed like hours. It just seemed like it never stopped.”

‘We were very fortunate’

Another DFW couple had spent three days at the country music festival but decided to skip Aldean — a decision that may have saved their lives.

“We had seen him before and we had a 4 a.m. flight, so we headed back to our hotel,” Fred Petrivelli said after he and his wife arrived at DFW Airport on Monday morning.

After getting back to the hotel late Sunday, they found out about the shooting.

“It started four songs in,” Fred Petrivelli said. “We stayed up all night watching the news.”

Most of those arriving on American Airlines Flight 1146 avoided talking to the media and appeared unscathed by the events from the night before, but one woman waiting for her luggage quietly cried and politely waved off reporters.

The Petrivellis, who live in the Lantana community near Argyle, said the music and atmosphere were great at the festival.

“It was clean. There was plenty of security. You felt really safe,” said Sherry Petrivelli.

While the Petrievellis did not know anyone who was shot, they had met friends from California on the trip. Their friends’ 20-year-old daughter was on the front row when shots rang out.

“Two people next to her were shot,” Fred Petrivelli said. “She took off and ran.”

She was able to escape unharmed and find her mother.

The Petrivellis talked about whether they would rethink attending concerts or events with large crowds, but not now.

“Thank goodness we left when we did,” Sherry Petrivelli said. “We were very fortunate.”

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram