BY GABE LICHT
LAS VEGAS, NV Sunday evening seemed like a typical night in Las Vegas to Mike and Ashley Maharas, of Delano.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 4 in the afternoon or 4 in the morning, the Vegas strip has thousands of people on it at all times,” Mike said.
That all started to change shortly after 10 p.m., when a gunman began firing from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino into a crowd of 22,000 people attending a concert below, resulting in 58 deaths and injuries to more than 500.
Though the Maharases weren’t near Mandalay Bay, they witnessed shock and awe reverberating throughout the strip.
They first learned of the shooting at about 10:45 p.m., while eating supper at In-N-Out Burger south of the Mirage, where they were staying.
“Right after we saw it on the TV, there was an officer that ran up to us and said to evacuate the strip and go back to our rooms,” Ashley said. “There was an active shooter. We heard there were multiple shooters. We heard all sorts of rumors everywhere.”
Ashley added that she was thankful they were close to their hotel, as hotels were only allowing registered guests to enter.
“If we would have been at the other end of the strip, it would have been scary,” Ashley said.
They made it back to the Mirage and noted that security was at full force, requiring guests to show their key cards to gain access to the resort.
“Once we got inside, less than 30 seconds later, there was a commotion at the Mirage,” Mike said. “We heard a rush of people running and stampeding. Ash looked at me and said, ‘Run.’”
The two ran to a group of elevators and entered the first one that opened.
Mike estimated that at least 40 people tried to cram into the elevator, delaying its departure.
Eventually, the door shut, and the elevator took Mike and Ashley to the 21st floor, where their room was located.
“After that point, we didn’t have much to do other than pray and cross our fingers,” Mike said.
They watched the news and looked down at the strip below their hotel room.
“As we watched, the whole strip emptied,” Ashley said. “It went from having no space open to no cars and no people, just cop cars and ambulances.”
When the two turned off the news to go to bed, it was believed that two were dead and 50 were injured. They woke up less than three hours later and learned the casualties were much higher.
“We woke up to my mom calling and asking if we were OK,” Ashley said. “The number was 50 dead and 400 injured.”
As they went to breakfast, they noted the atmosphere had changed drastically.
“It was like all the oxygen got sucked out of Vegas,” Mike said. “People were really on high alert.”
“Everyone was tired, not like they had been up all night partying, but like they had been up all night crying,” Ashley added.
The immediate transformation of Las Vegas was unsettling.
“I’ve been to Vegas seven times,” Mike said. “There’s never been an experience like this, where you see it turn from a jolly city to an empty city.”
Mike and Ashley took an Uber ride from the hotel to the airport and met their driver, who had been impacted by the shooting.
“Our Uber driver said he was a body guard, and he was supposed to be at that event working,” Ashley said. “He chose not to work that night for whatever reason. Several of his friends were working. Two of them, he had not heard from.”
“That was the common thread,” Mike added. “There was so much uncertainty and so much fear clouded over the hours that we experienced there after the massacre. It felt unbelievable like, ‘There’s no way this is happening.’”
Though the airport was closed for a period of time, it reopened on time for the Maharases to fly out on time.
Mike said even the vibe on the airplane was different.
“You could hear a pin drop,” Mike said.
As the plane took off, Mike and Ashley could see the Mandalay Bay, including the windows the gunman had broken before firing on those below.
After flying back to Minnesota and driving to Delano, the couple was happy to be home.
“Minneapolis had dark, cloudy, fall weather and it was a long ride from MSP to Delano. I was happy for all of it,” Mike said. “One of the first things we did was wrap the kids up in a long embrace.”
They were appreciative of everyone who asked if they were safe.
“We’ve had such great support from family and friends who reached out to make sure we were OK,” Mike said.
Despite the shooting, the couple still has an affinity for the city of Las Vegas.
Mike and Ashley had gotten married at the Mirage and had returned to celebrate their Sept. 28 anniversary and Mike’s Sept. 29 birthday.
They plan to return.
“We’ll go back,” Mike said. “Las Vegas has a very special place in our family. It’s where our marriage began. It was one of the first trips we took as a couple. I have strong feelings about it. Now, more than ever, the patrons need to support that city.”