‘I Just Grabbed Chelsea’s Hand and Ran’: Dawn Conlon of West Hartford after Shooting at Route 91 Concert in Las Vegas

Dawn Conlon (right) of West Hartford and Chelsea Lamson of Windsor Locks at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, about 30 minutes before a shooter opened fire. Photo courtesy of Dawn Conlon

Dawn Conlon of West Hartford, who with a few others was celebrating a friend’s 50th birthday in Las Vegas, shares her story of being at the Route 91 Harvest Festival when the shooting began Sunday night.

By Ronni Newton

Dawn Conlon of West Hartford said Monday that on Sunday evening, as she and Chelsea Lamson were standing outside at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, she had been thinking of what a fabulous time she had been having with her three friends, how nice the weather was, how beautiful it was there.

At 10:08 p.m., Conlon recounted Monday morning, “We first heard shots like ‘pop, pop, pop.'” Jason Aldean was about three songs into his set she said, and her first thought was that it was fireworks, some type of pyrotechnics that were part of the show.

She and Lamson looked up at the stage, saw Aldean turn. “The next thing we know, he’s gone. I just grabbed Chelsea’s hand and ran,” Conlon said Monday from her room at a resort in Las Vegas where she is trying to catch her breath and make sense of what she just experienced.

Conlon was at the Route 91 Harvest Festival concert Sunday night with Lamson, a Windsor Locks resident. The two, along with Mary Anne Gagliardi, were in Las Vegas celebrating the 50th birthday of Mary Anderson, a Middlefield resident and fellow Department of Transportation employee. Although all four women had been attending the three-day festival, only Conlon and Lamson were there Sunday night because Anderson wasn’t feeling well, Conlon said, and Gagliardi stayed with her.

They were standing fairly close to the stage, to the right of where Aldean was performing. Lamson said the other two nights they had been standing on the left side of the stage, but wanted a different perspective. They were standing on some artificial grass which was a softer surface than the pavement which was between them and the stage. The photo of the two women that Conlon shared was not zoomed in, Lamson said.

“Everybody had been drinking, having a great time,” said Conlon. “It couldn’t have been a better weekend.”

“It was very loud, like fireworks,” Lamson said about the shots that rang out.

The two women are both runners who have been preparing for the Hartford Marathon Relay. Their training kicked in as they ran Sunday night, seeking some type of shelter.

“When you’re in that moment you don’t realize what’s happening,” Conlon said. They would hear shots and people would yell and everyone would drop to the ground. Then the shots would stop and they would run again.

“I just took Chelsea’s hand and we ran to the bleachers, plowed right through to the concession stand. We saw so many people trampled,” Conlon said. They were able to help a few get up.

Conlon and Lamson saw a back door open at the Tropicana, a South Beach-themed casino resort on the strip that was the closest building they could find to seek shelter. Conlon said they still had no idea what had happened, how many shooters there might be. She said that because the shots came from two different angles of the Mandalay Bay Resort, many thought there were multiple gunmen.

Inside the door of the Tropicana there was a man who had been shot, Conlon said. “We saw a gentleman lying there. Two women were helping him and trying to be calm,” she said.

Conlon said she and Lamson shoved their way into an elevator, knowing it was over the weight limit.

“By the grace of God there was a police officer in there,” Conlon said.

The officer, who was from California, told the people in the elevator that if they had nowhere to go they could come to his room to take cover. With many others, Conlon said she and Lamson took cover in the officer’s room where he immediately pulled down the shades and kept everything as dark as possible.

They turned on the TV intermittently to try to watch the news, but wanted to keep the room as dark as they could. Another police officer who was in the room had a scanner, and kept abreast of the situation, Conlon said.

All of the casinos in the area had been put into lockdown.

“I couldn’t talk, I kind of was emotional,” said Conlon. She had lost her glasses and she couldn’t see very well either. Lamson did most of the communicating with family and friends but Conlon said she spoke to her husband, Terry, who had been asleep back in West Hartford. Because it was after 1 a.m. Eastern time when the shooting started, many people on the East Coast had no idea anything happened until the next morning.

They stayed in the room at the Tropicana for several hours, Conlon said, before they went down to the lobby. Everyone was strip-searched, she said, and kept waiting in the hallway, still in lockdown, while the casino was also thoroughly searched.

Some people who had sought shelter at the Tropicana had lost their shoes, Conlon said. Some of the men had taken off their shirts during the concert because it was such a hot day. The Tropicana gave them sheets and towels as well as water.

At about 4 a.m. they were released, and walked out onto the strip where the scene remained surreal –  people just walking the streets until they could find a cab or a place to go. By then she and Lamson had learned that Stephen Paddock was the shooter, and police had located his girlfriend.

Many of the people who had been at the concert had driven in from California, Conlon said, and eventually were able to get their cars and drive home.

Conlon said she and Lamson had been staying at a timeshare in the Tahiti Suites, about two miles away. Their two friends, however, were staying at the Excalibur. “We were trying to get in touch with our other girlfriends, to get to our other girlfriends at the Excalibur,” Conlon said.

They spoke to them by phone, but the Excalibur was still in lockdown mode and they couldn’t go there. Conlon said there was rumor of a bomb in front of the Luxor, the resort adjacent to Mandalay Bay which is right next door to the Excalibur.

At about 5 a.m., Conlon said that she and Lamson finally returned to the Tahiti Suites.

Conlon said that when she arrived at the concert, she never thought to look for the exits, for an escape route. “To be honest, when it started I just looked up and thought it was so beautiful,” she said.

“When [I heard gunfire], I grabbed Chelsea’s hand. I’m a fellow runner. I just dragged her and said we had to get out of here,” Conlon said. “As soon as it started I just knew we had to get away.”

Anderson and Gagliardi left Las Vegas Monday morning, on their originally-scheduled flight back to Bradley Airport. They were home Monday afternoon.

Conlon said she and Lamson had planned to stay another day and will return on Tuesday as scheduled.

Conlon had an extra pair of glasses in her suitcase so she can see again. They planned to spend Monday afternoon chilling out, breathing deeply, and sitting by the pool, thankful that they escaped safely.

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