'It was run or die': Duluth country music fans escape Las Vegas massacre

Jolene Luczak said she didn't understand how the shooting could just keep going and going and going. "Like everyone always says, at first we thought it was fireworks going off at the wrong time of the show, because the music was so loud that the ...

From left: Kelly Braman of Duluth, Bri Hess of Fredenberg Township and Jolene Luczak of Duluth posed for a selfie Sunday night during the Route 91 Harvest Festival just moments before the country music concert became the scene of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. None of them were seriously hurt. Photo courtesy of Jolene Luczak.

Jolene Luczak said she didn’t understand how the shooting could just keep going and going and going.

“Like everyone always says, at first we thought it was fireworks going off at the wrong time of the show, because the music was so loud that the shots sounded muffled,” said Luczak.

Then the music stopped.

“And you could just tell ... it was da-da-da-da-da-da … you could tell it was gunshots. It didn’t stop. And then people starting running.”

Luczak, who lives in Duluth’s Kenwood neighborhood, was one of more than 22,000 people at the Route 91 Harvest Festival country music concert Sunday night on the Las Vegas Strip, an event and location now infamous as the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.


Authorities reported Monday that at least 58 people were killed and more than 500 injured.
Luczak was with several of her Duluth-area friends, attending their third night of the weekendlong festival, when shooting began.

“Jason Aldean was maybe in the middle of his set. We were in about the middle (of the outdoor  venue) a little to the left of the stage, when it started. … It seemed like most of the bullets were hitting up more toward the stage, in front, on the right, that’s where most of the commotion was,” Luczak told the News Tribune in a phone interview from her room at the Flamingo Hotel. “It’s 9 a.m. here. I’ve been awake for 24 hours now. All I do is cry. … I’m still shaking. I can’t believe this happened.”

Some officials estimated the gunman fired almost constantly for 20 minutes, using as many as 18 guns, including at least one fully automatic rifle, raining bullets down onto the concertgoers from a window 32 floors up in the nearby Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

“Twenty minutes seems maybe right. ... Maybe it was longer. … It just went on and on and on. And we had no idea where it was coming from,” Luczak said. “I was thinking, how could he still be shooting? How come security hasn’t gotten to him yet? We assumed it was someone (shooting) on the ground. … We didn’t know which way to run.”

Luczak was separated from all her friends and her cousin attending the show - Kelly Braman of Duluth; Bri Hess and her fiance, Kurt Honer of Fredenberg Township; Kurt’s mom, Ann Honer; and Luczak’s cousin, Dani Van Nispen of California.

Some of them were closer to the stage and on the right, where the bullets seemed to be concentrated, Luczak said.

“I called my dad as I was running but I got his voicemail. I told him I loved him and that I didn’t know what was going on … then I called my sister and she answered and she could hear the shots going off in the background,” Luczak said.

Luczak said she at first tried to move toward the main entrance at the back but that there were too many people in the way. She followed a crowd that pushed over security fencing on the side away from the gunman, allowing many people to escape.


“We had nowhere to go. There was nowhere to hide. There weren't enough exits,” she said. “It was run or die, basically.”

Luczak said people were panicked, screaming and running, and she saw many places where blood was on the sidewalks, parking lots and streets. While she doesn’t think she saw anyone actually fall from being shot, Luczak said that despite the screams of 30,000 people and sirens in the distance, she could hear the gunshots continually as she ran, even blocks away.

“It was hard to tell if people were ducking or falling or being shot,” she said.

By chance she ran into Kelly Braman who had lost a shoe while running.

“We held hands and started running. We ran all the way back to the Flamingo where we’re staying. … It was 1.6 miles,”  Luczak said. “Kelly got some broken glass in her foot and it was bleeding … but she said there was no way she was going to the hospital with such a minor” wound.

Luczak eventually received a text from Kurt Honer saying the others from Duluth also were safe. Honer was barricaded in a Hooter’s nightclub near the concert, surrounded by SWAT team police officers, for five hours, until authorities determined the gunman had killed himself and the threat was over.

Luczak, 32, a radiology technician for Essentia Health Systems, had been in Las Vegas since Wednesday. She's scheduled to fly home Tuesday night.

“Some of my friends here said they couldn't stay, that they were going to rent a car and get out of here as soon as they could. But I’m going to wait for my flight,” said Luczak, who added that she can’t stop watching news reports on the massacre.


“At first last night they said two dead and I thought, with all those hundreds of bullets, no way. … Now they are saying 58 dead and 515 wounded. That seems more realistic,” she said.

The three-day concert “had been a blast” she said, on par with WE Fest and Country Jam which she has attended often with some of the same friends.

“I’m a music lover. It was a great concert. It was the last night. Everyone was in a good mood. ... County fans are such happy people. You know, cowboy boots and yee-ha,” Luczak said before another bout of crying. “And then this psycho with all these guns does this to innocent people.”

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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