CHULA VISTA, Calif. – A Chula Vista police officer was grazed by a bullet Sunday when 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vagas.
Officer Fred Rowbotham was attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas with his wife, Katie, to celebrate his 45th birthday.
Katie’s best friend and her husband, a Kern County firefighter, were with the couple about 100 feet from the stage when the first round of bullets were fired.
“I immediately recognized the sound, but in my mind, I was trying to explain it away. I looked at the stage for pyrotechnics, which may explain away the sounds. I didn’t see anything. I looked at the nearby speaker tower, thinking perhaps there was a problem there,” Rowbotham described. “The sounds stopped and I thought that perhaps it was an electrical problem, but then the sound of fully automatic rifle fire started again and we knew immediately what it was.”
The men grabbed their wives and yelled, “We need to go!”
The venue was a wide open area with no place to take cover and many people seemed unsure of what to do, Rowbotham said.
He had already identified the exits and knew which way to run. He noticed many attendees were huddled on the ground and only half were running. As Rowbotham's group ran towards the exit, he said they could feel things hitting them on the back side. He believes it may have been the asphalt pavement chipping as bullets hit the ground.
They also heard bullets flying by them. It seemed the first round of bullets were targeted closer to the stage where most of the crowd was, he said. The second round seemed to be targeted toward the people were who were fleeing.
Rowbotham’s wife, Katie, fell. But he held onto her and insisted they keep moving towards the exit. That’s when he felt a bullet graze his left hip.
Although he was bleeding, they kept running toward the McCarran International Airport. About 100 people started following them and Rowbotham said he kept telling people to keep moving.
The group walked until they reached a large security fence at the airport perimeter. Many in the group were falling down from exhaustion but wouldn’t stop until they felt they were a safe distance away.
Someone in the group kicked in a door and the group emerged onto the runway. They kept going until they came upon three Las Vegas Police Department vehicles approaching them. The officers waved for them to continue moving across the airport tarmac.
The group stayed there for several hours, following social media and receiving updates from friends.
Eventually, airport buses came and took the group to the airport terminal. The Rowbothams rented a car and took others with them to a friend’s house in Las Vegas. This was the first opportunity for Officer Rowbotham to tend to his wound.
“As much as I try, I’ll never forget this birthday,” said Rowbotham. “The sound of automatic rifle fire, even in this line of work as a police officer, is very rare. The sound of hearing bullets whizzing by is something you never want to hear.”
Fifty-eight people died and more than 500 others were injured Sunday at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival.
Rowbotham says if you are ever in a similar situation, “Run, hide, fight.”