Ordinary men, tragedy’s heroes

Garrett Holcombe, left, and Jesse Heyer talk after meeting for the first time after assisting people at the Las Vegas shooting together at The Santa Clarita Valley Signal's offices in Canyon Country on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal
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Before the shooting began, and people who were shot began dropping around them, Garrett Holcombe and Jesse Heyer of Santa Clarita had never met.

Each saw the other as just another person helping victims killed or wounded during what is now the deadliest single day mass shooting in U.S. history, according to the Washington Post chronology of mass killings.

As the shooting continued and bullets hit those beside them on Oct. 1, Holcombe and Heyer worked shoulder to shoulder, each of them pulling victims off the ground at the Route 91 Harvest Music Country Festival in Las Vegas.

Jesse Heyer talks about his experience assisting others during the Las Vegas shooting at The Santa Clarita Valley Signal offices in Canyon Country on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. “He didn’t make it,” said Heyer about a person he tried to save.

Each of them pushed on the chests of those needing CPR, applied pressure to the wounds of other victims, tying tourniquets and, in general, addressing the medical needs of the injured.

Even on the frantic, jerky truck ride to the hospital, as each other worked on shooting victims in the back of a pickup truck, Garrett Holcombe, a 27-year-old lineman from Canyon Country, and Jesse Heyer a 22-year-old EMT student from Valencia, did not know each other.

Garrett Holcombe talks about his experience assisting others during the Las Vegas shooting at The Santa Clarita Valley Signal offices in Canyon Country on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

Only when they arrived at the Vegas hospital, and after nurses snatched from them the victims they had worked so diligently to resuscitate on the truck ride, did they actually – really – see each other for the first time.

Bloody, sweating and exhausted, still in shock, the two men acknowledged each other.

And, even when medical staffers returned to them as they stood waiting in the hospital corridor, to tell them their respective patients had died, they still only knew each other by first names – not that they were from the same hometown in the Santa Clarita Valley – but only as Jesse and Garrett.

The SCV community, however, would learn quickly in the crazy days unfolding after the shooting, about their brave efforts in the face of true peril and come to know them as true local heroes.

When the shooting was done, at least 58 people were killed and at least 527 were wounded in what authorities determined almost immediately to be the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history after a gunman began shooting from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay. The shooter killed himself.

On Thursday, both young men met each other at The Signal newspaper office for the first time since the shooting.

Under a hail of gunfire

On Thursday, almost two weeks after the mass shooting, they walked deliberately toward each other, sharing a handshake, a quick embrace, a slap on the back – forever bonded by an experience only they can share.

Garrett Holcombe, right, and Jesse Heyer meet for the first time after assisting people at Las Vegas shooting together at The Santa Clarita Valley Signal’s offices in Canyon Country on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

Holcombe was with a group of about 10 friends near the stage when the shooting began. Heyer was with his own group of friends.

“When the shots first started going off, like a lot of other people, I didn’t think they were gunshots,” Holcombe said.

“Our group was breaking up and someone said ‘You know what, we’re going to leave’ and I thought ‘No, that’s not right, someone’s setting off fireworks and making us leave.’  My first thought was ‘These bullies, making us duck and cover. No.’

“Then I heard a girl screaming ‘They’re not fireworks’ and it took me a second to figure out what the hell was going on.

“I look over and her friend was shot,” he said.

The scene was suddenly frantic, Holcombe said, with people falling, running, jumping over (barrier) walls.

“I thought ‘Oh my God, this is really happening.’ The first thing I did was run over to where that girl had been shot. People were saying ‘We can’t move her. We can’t move her. We need medical assistance.’

“I said ‘We need to get her out of here.  They’re still shooting at us,’” Holcombe said, adding it was his belief and the understanding of those near him that there were several gunmen shooting at them.

“I grabbed her leg. Another guy grabbed her other leg, other people grabbed her arms. I said ‘One, two, three let’s go’ and we ran her across the field.”

Holcombe began treating victims despite gunshots being fired in his direction.  Heyer began treating other victims – again, under a hail of gunfire.

“I stopped an Uber driver,” Heyer said, telling the driver to take the wounded woman he had carried to the street.

 

Garrett Holcombe, left, and Jesse Heyer meet for the first time after assisting people at Las Vegas shooting together at The Santa Clarita Valley Signal’s offices in Canyon Country on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

 

Hanging off a pickup truck

It was in the rush to pull victims from the audience to the street that Heyer and Holcombe jumped onto the back of the same pickup truck with their respective patients.

“I remember helping people carry people,” Holcombe said.

The back of the pickup was so full the truck’s tailgate could not be closed.

In the back of the pickup were the two rescuers, their patients, four other people and Daniel – the guy they have yet to meet – who held on to both Holcombe and Heyer to keep them from the falling out of the truck as they kept working to revive their patients.

Heyer and Holcombe said they remember showing up at the hospital only to be told it was full. They continued on to the next hospital.

“I would just stay doing compressions,” Heyer said.

Holcombe did the same, different victim: “I was still doing compressions when we got to the hospital,” he said.

“The guy I was working on was shot in the back,” Heyer said. “I opened up his mouth to give him mouth to mouth, not realizing his mouth was full of blood.”

Holcombe made the same discovery. “I think he (patient) was shot in the chest and abdomen.”

 

Senior Staff Writer Jim Holt, right, talks to Garrett Holcombe, left and Jesse Heyer after the two meet for the first time after acting as heroes together during the Las Vegas shooting. They met at The Santa Clarita Valley Signal offices in Canyon Country on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

Shock at the hospital

When both rescuers were left alone after frantic hospital staffers scooped up their patients, both young men stood in the hallway.

“We were still in shock,” Holcombe said. “I was kind of just breathing.”

“And, it wasn’t like ‘OK, now we can relax.’ I didn’t feel that for a couple of days,” he added.

Both young men, reflecting back on their wait in the hospital, before and after being told their life-saving efforts were in vain, expressed noting but compassion for the victims – many of them crying – all around them.

“I just wanted to keep it together for these people,” Holcombe said.

Looking back on his efforts helping others by the stage, Heyer said: “At the time, I just had tunnel vision.”

Holcombe: “I wasn’t thinking about anything.”

It was only later when he saw media coverage of the tragedy, he said. “I thought ‘Wow, I was really in lot of danger.’”

What now?

Now, two brave young men who risked their lives, have each other.

 

[email protected]

661-287-5527

on Twitter @jamesarthurholt

 

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