Douglasville Police Department Lt. Brad Loudermilk's most intense experience with gunfire during his two decades in law enforcement didn't occur on the job -- it came while he was on vacation.
With a little over two months remaining in the year, Loudermilk, who supervises DPD's Traffic Division, hadn't taken much vacation. He asked his wife, Shelly Loudermilk, what she wanted to do this year to celebrate her birthday about six months ago. The Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas seemed to be the best opportunity for the couple, because both of their favorite artists, Eric Church and Jason Aldean, were scheduled to perform.
The couple, as well as Shelly's sister and a couple of friends, flew to Las Vegas on Sept. 28, a day before the festival started. The first two days of the three-day festival were enjoyable, Loudermilk said, as Church capped the opening night off. When it came to the last day of the festival on Sunday, Oct. 1, Loudermilk's group decided that it was best to wait to come back to the festival grounds when it was time for Aldean to perform, because most of the group had to return home soon after the festival ended.
Once they arrived at the artificial turf grounds that allowed festival goers to sit on lawn chairs, Loudermilk decided to stand in an area where he would have more space and a location where he was near officers. Large crowds have always made him paranoid, he said, because he knows those are soft targets during terrorist attacks.
"I felt naked without a gun, but I felt safe with all of the police presence out there," Loudermilk said.
Aldean began to play "When She Says Baby" when Loudermilk said he heard a pop. He looked up to see if there were any fireworks in the air and he said he didn't see any. Then more pops arrived with no sight of concert fireworks. About 10 to 15 seconds later, another round of pops could be heard and this time Aldean ran off the stage and the stage's lights went out.
Of course, the pop noises weren't fireworks to accompany Aldean's set, they were gunshots that started the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Authorities say Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, killed 58 people at the festival and injured 489 others before killing himself as police moved in on him in his 32nd floor room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino a week ago today.
Attendees frantically scattered for safety as the gunfire didn't cease. Some yelled profanities, others yelled "Jesus!," Loudermilk recalled. Piles of concert-goers tripped as they fled for safety, and Loudermilk lost sight of his wife. After he spotted bleachers nearby, he climbed under the bleachers and called his wife until the call went through.
"I knew if we could get behind those bleachers and put some metal between us and the gunfire, we'd be more safe," Loudermilk said.
In the meantime, Loudermilk was trying to calm as many people around him as he could. His wife reconnected with him behind the bleachers, then Loudermilk heard the shots coming the group's way. The group decided to run to a back corner spot in between two trailers, because Loudermilk said he knew they were out of the shooter's view at that point.
"My next thought was: 'This was a terrorist attack, there's going to be a bomb. A bomb is about to go off somewhere. Where everybody's running to,' so we made the decision right there to just stay right there," Loudermilk said.
His group remained behind the trailers for the next 10 minutes, then the gunfire stopped. The group then walked back to the hotel, not realizing the impact of the shooting at that moment.
"I guess my mind wasn't on that at that point. I was just seeking cover and seeking safety as well as I knew to. I didn't want the three of us to be separated again," Loudermilk said.
Back at the hotel, the news surfaced on social media and Loudermilk's 19- and 16-year-old daughters back in Georgia blew his phone up with messages and phone calls asking if everyone was alright. Loudermilk then marked himself as safe on Facebook, but he said the calls continued to come in from his daughters throughout the night.
The next morning at the airport, and on the plane back to Atlanta, rumblings of the shooting continued and Loudermilk was asked a couple of times if he was at the concert. The more he talks about the tragedy, the better he said he feels.
"It's heartwarming to come home to a community, around loved ones, and everybody wants to know how you're doing. If they can get anything for you or do anything for you. It's heartwarming," Loudermilk said.
His work practices haven't been affected by the tragedy, but he said he was encouraged to see that DPD does the same training that law enforcement officers on the other side of the country practice. He still watches and reads the news updates and details about the situation, which he admitted was a result of his curious spirit as an officer. Although it took a minute for him to get back in the swing of things in Douglasville, he said that he's fine.
"I'm OK. Yes, I'm OK. I got my wife, my kids, my family. I got a job, I'm living, so it's all good," he said.