FORT HALL — It’s been five months since Michelle Cole survived the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, during the Route 91 Country Music Festival.
Now the Trauma Program Manager at Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana, Cole is actively engaged with sharing her experience of the shooting and what she has learned about preparedness and response in the aftermath of such a major tragic event in her life.
As part of the Southeastern Idaho Public Health’s Regional Readiness Rendezvous conference hosted Tuesday and Wednesday at the Shoshone-Bannock Hotel and Event Center in Fort Hall, Cole on Wednesday shared her perspective of the Las Vegas shooting and assisted in training attendees on techniques of the the national Stop the Bleed initiative.
Launched in October 2015 by the White House, Stop the Bleed is a national awareness campaign and a call to action that aims to cultivate grassroots efforts that encourage bystanders to become trained, equipped and empowered to help in a bleeding emergency before professional help arrives.
On the third night of the music festival on Sunday, Oct. 1, a gunman identified by police as Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, fired more than 1,100 rounds upon concertgoers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Using a combination of the 23 weapons found in his hotel room, Paddock killed 58 people and wounded more than 800 others before killing himself.
The incident is the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in the history of the United States.
“The night of the shooting the first responders were concertgoers,” Cole said. “Because the police and EMTs were not allowed to enter the venue.”
Cole, her husband, Shane, and their son, Kolter, who is confined to a wheelchair, traveled to Las Vegas to attend the country music festival with 20 other friends from Montana and California. They were three of 22,000 people to attend the concert. When the shooting first started, Cole and her family were located in the VIP section, which was covered by a large white tent.
“One thing that I remember from my active-shooter class is that there is a difference from concealment and cover,” Cole said. “Being concealed does not mean that you are under cover.”
Like many of the concertgoers, Cole said the first round of gunfire sounded like fireworks. It wasn’t until the second volley of gunfire that Cole realized she wasn’t hearing mortars exploding in the air — she knew someone was firing a gun.
“I looked at my girlfriend and said we have to get out of here,” Cole said. “Her son was over in the corner by the stage and said she had to look for him so I had to leave her.”
Upon the third round of gunfire, Cole said other people began to realize they were being shot at.
“At this point, I assume it’s a drive-by shooting,” Cole said. “Then people started yelling to hide and my brain went to the Orlando shooting and I thought, ‘No, the people who hid in the bathroom there, they died.’”
So Cole ran. And she didn’t stop running until she and her son made it from the VIP tent to where the beer and food vendors were set up in the opposite corner.
“It’s interesting how some of the training that I learned during the active-shooter scenario actually kicked in,” Cole said. “You still don’t want to believe that this is really happening.”
Cole has worked in health care for 16 years and as a part of her employment at a hospital she participated in an active shooter training prior to attending the Route 91 Country Music Festival. She said the information provided during that training was invaluable, but also spoke about how the human brain reacts differently in high stress scenarios.
“It’s really strange what your brain does in these situations,” Cole said. “You get tunnel vision. Some things I don’t even remember. You could hear the bullets flying through the crowd and I saw somebody fall and all my brain was thinking was, ‘Why did she fall and I didn’t?’”
Eventually, Cole and her family escaped the music venue unharmed. However, because of her medical background, and because her husband is also a nurse, the couple decided to work their way back toward the venue to help those who were injured.
In addition to treating at least four people with gunshot wounds, Cole said she treated countless other individuals who had fallen and had been trampled or was struck with shrapnel caused by ricocheting bullets.
Cole said that after the shooting she and her family hosted a debriefing with friends and other concertgoers. She said that talking about the ordeal was one of the most therapeutic parts of the healing process.
Following Cole’s presentation, she and several employees of Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls taught those who attended the Southeastern Idaho Public Health’s Regional Readiness Rendezvous conference on Wednesday how to properly stop wounds from bleeding.
Conference attendees learned how to first locate a wound, how properly apply pressure and how to use a tourniquet.
Before the Stop the Bleed training, Cole shared several takeaways that she said could help save lives in the event of a mass shooting.
“Seek out the medic tent when you arrive to an event,” Cole said. “Know all of your possible exits, be aware of your surroundings and encourage people to participate in active resistance training.”
Cole left the audience with a quote authored by Kolter.
”Movement means life,” Cole said. “Life means survival. Survival means to keep moving forward. If you want to succeed and survive then you keep moving forward and don’t let anything stop you.”