Everyone in the country was shocked at the nation’s worst-ever mass killing by a gunman, which happened in Las Vegas last weekend.
It ended up with 59 people killed and 500 wounded when a man fired into a crowd of concert-goers from a room high up in a nearby hotel.
But for one Blue Earth young woman, it was beyond just shocking it was something she will never forget.
Because, she was there.
JyLessa Levenhagen, 25, was in Las Vegas with her friend, Morgan Werner, 23, of Sioux Falls. The two women went to Vegas for the three-day country music fest called ‘Route 91 Harvest.’
“Morgan is a huge country western music fan and I like it, too,” Levenhagen says. “She asked me if I wanted to go with her and I said yes and we booked our flights and hotels back last February and March.”
The two have been friends for a year or two, although they do not live in the same town and never have. Levenhagen is the daughter of Todd and Tammy Levenhagen, of Blue Earth. Werner is the daughter of Dennis and LeAnn Werner, of Sioux Falls. Dennis Werner is a Blue Earth native.
The two met at a birthday party in Blue Earth.
The party was at Travis and Kristin Woodwick’s home. The Woodwick’s are good friends with the Levenhagens and Morgan Werner is Kristin Woodwick’s cousin with Morgan’s father, Dennis, and Kristin Woodwick’s mother, LeAnn (Werner) Hendrickson, being brother and sister.
“We met through Kristin and LeAnn and became friends,” Levenhagen says of her friendship with Morgan. “And then we planned the Vegas trip.”
The two women enjoyed the three days of concerts and, on that final night, Sunday, they were right in front of the stage, enjoying the show. The main star that night, Jason Aldean, had started his performance.
“He was right in front of us and doing his fifth song, I think, when the shooting started,” Levenhagen says. “Suddenly he left the stage and people started yelling ‘Get down, get down!'”
She says that just five feet away on either side of her, people were shot. She is pretty sure one of them did not survive. That person had been standing right next to Morgan and he was shot in the stomach and the head.
“We huddled on the ground with a lot of other people,” Levenhagen says. “People were hysterical, so was Morgan. Me, being a hunter, I was listening and I could hear that it was automatic fire, coming in bursts of 20 or 30 rounds at a time. There were at least two or three bursts of these shots right away. And they continued.”
Levenhagen says when there was a short break in the gunfire, she grabbed her friend Morgan and yelled, “Let’s get the hell out of here!”
The two women headed to underneath the stage. But, to get there, they had to climb over a barricade that was there to prevent fans from getting to the stage.
“When I climbed over it, I landed on my head and shoulders on part of the barricade and really hurt my shoulder,” Levenhagen says. “I have got a really big rectangular bruise on it.”
But, the two made it to under the stage where they felt just a little bit safer. They were there for a while, but Levenhagen does not remember how long.
“There was another break in the shooting I guess he was reloading or changing guns or something and we took off again,” she relates. “We ran around the whole outside of the place, to get to the farthest point away from the shooting as we could.”
Eventually, they ended up in the basement of the Tropicana Casino/Hotel. There they were told by authorities to stay put.
“We started talking to a guy, and he said his name was Rich Little, and I guess he is famous,” Levenhagen says. “I found out later he was a comedian a long time ago.”
Levenhagen says she was able to call her family and some friends and let them know she was OK. For some reason, her cell phone worked in the basement room while others did not, so she lent her phone to other people to use. She even had her charger with her, which says is not normal for her.
After midnight they were taken to the event center pavillion at the Tropicana, with a lot of other people.
They were there from around 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sleep was nearly impossible, though Levenhagen tried to use her purse for a pillow and some towels for a blanket.
Eventually, around 5:30 a.m., they got the all clear and they finally were able to return to their hotel, the Excaliber.
“My phone was on fire,” Levenhagen says, referring to the fact that she was getting so many calls and text messages. “They all wanted to know if I was alright. I told them all ‘I’m alive, I’m fine, Morgan’s fine.'”
The two flew home late Monday night, actually arriving home at 2 a.m. Tuesday morning. Levenhagen had had an issue with being able to fly home, however.
“Right after I got to Vegas, first day, I was pickpocketed and they got my wallet with my driver’s license, credit card and $150 in cash,” she says. “You need an ID to fly, but my mother was able to send me my expired license and my application for a new one.”
You see, it was Levenhagen’s 25th birthday while she was in Las Vegas, so she had just renewed her driver’s license before she left on the trip.
It is a birthday she will never forget, although she would like to forget a lot of it.
“I can’t watch it on TV, I need a break from it,” she says. “I keep thinking about it. How there was blood everywhere, and how so many people were killed and wounded. I pray for all of them and their families.”
She remembers keeping her head down and thinking about how she was an organ donor, and if she died maybe her heart could go to her dad, who has heart issues. She remembers hearing the shots and the screams the sounds still replay in her head. She remembers hanging on to Morgan, gripping her by the shorts, so they would not be separated.
She says she has a renewed admiration for the law enforcement and medical emergency personnel who responded.
“They had called in everyone to come help, and they did, they reacted so fast, it seemed like just minutes and they were there,” she says. “I don’t know how they can handle something like this. But they did and I commend every one of them.”
Levenhagen says it feels really good to be back in Blue Earth and “back to reality.”
After a few days of rest she starts back to work on Monday. She works days at St. Luke’s Lutheran Care Center, Thursday nights at Oswald’s Brewery, and weekends at Pub and Grub in Rake, Iowa.
“I am a busy girl,” she says. “I work every day the rest of this month.”
She also feels she is a very lucky girl. Lucky to be alive and able to go to work.
“It was the best birthday present ever,” she says. “To be alive and not killed. And to be safely back in Blue Earth.”