Kinya Claiborne, the founder and editor-in-chief of STYLE & SOCIETY magazine, thought that the Route 91 Harvest festival would be the perfect way to celebrate her thirty-seventh birthday—complete with close friends and her favorite country music artists. Instead it turned into an unthinkable nightmare. On Sunday night, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire on concertgoers, killing at least 58 people and wounding over 500. Kinya survived the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, but the events have forever altered her life. Here, she shares her story. As told to Maggie Mallon from Glamour Magazine.
I had been to Route 91 Harvest once before—it falls every year on my birthday weekend. I gathered a few friends to attend the festival because I’m a country music lover and this year one of my favorite artists, Jason Aldean, was a headliner.
I missed Friday’s performers because I was traveling for work, but on Saturday—which was actually my birthday—we saw the show. We stood right up front by the stage and had a great time.
Our hotel room overlooked part of the strip and the runway of the airport—basically facing the festival. On Sunday morning before we left, I gazed out over our view and thought to myself, You know what? I’m surprised there’s never been any kind of terrorist attack in Las Vegas. You have the airport, you have these tall buildings, you have these festivals. With everything that’s been going on I’m surprised that nothing has ever happened here.
I even said it out loud to my friends. But we didn’t think anything of it.
We got to the festival around 4:30. We walked around. We watched the acts. We got a bite to eat. As the night went on we ended up in the Malibu Rum section, an elevated platform that was to the left of the stage. There were about 15 people up there, including me and my two friends.
For most concerts, I like to be in the front row, especially for artists that I love. But that night I didn’t feel comfortable doing that. I didn’t want to feel claustrophobic in a sea of people. I wanted to stay on the platform, and we ended up watching Jason Aldean from up there.
We were dancing. We were having a great time when halfway through his act we heard this loud sound: BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
I thought it was a helicopter right above us, but there was nothing there. Maybe someone had illegal firecrackers, but I didn’t see any sparks. Then I thought it might be part of the show because Jason was still performing.
The sound happened again. Jason ran off stage. The music stopped. The lights went off. Something was wrong.
It continued. We realized they were gunshots. It sounded like someone in the venue had a handgun, and they were executing people.
On Saturday my friends and I had stopped by the U.S. Army recruiting booth to take part in a boot camp and basic training setup they had. Nobody was over there—it was completely empty—so we decided to check it out. Little did we know that what the drill sergeant taught us the day before would be the skills we needed to survive the very next night.
On that platform, we heard was a man saying, “Get down!” We dropped to the floor. The shooting continued. We covered our heads. I thought, Oh my God, we’re going to die.
The guy shouted, “Get up! Run!” just like a drill sergeant. We got up and ran. It was pure chaos. My friends and I were separated immediately. People ran in different directions. We didn’t know how many gunmen there were or where shots were coming from. It was dark. It was just survival at this point.
I ran through a parking lot. It sounded like the gunman was chasing me. The shots seemed to get louder even though I was running further away. I felt like I was being hunted.
The machine gun was firing—BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! As soon as it would stop and I’d think it was over, it would start again. This went on for 20 minutes.
I ran through the parking lot until I got to a dead end: a fence with barbed wire on it. On the other side of it was the airport runway. Everybody was going in that direction. We were trapped.
I jumped into a Dumpster in the parking lot. I peeked out and saw people were crying, distraught, and trying to find a place to hide. The gunshots continued. A pickup truck rammed into the fence to create a small opening.
All of us that had been trapped darted through the opening and onto the runway. People scattered and tried to hide anywhere they could. I opened the door to a small storage facility on the runway and found other people already in there: people who’d been running; people who had just landed from a private plane or a helicopter; people who were just about to take off in a private plane or helicopter. They had no idea what was going on. There was also a woman in there who had been shot twice.
I texted my friends to see where they were. One had jumped in someone’s car and they were picking up people who’d been shot or wounded to take them to the hospital. My other friend ran into a Hooters. She was one of the first people to get there, and everyone looked her like she was crazy. Within minutes a flood of people came in.
While I was in that storage room, I sent a Facebook message out to let my loved ones know that I might not make it. It was all I could do. I didn’t feel safe being in there. The airport didn’t even know that the fence was exposed. If the gunman came in, we’d be hostages. So little by little, we started to leave.
Two men carried the girl who had been shot to try and get help. I’m not sure if she made it. They kept saying, “Don’t look! Don’t look.” But I glanced over at her and saw that her skin was purple.
We moved to another building and people were already there, crying and trying to contact loved ones. Time passed. We got word that the killer had been shot. More time passed. I left the building. It was 3:00 A.M. I had to get to my hotel and check on my friends. I found a bus that was still running and told the driver to take me wherever he was going. I was dropped off at the Town Square shopping center. People were there stranded, trying to contact family.
I called an Uber to go back to the hotel, but every road was blocked. I went back to Town Square. Locals had brought blankets for people. Restaurant employees turned on heat lamps and gave people water and soda. I was able to contact my brother who lives in Vegas. He picked me up, and I got back to the hotel and reunited with my friends.
We were so nervous flying back home to Los Angeles on Monday. Every bump, every sound, we were shaking. I didn’t feel safe until we landed.
The past few days have been eerie. I feel emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally dead. I feel numb. I feel sick. I feel like I’m in a nightmare. The sounds of gunshots still ring through my head. I can’t describe how I felt the moment I realized I was being shot at. Imagine running for your life and thinking, I may not make it.
It’s hard to get back to reality. All I can think about is that it could’ve been me—I could’ve died; I could’ve lost one of my friends. It’s going to take some time before, mentally, I’m all there. But this will never erase. It’s a permanent imprint on my heart and in my brain. It’s going to stay with me forever. I can never forget what happened.
Nothing will ever bring the perished back, but what may bring comfort and clarity to the victims and their families is to have some answers to what happened. There are still so many unanswered questions. Why did it sound like it was more than one shooter? Why did the shooting get louder as we moved away from it? Why did he have so many guns? How did he even get access to these types of weapons? At country music festivals people are just there to have a good time. Why was it targeted? Was it just a senseless act or something deeper?
I hope that people will open their eyes and do something. I hope there will be stricter rules for owning a gun and gun control across the board. And I would hope that from this situation policies will go into place to prevent this from happening again.
What was supposed to be my birthday celebration turned into a nightmare. But I’m not going to let this deter me from enjoying my life and trying to live it to the fullest.
If you’d like to help victims of the Las Vegas shooting, you can donate money to the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund to provide relief and financial support or donate blood through the Red Cross (visit redcrossblood.org or call 800-733-2767 to arrange a donation).