Lesbian Couple Credits Navy Training for Las Vegas Shooting Survival
Jacqulyn Lopez (left) and Allison Gardner at the Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, prior to Sunday's mass shooting. Courtesy of Allison Gardner
By John Paul Brammer
Allison Gardner said it was her military training that helped her survive. That, and the fact that she and her wife, Jacqulyn Lopez, have two baby boys at home.
She said she mistook the first round of 30 or 40 shots for fireworks. But then she saw a woman standing next to her bleeding from a gunshot wound to the arm. That's when she knew she and her wife had to run.
"We took off running as we saw bodies hit the floor from trying to hide and take cover, and bodies hit the floor from being shot," Gardner, 30, told NBC News. "I remember looking back at one point, and I saw bullets rain down on the ground literally two feet from when I was running from. We saw people being trampled and running into each other. I could smell gun powder and blood in the air."
"We saw people being trampled and running into each other. I could smell gun powder and blood in the air."
Earlier last Sunday — before a country music festival in Las Vegas becoming the scene of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history — Lopez, 30, woke up with a pain in her right ear. She headed to the nearest Veterans Affairs emergency room, where she was told she had a severe ear infection and needed medication and rest.
"I get back to the hotel, get ready and we head to my grandparents' for brunch. Tamales and eggs," Lopez said. "Ally and I talked here and there about not going. But I knew we spent lots of money, and Jason Aldean was the reason I wanted to go."
Lopez and Gardner have been together for 10 years. They met in their hometown of Lancaster, California, through mutual friends in high school but then fell out of touch. They reunited in Italy, where they were both stationed in the Navy in 2007. They got married in 2014. Gardner had a baby, Maxton, in March, and they adopted another baby, Liam, in July. They still live in Lancaster.
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Aldean is Lopez's favorite artist, "her guy." She and Gardner were there to celebrate Lopez's 30th birthday. Lopez recalled that his performance on the Vegas stage was everything she had imagined it would be. Shoulder to shoulder with concertgoers drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, Lopez said she looked over at her best friend, Lena, who was enjoying the music. Aldean was singing "Take a Little Ride," one of Lopez's favorite songs, a song she said now seems cold and eerie.
"Pop, pop, pop," Lopez said. "I looked behind me, and saw no fireworks. Aldean was still singing. It wasn't until the second round of bullets showered down on us that me and Ally realized these weren't fireworks. Before I could try and say anything at all, Ally was pulling me. We needed to run fast."
Gardner said the active shooter training she received in the Navy kicked into gear once the couple realized what was happening. As she pulled her wife through the chaos, she said Lopez fell, and she remembers shouting: "We have babies! We have babies to come home to! Let's go!"
Lopez said the memory of her wife pulling her through the crowd will stay with her.
"My wife and I served four years and seven and a half years in the United States Navy, and not once experienced something as traumatic as that evening ... I am thankful for the readiness and training we were taught that has been instilled in us."
"The smell of the air was alcohol, gun powder and BBQ. I remember it so vividly," she said. "Through one side of the bar area, there had to be four or five girls tucked away in the small spaces they could fit in. I remember thinking to myself, I can’t jump over them, and I didn’t want to run through them. As I took a half step to turn around, I look behind me and saw a girl face plant to the floor. She was shot."
Lopez said she and Gardner made it through swarms of police and crowds to an SUV. She said Gardner asked the driver: "Please, let us in. We have babies. A 6-month-old and a 2-month-old." She said they were allowed in, and a woman in the passenger seat put her hand on Lopez and said she had a 4-month-old back at her hotel room. Lopez said she regrets not getting the woman's name.
Once they were finally safe, Lopez sent a text to her brunch group. "This concert is getting shot up — pray for our safety!" The message was "vague," Lopez acknowledged, but it was all she could get out at the time. She and Gardner made their way to a nearby Best Western, where they spent $96 on a hotel room just to gather their thoughts and text co-workers, family and loved ones.
Eventually, Lopez said her grandfather met up with them and took them back to Summerlin, Nevada, where they spent the rest of the morning.
"My wife and I served four years and seven and a half years in the United States Navy, and not once experienced something as traumatic as that evening," she said. "I am thankful for the readiness and training we were taught that has been instilled in us."
For Lopez and Gardner, who were able to come home to their children, the healing process must now begin. Slowly but surely.
"Our friends and family have been supportive, and we have also sought mental health services," Gardner said. "Talking about it with people and with each other and with all of our friends who also survived and went through this tragic incident has been helping us cope."
"For us, it was our baby boys leading the way, it was flashes of faces of the ones we love, and it was survival mode that kept us alive," Lopez said. "We are forever changed from the incident, and may never have the answers we are looking for. But for now, one day at a time works for us."