Las Cruces ER nurse helped treat Las Vegas victims
LAS CRUCES – When Las Crucen Rebecca Dobbs set out for Las Vegas on Friday for a spur-of-the-moment getaway, there’s no way she could have known she’d be witness to the aftermath of one of the nation’s deadliest attacks.
But as fate would have it, Dobbs — an emergency room nurse — would be in the right place at the right time to help several victims, including a woman who’d been shot, who were fleeing the now-infamous concert grounds that were targeted by gunfire.
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Dobbs said she flew to Las Vegas on Saturday for a weekend trip that she decided to take “on a whim.” She planned to watch some shows and do some shopping. She had a room in the Luxor Resort & Casino, immediately adjacent to the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, the hotel from which the shooter launched the vicious attack Sunday night.
Throughout the weekend, Dobbs encountered people milling about the Las Vegas Strip who were attending the three-day Route 91 Harvest Festival on the nearby concert grounds. At every turn, people were wearing country music T-shirts and wristbands that showed they had access to the event.
Dobbs, who spoke with the Sun-News on Tuesday, is a country music fan. But she didn’t attend the concert because she hadn’t been aware of it until she arrived in Las Vegas.
Sunday night, Dobbs had booked a helicopter tour of the Las Vegas Strip. The limo that was supposed to pick her up from the Luxor resort as part of the tour ran nearly an hour late. When it arrived at 9:40 p.m., it transported her to Sundance Helicopters, located on the fringes of McCarran International Airport. The business is roughly half a mile from both the concert grounds and the Mandalay Bay hotel.
Dobbs sat in the company’s building, which had a view of the nearby resorts.
“I could look out the window and see the Mandalay Bay,” she said. “I was sipping on complementary champagne and waiting for my friend to take my helicopter tour.”
She’d never flown in a helicopter and said so was eager for the flight. However, it never happened. She and other waiting customers were soon interrupted.
“These people started flooding in,” she said. “They were crying, and they were on their phones. And they were talking about people being shot. At first, they were so surreal.”
People were fleeing from gunfire that erupted at the concert grounds shortly after 10 p.m., both on foot and by vehicle. Several mentioned having made their way through an apartment complex, to the tarmac and finally to the helicopter tour business.
Dobbs, an ER nurse, said she’s accustomed to dealing with crisis situations. But not in the way that Sunday night’s event unfolded. In contrast to the controlled environment of a hospital, it was more chaotic. And there were far fewer resources, such as medical supplies. Still, she said she was able to maintain her composure because of her work in the emergency room.
Her medical mindset kicked in, and soon Dobbs was helping to calm a woman who was hyperventilating. Another woman was screaming out of sheer panic, but wasn’t injured.
Before long, a gunshot victim was on scene, having been taken away from the concert in a passenger vehicle.
“They carried in a woman who was visibly bleeding,” she said. “They took her in to a bathroom. She had two gunshot wounds to her arms.”
Dobbs, a man who said he was a paramedic, a military medic and a second nurse joined forces to treat the woman, who was conscious. They used belts to stem blood flow.
“We used some bandages to apply pressure,” she said. “We elevated her arm. We stayed with her; we tried to keep her calm. We were all attending to this woman.”
Another person attempted to call 911, but the volume of people calling made it difficult to get through. The call finally connected, and an ambulance was sent to a section of the tarmac. Someone driving a pickup truck took the woman to the ambulance, and she was successfully taken to a hospital.
Emergency Medicine Doctor Daniel Inglish of Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas, talks Oct. 3, 2017, about working all night on victims of the Las Vegas shooting that were admitted to his hospital. Tom Tingle/azcentral.com
Dobbs said she doesn’t consider herself a hero and didn’t want to be labeled as such.
“I’m thankful I was able to render aid to her,” she said. “I don’t know why God decided that’s where I needed to be at that moment. I’m a big believer that the universe takes you where you need to go, and there’s a reason I was there that night.”
The volunteers with medical expertise continued to help other concert-goers. A number had minor injuries, including scrapes and bruises, from being trampled or otherwise injured during the mass exodus from the concert grounds. Dobbs said stories were similar. People initially thought the loud popping sounds were part of the show or possibly fireworks. But then they saw people get struck by gunfire — sparking their flight.
After the gunshot victim was transported, a group of about 75 people at the helicopter company was routed to another business, a small airline company, which opened its doors to them. Staff there gave people snacks and water. And people began watching the news on TV. Dobbs credited both the helicopter business and the small airline company, saying the hospitality was appreciated in a difficult time. She said despite the horrific event, she witnessed “amazing acts of camaraderie” that were deeply moving.
Authorities blocked off much of the Las Vegas Strip, preventing people from reaching their hotel rooms if they weren’t already there, Dobbs said. That meant Dobbs and others spent the night at the airline company, finally getting the chance to leave in the early-morning hours. A staff member from the company took people by van to a point just south of the Strip. From there, Dobbs and another person caught an Uber, which found a way to drop them off at the north side of the Luxor about 7:30 a.m. Monday.
Dobbs’ immediate concern was checking on her flight from Las Vegas, not knowing whether the shooting would affect the schedule. She called her mother and a couple of friends to let them know she was OK.
“And I took a shower to wash this woman’s blood off of me,” she said. “I had been covered in blood all night.”
She left the hotel, arriving at the airport six hours before her departure time. Her main goal was to simply get back home. Dobbs said that, not having slept for 24 hours, she was able to take a nap at the airport. When she woke, the emotion of the past night’s events overwhelmed her. She happened to meet another woman who also was struggling because of the shooting. The two befriended one another — one of several moments of kindness Dobbs said she experienced with strangers on her trip back to southern New Mexico.
“When I boarded that plane, it was the first time that I felt really safe, and I cried,” she said. “It was just very relieving to know I was getting away from this place.”
As the plane lifted off, Dobbs had a bird’s-eye view of the Mandalay Bay hotel, including the two windows that had been broken out by the shooter.
Dobbs landed in El Paso to a series of small problems. Her luggage was lost. Her debit card was rejected when she tried to pay for parking. And she hit a major traffic jam on Interstate 10 near Sunland Park. But Dobbs said they didn’t affect her like they might have in the past. Post-Las Vegas, she said she has a new perspective.
The message she wants to encourage is for people to treat one another with kindness and take stock of the most-important things in life.
“I am not the same person I was when I boarded that flight Friday in Las Vegas,” she said.
Dobbs said she hopes to talk about her experience in the shooting’s aftermath to a nursing association in hopes of better equipping other people in the event of future attacks. Also, she advised people who find themselves in the midst of a crisis to stay calm and level-headed, if possible.
She’s safely home in Las Cruces, but Dobbs said she’s still feeling stress from the trauma she experienced. She’s taken a few days off from work and from the university classes she’s enrolled in. And she hopes to get grief counseling.
“I don’t want this to be a negative thing in my life,” she said. “I want to be able to help others and to speak about it. I want to help other people learn.”