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School teacher escaped Vegas shooting Featured

Las Vegas shootingSterlind Burke Jr. said he can still hear the gunshots.

On the night of Oct. 1, Burke and his wife, residents of Odenton in Anne Arundel County, were enjoying their third night of a long-awaited trip to Las Vegas, attending the Jason Aldean concert, when they heard a loud “bang” that seemed to come from the stage.

Burke turned to his wife, who he did not wish to name, and told her he thought the sound was from a firework. When the sound repeated several more times in quick succession, Burke and his wife realized they were hearing gunshots.

Eleven days after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, where a gunman killed 58 people and injured 489 others at a country music concert in Las Vegas, Burke said he has trouble sleeping and can still hear the gunshots ring in his head.

“I'm still hearing gunshots in my head on a constant basis,” Burke said.

The Oct. 1 shooting is the latest in a number of recent traumatic events that have piled up for Burke and his wife: the loss of his wife’s father and the death of Olney resident Lauren Wallen, his co-worker at Wilde Lake High School who was murdered in September.

“It’s been a lot,” he said.

The long weekend that Burke and his wife spent in Las Vegas was a gift the couple gave to themselves as a belated wedding present. They both enjoy country music and took the trip as an opportunity to spend some time together and to see some of their favorite country music artists such as Eric Church, Sam Hunt and Jason Aldean.

For the first two nights of the three-night Route 91 Harvest Festival, the couple had several drinks and remained close to stage. On the third night, Burke and his wife decided to hang in the back of the crowd.

Burke said he did not have any kind of premonitions or bad feelings about that night; he was simply tired and wanted a place in the outdoor concert venue that was quiet enough to talk to his wife and maybe catch the score of the Sunday Night NFL game between Seattle and Indianapolis.

At about 10:05 p.m. Pacific Time, Burke and his wife heard what they soon realized to be gunshots and he became convinced that their lives were in danger.

Unknown by anyone at the time, retired real estate investor Stephen Paddock was shooting at the crowd gathered at the Jason Aldean concert across the street from his Mandalay Bay hotel room.

Burke and his wife fled to an enclosed building toward the back of the outdoor concert venue and ducked behind a bar. They waited until Burke thought the gunshots stopped.

But after a brief pause, the gunshots continued and Burke knew they needed to find an escape route, opting to leave through an emergency exit in the back of the bar.

“I know I was fearing for my life and that was what kind of what focused me I think,” he said.

Outside, Burke saw a crowd stampeding toward the concert venue exit, trampling over people as they tried to escape. A fence that wrapped around the concert venue kept many of the panicking people inside as they tried to fit their way through a path in the fence.

As the terror-struck people tried to fit their way through the fence, Burke told the crowd in a calming manner to keep calm.

“Don’t push, but keep moving,” Burke said in what he described as his “teacher voice.”

Burke said his experience as a teacher helped him stay focused during the shooting, citing his training for active shooter scenarios and times the school has gone on lockdown when a shooting happened near the school. After escaping the concert venue, Burke and his wife fled to an underground parking garage and hopped on a monorail to make their way back to their timeshare.

“I have thought about it simply because you kind of have to,” Burke, who teaches fundamentals to business and computer science, said of active shooter scenarios.

After about 10 minutes the gunshots finally stopped. About an hour later, police breached Paddock’s hotel room at the Mandalay Bay hotel where he had an aerial view of the concert crowd, where police found him dead.

“The speed with which they acted is miraculous, and prevented further loss of life,” said President Donald J. Trump of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. “To have found the shooter so quickly after the first shots were fired is something for which we will always be thankful and grateful. It shows what true professionalism is all about.”

While Burke is still hearing gunshots in his head, he said he is not living in fear. Within a week after the shooting, Burke said he and his wife attended a concert at Jiffy Lube Live in Virginia without anxiety or fear, saying he already knew there were no tall buildings around – something he said he will consider next time he goes to a concert.

“There will probably be some apprehension on our part to go to a concert at that type of venue,” he said.

@neal_earley

 

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