Reyes in vegas

Maria and Ronnie Reyes right before headliner Jason Aldean performed at the Route 91 Festival in Las Vegas on Sunday. Not long after this picture was taken, Stephen Paddock shot concertgoers from the window of the Mandalay Bay hotel, killing 58 and injuring hundreds.

Contributed by Ronnie and Maria Reyes

HANFORD — In the middle of chaos and during the scariest moment in her life, Maria Reyes said a prayer for a stranger.

The man she prayed for was lying on the ground, not moving, with paramedics around him trying to save his life.

No more than 30 minutes before she felt the overwhelming urge to pray for this man, Maria Reyes was dancing to one of her favorite country music songs Sunday at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas.

Maria Reyes and her husband, Ronnie Reyes, love country music; that’s all the Hanford couple listens to. They usually go to the Stagecoach Festival in Indio, but at the last minute, planned something new this year.

On the final day of the festival, they were there having a good time with their group. Three of the seven people from the group decided to go back to the hotel, so all that remained were the Reyes’ and Ronnie Reyes’ cousin and his cousin’s wife.

The Reyes’ were near the front of the stage enjoying the performers before headliner Jason Aldean went up to play. Before Aldean went on stage, Maria Reyes said the group was tired so they decided to watch him from the bleachers — an unusual move for the couple who like to be up front and in the mix.

It was a decision she thinks saved their lives.

Maria Reyes said she was dancing with a friend near the bleachers when she heard something that sounded like fireworks. She was confused by the noise, and even remarked to the group that the sounds “better not have been gunshots.”

The music stopped for a few seconds and the sounds started again.

“The next thing you know the stage goes black, and you just see people running and then people started screaming that gunshots were being fired,” Maria Reyes said.

She said she went into “complete panic mode” and her first instinct was to hide underneath the bleachers.

Maria Reyes said it was cramped and everyone under the bleachers was scared by the sounds they were hearing outside, but they knew it wasn’t safe to go outside, so they stayed and prayed. She said her husband reassured her that the police would stop whoever was shooting.

“It felt like forever,” Maria Reyes said. “The news said it was 10 minutes, but it felt like a lifetime. The bullets were never-ending.”

“It was the scariest moment of my life,” Ronnie Reyes said of hearing the bullets and jumping on his wife to shield her from harm.

The bullets began to hit the bleachers they were under and Maria Reyes said she couldn’t help but think the shooter was coming toward them.

Ronnie Reyes, who is a correctional officer, decided to look outside and check if anyone was coming, just in case they needed to make a break for it.

Maria Reyes thought her husband was just going to peak outside, but Ronnie Reyes left the “safe zone” of the bleachers and she said she began to panic once again. She wanted to go after her husband, but was told to stay hidden and was comforted by a stranger.

“I’ll never forget her,” Maria Reyes said. “She just hugged me and started asking me a bunch of questions.”

The stranger asked her where she worked, where her husband worked and how many kids she had.

“For just like a few seconds, I was able to not to hear the bullets or think about if he was going to get shot if he stepped out,” Maria Reyes said.

When Ronnie Reyes was outside, he said he came across several girls who seemed to be frozen in place from shock. He knew if they were his daughters he would want someone to help them, so he got their attention and told them to get under the bleachers and hide.

He said he began to hear more gunshots so he ducked behind a few plastic trash cans. That’s when he said he looked toward the sound of the gunfire and saw a little red light coming from a window of the Mandalay Bay hotel.

When the shots ceased again, Ronnie Reyes said he ran back to the bleachers to find his family.

People under the bleachers were panicked, so he said he yelled and told everyone that the shooter wasn’t on the ground, but rather shooting from the hotel window

His words helped ease the panic of those under the bleachers and he said everyone started to calm down a bit.

After a period of not hearing any gunshots, the Reyes' said they decided to leave and get as far away from the area as possible and head in the opposite direction of the Mandalay Bay.

They ran as fast as they could to the Tropicana Hotel. Maria Reyes remembers seeing wounded and bloodied people both when she peeked out of the bleachers and when they were running from the venue.

“I wish I wouldn’t have looked,” Maria Reyes said. “It was horrible.”

“It looked like a war zone, it was crazy,” Ronnie Reyes said.

Toward the back of the Tropicana near a loading dock, the couple came across a young woman who had been shot and was bleeding from her leg. Ronnie Reyes asked for someone’s belt and Maria Reyes, a nurse, made a tourniquet for the woman to ease the blood flow.

More people headed to the same area behind the Tropicana and Ronnie Reyes described the scene as “chaos.” People were injured and scared and he said he did his best to let them know what he had seen and told them they were safe there.

Still not knowing if the shooter had been caught or if there were multiple shooters, the Reyes’ once again decided to leave where they were.

As they ran, they said the street was chaos with the sounds of sirens, bumper-to-bumper cars trying to leave, people running, wounded people piled in vehicles trying to make it to a hospital and ambulances with multiple people being treated.

Maria Reyes said she called her brother to let him know what happened and tell him they were safe. She said she felt safer after seeing multiple police cars, but was running on adrenaline and kept seeing flashes of the scene in her mind.

“I remember just praying that I wanted to see my kids again,” Maria Reyes said tearing up about the couple’s four children. “I just wanted to go home and brush my daughter’s hair.”

Luckily, Ronnie Reyes’ cousin had a family member who lives in Las Vegas and he was able to pick the group up a few miles away from the venue near the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus.

They said they watched the news and hardly slept that night. In fact, they said they’ve hardly slept at all the last few nights.

The drive home from Las Vegas the next day was somber. Neither wanted to listen to the country music they both love so much.

When stopped at a gas station, Maria Reyes said she saw a few people get out of cars wearing purple bracelets — the tickets for entry into the festival.

Thousands are now connected by this shared tragedy, and Maria Reyes said she hoped and prayed their friends and family were all OK.

When the couple got home, they said they embraced their children and broke down and just cried together.

The Reyes’ have tickets to another concert later this year, but Maria Reyes said she’s not sure she’ll ever go to another concert again. She said she initially vowed to never listen to country music again, but realized that music wasn’t the problem.

“There’s no way I’m going to let that guy take that away from me and my family,” Maria Reyes said. “We connect through country music.”

Maria Reyes said she felt God was watching over them that night, but said it breaks her heart so many others were hurt or killed.

She said she just wishes she could see that woman who comforted her under the bleachers one more time.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

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