Not long before the shooting began, Katrina Hannah was sitting on a friend's shoulders, raising her arms and grinning as a guitar solo echoed over the crowd.
Now her mother wonders if she will ever see her daughter like that again.
The pair had driven to Las Vegas from Southern California last week to take part in a multigenerational bachelorette party: Their group included the bride-to-be, bridesmaids like Katrina and several of their mothers.
On Sunday, Loreto Hannah, 57, was tired and decided to leave the last night of the Route 91 music festival a little early. Her daughter Katrina, 23, stayed on with friends, including a young man named Matt whom she had met at an earlier concert. They promised to make sure she got home safely.
As Ms. Hannah neared the exit, she heard the firing begin.
"It was forever," she said. "I felt like it was 20 people shooting, it was so loud and it felt so close."
She and a friend of Katrina's ran into a bar on the concert grounds. For the next 45 minutes, Ms. Hannah lay flat on the floor, trying frantically to reach her daughter – and praying she was unhurt.
Some of the first bullets fired in the worst mass shooting in modern American history hit Katrina, piercing her neck and shoulder. Her new friend Matt stayed with her, while a young Marine named Austin sprinted over to help. The two young men lifted Katrina over the fence of the concert grounds, got her into a car driven by a stranger – "another angel," said Ms. Hannah – and rushed her to a hospital.
When Ms. Hannah arrived at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas desperate to find her daughter, Austin was waiting for her.
"He had my daughter's blood on his hands and arms," Ms. Hannah said. "I really feel these two guys saved my daughter's life."
For the next seven hours, Ms. Hannah waited. Her husband Mike jumped in a car from their home in La Verne, Calif., to reach Las Vegas. In the chaos, no one could tell Ms. Hannah what had happened to her daughter, who had arrived without any identification. Twice hospital staff told her that the good news was that they couldn't find Katrina in the morgue.
When Katrina emerged from surgery, they identified her through the rings on her fingers – one with a dolphin and one with a cross. She was in critical condition, doctors said, and heavily sedated. Inside a hospital room, Ms. Hannah found an unrecognizable version of her daughter: her neck in a brace, her body crisscrossed with intravenous lines, unconscious and breathing through a tube.
Unable to speak or move her head, Katrina communicated by writing on an erasable board with a black marker. During the brief periods when she was awake, Katrina – who is attending graduate school – was full of questions. She asked about her friend Emily, the bride-to-be, and about her younger twin brothers. And she asked one question that made her mother weep.
"Who did this to me?" she scrawled. "I told her, 'Katrina, one bad person did this to you, but we have so many good people sending us love,'" said Ms. Hannah. "'There is one bad guy and he is gone.'"
The family struggled with how much to tell Katrina about the attack, especially after they informed her that eight of her middle-school friends had driven from Los Angeles and were sitting downstairs in the hospital cafeteria as a show of support.
"How did they know?" Katrina wrote on the whiteboard, her mother recalled. "Bad?" Her mother said yes. "You're lucky, we're lucky, honey," Ms. Hannah told her. "People are worse than you."
Ms. Hannah has been amazed by the outpouring of support from friends, relatives and complete strangers. Neighbours drove her husband to Las Vegas right after the shooting because they didn't want him to go alone. The Catholic elementary school where she works held a special mass for Katrina and other victims. Volunteers at the hospital have provided meals, toothbrushes, shoes and blankets.
Katrina's throat remains too swollen to take out the breathing tube and doctors say she will need to undergo a second surgery in the coming weeks. She flinches each time she hears the the heavy doors to the intensive-care unit, just outside her room, bang shut. She tried to read some of the hundreds of text messages on her phone, her mother said, but broke down crying and had to stop.
Ms. Hannah said she does her best not to weep in front of her daughter. But on Tuesday, as she sat in a red plastic chair in the hospital cafeteria and told the story of what happened to them, her voice shook and her eyes filled with tears. She had barely slept since the attack and felt too afraid to go to a vigil the hospital was holding for victims later that evening – too many people in one place, just like the music festival.
"I always said it could have been my daughter," said Ms. Hannah, remembering her reaction after learning about the victims of previous mass shootings in the United States. "This time it is my daughter."
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