LISTEN: Amid Chaos In Las Vegas, Police Dispatches Reveal An Evolving Response
It took just over an hour.
At about 10:08 p.m. local time Sunday, the first reports of gunfire surfaced on dispatch radio for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. By about 11:20 p.m., law enforcement had used explosives to bust down the door of a hotel room in Mandalay Bay, where they would soon report their suspect dead, surrounded by firearms.
In the horrific interval between — and for a confusing time afterward — there were calls for medical help, attempts to protect panicked civilians and conflicting reports of active shooters across the city. The radio dispatches reveal a battered police force struggling to save dozens of victims at the Route 91 Harvest music festival — and to figure out who, exactly, was raining bullets down upon them.
At the same time, the dispatches do not reveal everything. Gaps and unanswered questions beneath the eddy of voices. Even the compilation of body cam footage released Tuesday night provides an incomplete, although dramatic picture. Some of the views are obscured by the darkness, obstacles or even articles of clothing.
What you'll find below is the audio of the Las Vegas police response to Sunday's massacre, as archived and hosted in the creative commons by a service called Broadcastify, which says the recording is unedited. The audio is divided into half-hour chunks, taking the listener from the opening moments to the immediate aftermath.
Below that audio, you'll also find notable quotes from the response as it unfolded, time-stamped by approximation and arranged in the order they were reported.
In the first half-hour of the attack, law enforcement came to grips quickly with the enormity of the situation. The search for the source of the gunfire proved more difficult, impeded by conflicting reports and the need to treat the concertgoers hit with the attack.
Even as police progressed toward the suspect, one frustrated officer's statement made plain their difficult choice: "We can't worry about the victims!" he shouted. "We have to stop the shooter before we have more victims!"
"We've got shots fired ... at the Route 91. Sounded like an automatic firearm."
"It's coming from upstairs! From the Mandalay Bay. Upstairs at Mandalay Bay. Halfway up, I see the shots coming from Mandalay Bay — halfway up!"
"We have an active shooter! We have an active shooter inside the fairgrounds!"
"Just advising, there are people down on stage left."
"Shots fired from Mandalay Bay. There's many people down stage left."
"We're in front of Mandalay Bay. We're trying to see where the shots are coming from. If anyone can advise if they're coming from Mandalay."
"It sounds like it's either Mandalay or Luxor. We cannot tell."
"North of Mandalay Bay! It's coming out a window."
"Flashes in the middle of Mandalay Bay on the north side. Kind of on the west tower, but towards the center of the casino, one of the middle floors."
"I'm inside the Mandalay Bay on the 31st floor. I can hear the automatic fire coming from one floor ahead, one floor above us."
"Just be advised it is automatic fire. Fully automatic fire from an elevated position."
"We can't worry about the victims! We have to stop the shooter before we have more victims! Anybody have eyes on 'em to stop the shooter?"
"We have multiple, multiple victims. Shots fired right at the medical tent. We've got one shot in the head."
"Hey officers, please stay calm. Just relax. We're trying to get this set up, OK. Just stay calm."
"He's still firing."
"It's been a while since we've heard any shots. Does anybody have eyes on the shooter?"
"Be advised, we are taking fire from a very high floor. We believe it's possibly coming from the Mandalay Bay."
"We're getting from civilians saying there might have been three shooters."
"We've interviewed multiple people leaving the concert venue ... saying that there have been multiple people that are shot or were shooting in the concert venue."
"It's Room 135 on the 32nd floor. I need SWAT."
"We have a four-man element at the very end of the hall."
"We have a security officer also shot in the leg on the 32nd floor. He's standing by by the elevator."
"He shot down the hallway and hit a security guard."
Here, police move steadily to clear the floors in Mandalay Bay where they believe the attack is coming from, even as there are indications in the audio that the gunfire has stopped. After a flurry of communications, one officer notes he has not heard gunshots for a while.
On Tuesday afternoon, Las Vegas Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters what officers appear to have had trouble discerning in the chaos: Shots were fired for approximately nine minutes.
"About three minutes ago, a black ... unknown truck — looked like a Chevy, unknown occupied — ripped out of the parking east of Excalibur heading south. ... It was reported by several people and witnessed by me. Just keep an eye on it."
"Has anybody on the outside heard any further shots?"
"That's a negative. We've been pinned down at Mandalay Bay Road and the Boulevard for about 15 minutes, and we have not heard any shots in probably 10 to 15."
"I need some more units here! I'm being overtaken by citizens trying to take patrol cars."
"We're moving towards 135 over here."
"Copy, we have the hallway. Let me know when you move. ... We have the hallway contained. The room where the shots were fired from — it is contained right now."
It is at this point that the search for the shooter comes to a head. Officers approach the target, then knock down the suspect's room with explosives, calling: "Breach, breach, breach." On the other side of that explosion, officers report "one suspect down" with a cluster of firearms.
At the same time, the channel becomes flooded with reports of shots fired in no fewer than a half-dozen casinos across the Las Vegas Strip. These reports would be knocked down one by one, as strike teams deployed to each location and found no such thing.
"We are at the end of the hall next to the target."
"We are at the end of the hall. We are going to be peeking out into the hallway. Those officers that are down the hall, you need to acknowledge so we don't have crossfire."
"SWAT's in place."
"Be advised, we're getting multiple calls of active shooters at multiple locations. May or may not be diversions [unintelligible] or what."
"I'm outside Tropicana. We're not hearing any 434s [illegal shootings]. This could be a diversion."
"I need everybody in the hallway to be aware of it and get back. We need to pop this and see if we get any type of response from this guy — to see if he's in here or he's actually moved somewhere else."
"Copy, all units on the 32nd floor, SWAT has explosive breach. Everyone in the hallway needs to move back. All units, move back."
"Breach, breach, breach. [Explosion]."
"I just got reports of citizens shots just fired — two shots in the park area of New York-New York."
"Copy, be advised there's two shots fired in the park area of New York-New York. Now they're also saying one at Aria."
"So far, New York New York is clear. Negative shots fired."
11:23-25: Suspect reported down inside his room in Mandalay Bay.
"We are clearing this room. We have one suspect down."
"The breach is going off here in about 5 seconds."
"We've got these two rooms secure. We've got one suspect down, multiple firearms."
As the clock nears and rounds midnight, the officers in the gunman's room begin to turn up clues — including his address and the name of a possible person of interest. Meanwhile, officers across the city struggle to vet and investigate a series of active shooter reports.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.