Waiting to board their flight, Sonya and Corey Rokosh look forward to leaving Las Vegas and returning home to the Shuswap.
“We’re just in the airport right now. Airforce One just went by,” said Sonya from her cellphone at Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.
It’s Wednesday morning, Oct. 4. Two days have passed since the Sicamous couple attended a relative’s Vegas wedding – three since they spent the night in hiding at the back of an art gallery in the Mandalay Bay hotel, where they were staying, as Stephen Paddock unloaded multiple firearms from a room on the hotel’s 32nd floor into a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers. Fifty-nine people were killed and more than 500 injured in what is being called one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
“It still feels unbelievable to me that it even happened,” said Sonya, who taught at Sicamous’ Parkview Elementary and currently teaches at the Jackson high school campus in Salmon Arm. “But I’m so happy to be coming home. I can’t see Canada soon enough.”
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On Sunday night, before the first shots rang out, Sonya says she and Corey were returning to their room in the hotel when people ran towards them shouting, “There’s an active shooter in the casino and you better run.”
The couple ran through the hotel’s shopping area, where they encountered a man outside a small art gallery.
“He said, ‘what’s going on,’ and I said, ‘they just said there’s a shooter in the casino and that we’re supposed to hide,’” said Sonya. “So he closed the front door of his store and we locked ourselves in the backroom and we just sat there…”
The couple stayed in the backroom with nine others, including three gallery employees, a couple from North Carolina, a couple from Texas and another woman who had become separated from the group she was with.
“It was just 11 random people stuck in what was like a storage closet. I mean, it was big enough for us to be there, and we were lucky because there was a bathroom there and there was a fridge and they had some water we could drink,” said Sonya. “We heard stories of other people who had to pee in a bucket because you just do what you can to be safe I guess.”
Later, with news that the shooter had been killed and certainty no other shooters were present, the group left the room and was escorted by what looked like SWAT members, dressed in combat gear, to a theatre in the hotel where others had been placed while the building was in lockdown. From there, the larger group was moved by bus to a nearby arena.
“As we were walking in actually, some random lady just stopped us and said, ‘hey, can I take you somewhere, do you want a ride?’ So we got in her car and she drove us around a little bit until we could find a hotel. We sat down there for a few hours until we could get back into our hotel.”
Sonya said she and Corey were lucky to have been where they were when the shooting occurred. She said they’d wanted to go to the concert but tickets were sold out.
“If we had made it to our room, we would have seen the whole thing go down because our room just looked right over top of where the concert was. Pretty brutal,” said Sonya.
The wedding proceeded Monday, but the events of Sunday night left a pall over the city and its occupants.
“It was pretty surreal after,” said Sonya. “Vegas is so busy, there’s six lanes of traffic going both ways on the strip and it’s always full and there’s thousands of people walking up and down the streets and for two days after, there was nobody. The strip was dead from, like, the MGM towards the Mandalay. There was nothing but police cars.”
Sonya said neither she nor Corey have slept well since.
Preparing to board, she said Sunday night’s experience is something they will likely never forget.
“We prepare for this at school, we talk about what might happen if we have to go into a lockdown drill and what have you, and you never really think you’re going to have to think about that…,” said Sonya. “I don’t know how I feel to be honest. I think once we get home and can kind of just relax a bit maybe… When you’re in it, you kind of just have to push forward and focus on what you need to do and what’s happening next. When you don’t need to do that anymore, I think that’s when it hits you.”