Spot Operator Talks About His Route 91 Experience

Paul Weiss started his work shift Oct. 1 the way he always did. He dug his keys out of his jeans pockets, along with his wallet and spare change, and routinely dropped them into a storage bag that he stashed underneath the stage he’d be shining his spot on that evening.

Weiss would be operating a spotlight for 3G Productions at Route 91 Harvest festival, across the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, where Stephen Paddock was also preparing for his evening.

Weiss emptied his pockets before his shift because he would be working 20 feet above ground, and above 22,000 ecstatic country music fans, on a tower platform as a truss spot operator. He empties his pockets to protect the fans gathered below, because things tend to fall out of them when he’s climbing scaffolds and towers.

Paddock, on the other hand, was reportedly placing cameras around his two corner suites on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay, which offered perfect views of the Las Vegas Village event space, where the Route 91 Harvest festival was taking place.

The cameras electronically watched out for security, and the corner suites offered a clear shot at anyone on the festival grounds. He was preparing an arsenal of assault weaponry and trained it on the unsuspecting masses also gathered below.

Shortly after 10 p.m., Jason Aldean and his band were onstage to close out the final night of the three-day festival. Weiss had his spot trained on house right and, at that moment, guitarist Jack Sizemore. He heard strange pops and, given his military training as a U.S. Army specialist, quickly suspected the sound was gunfire – possibly even automatic gunfire.

He asked his crewmates through their communications system – “on comm” – if they’d heard it, too. He texted another crew member who was backstage to warn people there not to come out front to see what was going on.

The text was timestamped 10:09 p.m.

“[Jason Aldean and his band] were just ending one of their songs when we heard strange noises. Somebody said, ‘Was that in the audio?’ because we had speakers hanging off the backside of the towers,” Weiss told Pollstar the next day. “And I said, ‘Why are people stampeding?’ and we heard a bunch of noises that some people said were fireworks. The [lighting director] thought it was fireworks and said so on comm.

“Then we all got flat as we could and as close to the metal posts holding up the spot tower, because we realized people were down and it was gunfire. The news media said something about how [Paddock] shot for about a minute, but I couldn’t tell you. It seemed like it wasn’t going to stop, and it was going to keep going forever.”

Weiss was fortunate; he wasn’t hit. But he could hear bullets whizzing past and one of his colleagues from 3G Productions was struck a glancing blow by a ricochet.

“Several people were up on the spot tower and something hit the tower and bounced and hit one of the guys,” Weiss said. “It didn’t cause an injury because it had slowed down so much hitting the tower.”

3G Productions later reported that of its roughly 100 workers onsite at Route 91, one person was shot but is in stable condition at press time. “We are grateful … The rest of our team has been accounted for,” the company posted to its Facebook page.

First Responder
John Locher/AP – First Responder
A police officer takes cover behind a police vehicle during a shooting near the Mandalay Bay resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Meanwhile, the comm line remained live during the ordeal, with crew members coaching each other: “Everybody stay down, stay low, keep your head near the solid steel supports so you don’t get hit,” Weiss described.

“It was everyone for themselves. Nobody expected this. Nobody knew what to do, where to go. We, the guys on the towers, we could turn a few degrees and look directly at where that guy was shooting from. We held on to our towers for 10 or 15 minutes, and stayed down until we were sure it wasn’t more than one guy, that they weren’t going to start shooting again, that we were for sure out of harm’s way. Then we just got the hell off the tower and got out of there,” Weiss said.

Weiss was able to determine from which direction bullets were coming, despite the so-called “canyon effect” of sound bouncing across glass walls and through a canyon of buildings on the Strip in the crisp desert air.

“The Luxor and Mandalay Bay are solid glass structures right across the street and when things were hitting, and the band was on the stage, all that noise was going all over the place,” Weiss explained. “The only way I knew where it was coming from, even that general direction, was in the way it was hitting things – when I saw people falling, and when it hit my spot tower.”

Weiss watched the scene unfold below him as he lay still and flat on his platform – not knowing if the shooting was truly over. There had been so much shooting, so many rounds, so many people down that he couldn’t believe it came from just one shooter.

“I could see that there were a couple of people down to the right of my spot tower. There was a cluster of people down to the right of my spot tower, and somebody came running over and I could see he was checking to see who was alive,” Weiss said.

“He grabbed one of the people and ran off. Then somebody else showed up and was checking again and pulled somebody else out. And a third guy showed up and checked two people who were there and he moved on to other people and left them there.

“By the time I got down, there were people covering them and it was obvious from the amount of blood that they didn’t make it. After I finally left, walking out, I saw people who were carried out that I believed were alive at the time but that didn’t even make it into an ambulance. There were people huddled around them that were completely distraught and crying.”

But what surprised Weiss most was not the ferocity of the attack, or the number of rounds of ammunition zinging past, but the response of the intended targets of Paddock’s assault.

“I could see over the edge of my spot tower, even though I was hanging on to avoid bullets, I saw people who just saw somebody go down who stood up in the middle of all that and just carried them out – they weren’t even concerned. They just started grabbing wounded people and getting them out.

“People started breaking up bike rack barricades. They threw them on their sides and put people on top of them. Three or four people would pick it up, drag it, or carry it if they could.

“There were security guards helping people out. There were all kinds of tents and vehicles people got shoved into and sheltered during the shooting. At first, the catering tent was unlocked but it was emptied of all the catering stuff and turned into a triage for a short while. They were dragging everyone wounded in there, in case they started shooting again, so they wouldn’t be seen or be hit.”

Weiss praised the property owner for being as proactive as possible about security at the site.

“MGM Resorts International, the parent company of a lot of the properties on the Strip, are the owners of that space and, when Homeland Security wasn’t doing it and law enforcement wasn’t doing it, they got their own people, trained them, and got their own dogs to sniff around boxes,” Weiss said.

“We warned them that with a lot of people backstage and with that sea of road cases at a festival or big tour, something could get slipped in during the show. MGM Mirage people got their own security, and you see people with what look like security uniforms but they’ve got no belts, cell phones, weapons; they’ve just got a dog. And they’ve been sniffing every venue, every time I’ve been there recently. They’re constantly in the venues training.”

Though active shooter training has increasing become part of safety protocols for many large companies, there are differing levels of training among crews getting OSHA 10- and 30-hour training certification and others learning by osmosis.

“One of the venues had some Homeland Security people come in and ask us how fast we could get out of the building [in an emergency],” Weiss said. “But we never really had any active shooter training. I wouldn’t be surprised if OSHA gets into it and starts requiring it.”

OSHA trainer Sandy Espinoza told Pollstar that OSHA does in fact do active shooter trainings, but the agency tends to focus on offices rather than open spaces, such as that at Route 91.

Shooting Aftermath
Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP – Shooting Aftermath
Medics treat the wounded as Las Vegas police respond during an active shooter situation on the Las Vegas Stirp in Las Vegas.

“OSHA does do that, and it’s part of the ‘10 and 30’ training in the workplace. They just don’t use our workplace as the workplace. They use offices, things like that. I would believe that OSHA, after this, will probably begin doing more active shooter training.”

Before he left Las Vegas Village, Weiss returned to the stage to retrieve his bag of personal belongings.

The police investigation began immediately – and the stage was on lockdown. There would be no retrieval of personal belongings anytime soon. Nor would there be any loadout for the performers whose gear was still on site by the time Aldean’s set was cut short.

“The one thing everybody is wondering is when the tours are going to get any gear and their personal stuff back. They locked everything down so fast there wasn’t time to … They weren’t taking anything for an answer that stuff had to move or had to go,” Weiss said.

He returned home, without identification, a bank card, cash, or even his house key. Those necessities of daily life were all stuffed in his storage bag, presumably still under the stage and hopefully in police custody.

“When I got back to my apartment I had to wait for my manager to show up in the morning and get the maintenance guys to cut me a new key so I could get into my apartment,” Weiss told Pollstar mere hours later.