Off-duty SDPD officers who helped wounded during LV attack share - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Off-duty SDPD officers who helped wounded during LV attack share stories

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SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) — Two off-duty San Diego Police Department officers who escaped gunfire at a Las Vegas concert Sunday night detailed their fight for survival in front of media at a news conference Tuesday at SDPD headquarters.

Officers Max Verduzco and Tom McGrath were at the concert separately with family and friends. The moment shots rang out, the two fought to find safety while helping others along the way.

"We were scanning to see if the person was on the ground level with us -- if we could do anything about the shooter then, but we could almost tell that the person was on higher ground so there was nothing for us to do so we just ran," Verduzco said.

Verduzco bolted for an exit. He couldn't recall the exact exit, but he remembered how the narrow opening of the exit was bottlenecking the large and restless crowd. He said he ran up and slammed his body up against it to try and push it open and eventually -- he was unsure if he had help from others -- it swung out wider.

He and a crowd ran towards a small parking and took cover behind cars. Verduzco, remembering his training, instructed people to place their bodies behind engine blocks and wheel wells for safe cover and told them that they need to run at the next break in gunfire.

Eventually, a break came and they ran out further into the street. Verduzco noticed several wounded people who had taken cover behind two Las Vegas Metro vehicles while officers stood in front.

As one of the officers started applying a tourniquet to a victim, Verduzco took over so that the on-duty officer could continue providing cover. At that point Verduzco began moving down the line of victims, passing off his shirt and belt so that they could be used as tourniquets on others. He also made sure to ask people if they had any medical training or related experience, and offered tips when he could to those with lesser knowledge.

A woman in the group had been shot in the leg and was noticeably scared, and he knew he had to help calm her down.

"'Hey, look at me. You're going to be fine,'" Verduzco told her. "'You're going to make it. You're going to be fine.' And she started to calm down.

Verduzco said that he was amazed at how many people stopped and asked if there was anything they could do to help as they passed by. At the same time, he realized the potential danger a growing, stationary group could be in.

"At that point, I told them 'If you're not providing direct pressure to them, if you're not doing anything to help you need to go. I don't know where the shooter is, I don't want you getting hit, too.'"

He came across a victim with a lower chest wound who told him he was an off-duty officer, possibly in Orange County. The man told Verduzco that he tried to run into the venue to save others.

"I told him he was a hero," Verdusco said, unsure of the man's name. "I ran. I was like, 'You're a hero. I ran.'"

The man started asking about his wife and if she was safe. Verduzco told him she had made it out and that he needed to focus on himself. Someone nearby had grabbed the man's phone and asked him her name so that they could find her contact and call her for him.

Verduzco noticed that everyone in his group was being tended to so he continued on in search of his friends and reached out to family members to let them know he was safe. Then he called his partner with SDPD and told him to send him any confirmed information that he could on the situation so that he and others didn't walk into another danger zone they were unaware of.

Still unsure of the situation, he made his way into a nearby hotel and holed up in a bathroom. He later made it back to his hotel room at 5 a.m. Monday morning and reunited with his friend. They got 2 hours of sleep and then hit the road back to San Diego where their family was waiting.

Officer McGrath was at the concert with his wife, another off-duty officer named Mike and his wife, and five other friends enjoying the music about 25 feet from center stage.

McGrath remembers that as Jason Aldean was about to begin another song, the sound of consecutive pops went off. He looked over to Mike unsure if the noise was pyrotechnics or something else.

After the first round of bullets ended, McGrath looked behind him and saw a young woman, possibly in her 20s, who had taken a bullet to her chest. He immediately took off his shirt and pressed it on her chest. Within seconds he felt more hands go on top of his to help apply pressure.

As they tended to the woman a second round of gunfire began. McGrath grabbed his wife and laid her on top of the injured woman and did his best to cover them both while still applying pressure to the victim's wound. When the gunfire paused the group fled and hopped over a fence. McGrath said he was helping his wife over the fence when she became stuck and others jumped in to help free her.

After helping a few more people over McGrath got himself to the other side and in the process became separated with his wife and the rest of his group. Then a third round of firing started.

Mike fell on top of his wife and McGrath fell on top of Mike's sister and they shielded the women until the shots paused again. Once it did, Mike and the women fled the venue while Mcgrath stayed behind to try and locate his wife.

"I didn't know where my wife was," McGrath said. "I didn't know if she had been trampled, if she had been hit. I didn't know where she was."

He started back to the area where they had climbed the fence, checking the wounded along the way to see if they were his wife or if there was anything he could do to help.

Once he realized his wife wasn't there, he made his way east toward Las Vegas Boulevard to try and get away from the venue. Just as he was about to start running a fourth round of gunfire let out. he took shelter beneath the venue's sound booth with several others. Amid the sound of bullets whizzing by and clanking off of metal, McGrath told the group that they needed to get out as soon as the fire stopped.

"For whatever reason, the fourth round sounded like it was the closest," McGrath said. "I don't know if it was because I was alone, or because the adrenaline was pumping... but the firing seemed like it went on for a very long time."

Once the shots ceased Mcgrath took off toward the east end of the venue and into the parking lot, keeping an eye out for his wife along the way. Like Verdusco, he was instructing people taking cover behind cars to position themselves behind engines and wheels. He coaxed scared people hiding in truck beds to flee further way to a safer place.

Unable to locate his wife still, McGrath crossed back to the other side of Las Vegas Boulevard toward the venue. Along the way he came across a man suffering a bullet wound in his neck. He pulled him to cover behind a vehicle and packed his wound with the man's shirt.

The man was coherent enough to walk, so McGrath told him that they need to leave. 

"I'll go at your pace and I'm not going to leave you," McGrath told the man.

He put his arm around the man and headed through the parking lot to an area where vehicles were leaving. He flagged down a truck that had already taken a few victims as passengers and the driver offered to take them, too. As he loaded the man into the truck bed, another group approached with a woman suffering from a leg injury. McGrath applied a makeshift tourniquet out of a scarf and a branch and dipped his finger into some of her blood so that he could write the time in her arm for doctors to see.

The truck headed out looking for the nearest hospital or command post. They found one about a mile and a half away and stopped to unload the victims. McGrath carried the man with the neck wound out and laid him on the sidewalk. He began to tell McGrath that he was feeling weak.

"I remember just holding his hand and telling him that he needed to fight-- That he had made it this far, he had done his job," McGrath said. "He had done everything right and now was the time to fight."

Finally, an ambulance came to the man's rescue.

"People were trying to get in who had superficial injuries. I just remember yelling 'He's number one! He's number one!"

After the ambulance took the man away, McGrath saw that police had the venue and surrounding area locked down and he couldn't go back.

He turned on his cell phone and saw that he had several messages from his wife and father and his friend Mike. he estimated the time that they were all separated to be about 30 minutes.

He called his wife and told her he was ok and tried to find out where his group was so that they could meet up, then he called his dad to let him know he was safe. He then called Mike to get his location and the group reunited.

"Mike did a good job because he made sure that we got a hold of everybody," McGrath said. "We got a hold of Max, we got a hold of other officers that we knew were there... We did a roll call and Mike made sure he relayed the information down to our department."

"I think the biggest takeaway from it was that nobody suffered alone. there was a lot of good people out there, a lot of people were heroes but I think a lot of people will underestimate the power that people had because people stayed on the ground, they stayed with people who died. And I don't think anybody should have died alone and I'm happy that there were people that stayed who made sure that people were comforted in any way, whether they had a severe wound or minor wound, nobody suffered alone and I think everybody rallied around each other. I was happy for that."

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