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Breezy Point, Minn., couple escapes Las Vegas shooting

Mandi Hinson and her husband Tom are pictured at the Route 91 Harvest Festival Sunday, Oct. 3, in Las Vegas, shortly before the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Photo courtesy of Mandi Hinson1 / 2
Mandi Hinson and her husband Tom are pictured at a concert in a photo posted July 2016. Facebook photo, special to Forum News Service2 / 2

LAS VEGAS—A Breezy Point, Minn., couple ran from the rear section of the audience of 22,000 at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas during the worst shooting in modern American history Sunday, Oct. 1.

Mandi Hinson, 36, and her husband Tom went to the last night of the festival on a lark, since they both love country music. Hinson was taking time off from her home-based Etsy crafts business, and Tom took a break from his heating and air conditioning business to go with her on vacation to Las Vegas.

They managed to get their hands on last-minute tickets and enjoyed the first hour of the concert Sunday, she said.

Then, she heard the sound of gunfire—which sounded like fireworks to her.

"It was hard to decipher what was going on," Hinson said. "Then everybody just kind of (fled) in mass chaos."

Mandalay Bay was a large building near the concert area, and Hinson could tell the gunfire was coming from that direction. She did not see anyone get hit—she simply turned and ran with her husband without looking back, she said. Her husband was calm, concentrating on the fact the couple needed to flee, she said.

The audience members helped each other scale a large spiked security fence to get away, and Hinson did it with bare feet and while wearing a dress. She didn't see any trampling, but she also didn't see any concert workers assisting the evacuation, she said.

"I felt like they should have had some sort of system in place to help people leave better," Hinson said.

After they made it over the fence, the couple was whisked away by a random Good Samaritan driver in a black Escalade. Hinson thinks it could have been an Uber, Lyft or other professional driver. People banged on the windows but he simply kept driving, Hinson remembered. They could still hear rifle fire even though they were in a car driving away from the scene.

"I'm still shaking from everything," Hinson said.

Since the Hinsons were near the back of the concert space, their route to escape was arguably easier. Earlier in the night they stood in the section of the audience that would eventually be in the middle of the shooting, but they abandoned their spots to get food, which Hinson considers lucky.

The mystery driver dropped them off at their hotel, the Flamingo, so their escape only took about 15 minutes, Hinson said.

Hotel guests were barred from returning to their rooms amid a rumored bomb threat, and they waited out the situation in the facility's casino, she said. The staff downplayed what was going on, saying people getting shot in Las Vegas was a common occurrence, Hinson said, but her husband insisted the assault rifle fire meant something especially horrible had happened.

Hinson said it was likely an attempt to calm the guests down.

The Hinsons remained in Las Vegas overnight but were on their way back home to Breezy Point Monday afternoon, Oct. 2. They had not yet told their kids about the shooting, but the children did know their parents were fine.

The Hinsons are fine in the physical sense, at least.

"Any kind of noise just triggers very terrible feelings," Hinson said.

Saved by an anatomy paper

The Hinsons weren't the only couple with central Minnesota ties to have a close call with the Las Vegas shooting. Brainerd, Minn., native Hannah Dilley's husband Stephen Knudsen is a big fan of country singer Jason Aldean, and although they bought tickets for the entire Route 91 Harvest festival, they planned to only attend his concert.

But Dilley is going for her bachelor's degree in nursing at West Coast University in California, and she discovered a crucial paper for her anatomy class was due a week earlier than she previously thought it was. So, much to Knudsen's chagrin, Dilley nixed the concert plans.

Then the shooting happened, and what at first seemed like a disappointment turned out to be a blessing.

However, friends of Dilley and Knudsen still went to the concert and became victims of the shooting. One friend was wounded in the arm, and another remains unaccounted for as far as the couple knows. The effects of the incident hit Knudsen hard, Dilley said.

"Some of our friends are being severely impacted by it, so he's just really upset about it," she said.