RENO — Retired Reno police officer Derek Cecil knows the sound of gunfire, but he hoped he was wrong when he heard a "pop, pop, pop," sound on Sunday night in Las Vegas.
He had just broken up a scuffle between two men and was standing at the bar buying shots for the them to break the ice. Little did he know, that was just the beginning of his good Samaritan efforts that night.
"I turned to the guys I was with and I said, 'Those are gunshots.' They disagreed, but then a kid came running by me and had a shot in his shoulder," said Cecil, of Sparks, Nev.
Cecil has seen a lot in his career. He was with Reno Police Officer John Bohach when he was shot and killed on duty in 2001; he was at the Pine Middle School shooting in 2006 and the Sparks Middle School shooting in 2013.
Cecil is also a firearms instructor at Reno Guns and Range and a former combat and flight medic with the U.S. Army and Army National Guard.
"This was the most chaotic scene I have ever seen; this was the most surreal event I've ever been part of," Cecil said.
Unarmed, he looked around expecting to see an active shooter, but saw no signs — just a glimmer from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. He thought the flash was a reflection from the neon lights of the city, though he now believes the glimmer was the broken glass from the 32nd floor of the hotel, where Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock was holed up and raining fire down on the crowd.
Paddock, 64, killed 58 people at the Route 91 Harvest music festival and wounded nearly 500 more in what has been reported as the deadliest mass shooting in American history. According to investigators, Paddock had nearly 50 firearms in his room, and 12 of the weapons had bump-stock attachments to create an automatic weapon effect.
When the gunfire began, Cecil ran back towards his friends, a group about 10 people — pool buddies and work friends — that he'd traveled with to Las Vegas. Many of them still thought that the cracks in the air were fireworks until some of them spotted a young man who fell after getting shot in his back.
Cecil ushered his friends to safety to a covered tent, he said, and did not even realize that on his way, his phone had deflected two ricocheted bullets, completely cracking it. One of his friends, Chris Eyer, also of Sparks, was hit by pieces of shrapnel en route and the fiancee of another friend was grazed by a bullet, he said.
"I didn’t see anything or know anything until we started looking around, and I saw a bullet hit the ground five feet in front of me," Eyer said. "I had glass or some other fragments that hit me in the face, and Derek and I both went belly down."
Eyer began bleeding profusely, though he didn't even know that he'd been hit by material all across his back shoulder. Cecil rushed his friends to the back, and helped Eyer find a pile of paper towels to apply pressure and stop the bleeding. Once Cecil had helped his friend, he was ready to go back.
"Once I got my group to the exit, I told them to go to safety, go to triage, do whatever you have to do, I'm going back in, don't come in after me," he said.
While most of the crowd had dispersed, several thousand people remained, hiding behind and under trailers, others laying still. Some were dead, some were hurt, some were crying and some were just scared and didn't know what to do, Cecil said.
"My mindset was to get to the shooter and take him out," Cecil said. "I didn't have any of my weapons with me. My gun was in the hotel, my knives were in the hotel."
Not being able to locate the shooter, Cecil rushed to the side of people who appeared injured.
He assisted or carried about seven victims out of harm's way, he said, and then joined a group of other civilians, including a firefighter, a discharged Marine and a retired California Highway Patrol officer. Together, they helped more than two dozen people escape the premises, though he never had a moment to get their names.
"We were probably the last civilians left in the venue," Cecil said.
Since the event, he and his friends have had "less than restful nights" of sleep. Eyer's wounds are healing well, and they all grew a bit closer after the tragedy.
"I’m the new guy in the group so it’s nice to know that when things get tough, my friends, they’re going to be there for me," said Eyer.
Eyer and Cecil both hope that fear does not get in the way of moving forward with other peoples' lives.
"I don't know why (Paddock) did what he did, but it certainly fits into terrorism," Cecil said. "But limiting yourself from going to events, it lets them win and succeed at what they're trying to do."
Follow Jenny Kane on Twitter: @Jenny_Kane