On Oct. 1, 59 concert goers, including UTM 2010 graduate Sonny Melton from Big Sandy, Tennessee, were killed and 527 injured when shooter Stephen Paddock opened fire on a crowd of over 22,000 people during the Highway 91 Harvest Festival.
Of the casualties, Sonny Melton, a finance graduate of UTM was killed while trying to shield his wife’s body with his own. The couple were celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary at the Highway 91 Harvest Festival when the shooting began.
Heather Melton shared with NBC News their last moments together and her fight to save him. “When we realized that gunshots were going off, and it wasn’t just fireworks like everybody thought, I said, ‘Let’s get down,’ and he said ‘no we’ll get trampled. Let’s go,’ she explained. Moments later, she felt Sonny get shot in the back. Heather, a surgeon, proceeded to perform CPR on Sonny until the shooting stopped and someone rushed the two to the hospital, continuing to try and save him, but it was too late.
After graduating from UTM, Sonny continued on to Union University where he graduated in 2015 with a bachelor of science in nursing accelerated degree. He worked as a surgical nurse along side of his wife Heather.
Another victim has ties to the town as well.
The son of resident Mike McMillan, Jason, was shot twice in the chest. According to Fox17, his condition is unknown.
Jason is a bailiff in San Bernardino, California. Big Sandy community members are currently raising money to fly out to see his son in the hospital.
Two UTM graduates who now study at UNLV, which is very close to the Mandalay Bay Hotel, Preston Martin and Andy Austin, were in the area when the shooting began. They both explained that it was difficult day for Las Vegas but the community has come together stronger than ever before.
“It didn’t take long for me to register what I was hearing; long bursts from a fully automatic weapon and lots of police sirens,” Austin said. “As Vegas is a large city, my first thought was gang violence and the recurring thought ‘Why am I only hearing one gun? Why is no one shooting back?’…”
He did not find out the extent of what happened until the next morning, and is still questioning how it could have happened just as the rest of America is.
Many first hand accounts of heroism have surfaced as those who survived the attack want to share how many of the concert goers put their lives on the line to save others just as Sonny did. Blood donors have lined up all across the United States beginning barely hours after the massacre in order to help those injured.
Heather Melton wanted to share the story of how her husband saved her life because just like many others, she believes their stories deserve to be told more than Paddocks. “I did not want the negative person to outshine the good souls that were lost and I want the world to know how good Sonny was.”
Positioned on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel across from the Jason Aldean concert, Paddock shot 40-50 round bursts into the concert arena at a time, leading to the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Paddock was able to shoot uninterrupted for at least 10 minutes before facing complications.
As the first few shots rang out during the Jason Aldean concert, concert goers thought it was fireworks or firecrackers, and it wasn’t until Aldean was rushed off stage that they realized it was gun shots and people began running for safety. Paddock fired in a manic repetition upon the crowd as many people searched for cover.
There were very few spaces for the crowd to hide in, making them easier targets for Paddock. Many tried to funnel out of the entrances but the tightly-packed crowds made it difficult to escape without being hit by bullets and shrapnel or trampled. People were seeking refuge behind and under cars, behind concession stands and bleachers, but nothing seemed to protect them. Fifty-nine innocent people lost their lives and over 500 more were injured but many people were dedicated to help as many as they could get out and get the injured get to hospitals.
Paddock, a 64-year-old accountant and avid gambler from Mesquite, Nevada, checked in Thursday and gradually brought 10 suitcases filled with 23 different firearms up to his room. All of the guns had been purchased legally, however, some of the guns had been illegally modified to allow for rapid fire. He acted alone.
As of now, there is no explanation as to why he committed the act of terrorism. Paddock shot and killed himself before police could breach his hotel room. His family has stated that he was just a regular guy and they do not understand how he could have done something so horrible.