When Conor O’Donnell realized that gunshots were raining down on the crowd at an outdoor county music festival in Las Vegas, the Rhode Island State Police detective immediately jumped into action.
Right after the attack began, Conor called his father, Retired Rhode Island State Police colonel Steven G. O’Donnell, to say he was safe but in the middle of the chaos. Steven O’Donnell tells TIME that he could hear gunfire and the ricochets of bullets hitting metal while his son described the scene.
” You could hear the background of chaos and rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire. I said, ‘Is that gunfire?'” says Steven O’Donnell. “He said, ‘Yeah it’s, far away. We’re good.”
Conor recounted people being shot and the concertgoers fleeing before hanging up.
O’Donnell says his family spent the next 75 minutes terrified for the safety of Conor and his girlfriend, Esther Reynoso, as the couple couldn’t talk or text. They could only watch news reports about the shooting on television. Officials now say suspect Stephen Paddock, 64, opened fire from his perch at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, killing at least 58 and injuring over 200.
” Being fully privy to 9/11, like everyone in this country, I’m thinking of how many victims told they’re loved ones they were fine before the World Trade Center collapsed,” O’Donnell says. “So we’re thinking the worst.”
But Reynoso called O’Donnell after an hour and 15 minutes to say both were safe, though emotionally distressed — and that Conor had run back to the shooting areas to provide medical assistance. Conor even helped another off-duty officer who was shot.
” He went back to help triage,” O’Donnell says. “He got blood all over him.”
O’Donnell says that he himself encountered death regularly during his years as a first responder, and he’s mindful of the toll this may take on his son, and others, psychologically. ” It’s different when it’s your kid, your child. You worry for them and how it impacts them down the road. How they live, how they go back to the next concert.”
As of Monday afternoon, Reynoso and Conor had returned to their hotel, where Conor was trying to get sleep. They’re scheduled to fly out of Las Vegas Tuesday but are trying to leave earlier.
O’Donnell is grateful that his family is safe, but says there’s “almost no happiness” with 58 dead and hundreds injured. The day after the shooting, he’s thinking of the families of victims: “All those people have to deal with a totally different phone call than I got.”