A woman who experienced first-hand the carnage at Sunday night’s concert massacre owes her life to a United States Marine.
Gunman Stephen Paddock, 64, opened fire into the crowd of 22,000 people killing at least 59 and injuring 527 more.
Renee Cesario had met Marine Brendan Kelly just hours earlier during the Route 91 Harvest Festival. She had traveled from Riverside County, California to attend the concert with her older sister, Jenn Cesario.
In a Facebook post she submitted, Renee recalls what she went through.
“Brendan and I met only 2 hours before the Jason Aldean show. I left my friends so we could go up super close to the front for the end of the night,” she wrote. “We were just dancing and having fun and then all of the sudden there were loud noises that sounded like fireworks, but no lights were going off.”
The noises quickly stopped as Aldean kept playing until more shots were fired, prompting the singer to run off the stage.
It was at that moment that Brendan stepped in.
“Before I knew what was going on, Brendan tackled me down to the ground and covered me from the fire. It stopped again and he looked around to see what was happening and then it just kept going. He looked at me and said ‘We have to get out of here. We can’t stay here. It’s not safe,'” she wrote.
Renee said Brendan then pulled her out of the piles of people that had fallen over her.
“We had no idea who was dead or who was alive. We just started to run. He kept telling me it was going to be okay and to keep running until we were safe,” she wrote.
The Facebook post has gone viral, garnering over 527,000 reactions and over 148,486 shares as of Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 3.
At 10:30 p.m., about 20 minutes after the shooting started, Renee’s sister, Jenn, got a phone call from their dad, who was also at the concert but not attending with his daughters. The dad told Jenn he couldn’t get into contact with Renee.
“My sister wasn’t answering her phone,” Jenn, 25, told CBS News. “I thought she was dead.”
Then she got a text message from an unknown number. It was from her sister on Brendan’s phone. She explained how she lost her cell while running.
“When we finally were able to talk I felt a huge relief that her voice was on the other line, and she wasn’t hurt,” Jenn told CBS News. “I still get completely sick not knowing if she was going to stay safe.”
Jenn later posted on Facebook her text with the Marine, thanking him for saving her little sister’s life.
“Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for taking care of my sister…seriously,” Jenn texted Brendan later that night.”Absolutely, that’s what we do, take care of our own and those around us,” Brendan replied. “Glad I could be there for her in that crazy time.”
Jenn called Brendan the “epitome of a hero.”