As I See It
By ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO
Our group of about 500 people were in Las Vegas attending our 2-day multi-high school reunion when the deadliest mass shooting in US history happened on Sunday, October 1, 2017.
Attendees were billeted in various hotels in the Las Vegas Strip. Some were checked-in at Tropicana Hotel, one of two hotels nearest to Mandalay Hotel (the other one is Luxor) where the shooting happened. My wife Delia and I stayed in Tropicana Hotel and we were told by reunion organizers that our friend alumna who stayed in Mandalay was safe.
At about 10 pm that night, we heard rapid gunshot fires which we thought at first were fireworks considering that there was a music festival/concert going on at the ground floor of Mandalay. At an interval of about 5 to 10 seconds, we again heard gunshots and that’s the time we opened our window from our 4th floor location at the Hotel’s Tower and saw people running in all directions looking for safety and numerous mobile police cars rushing to the scene. The stampede were moving towards our hotel’s parking lot which made us scared even more.
We didn’t know about what’s going on until we saw on TV about the mass shooting coming from an active shooter located at the 32nd floor of Mandalay Hotel., who was firing at the people watching the live concert of country music icon Jason Aldean.
I immediately took my cell phone with me and rushed to the elevator, but I was stopped by security staff telling me and other guests to go back to our rooms. There was a lock down and all tenants who were still at the lobby of the casino were escorted to their individual rooms with the instruction not to leave.
Back to our room, my wife and I again heard rapid gunshots and we saw people who were still seeking a way to escape.
Overall reunion coordinator Fe Gonzales Sepulveda, OLLA ’63, thanked the Lord for sparing our attendees, and has this to say: “Just finished reading all posts of everyone who has experienced this awful incident in a city where you associate it with fun and good time! I am happy to let everybody know that it seems like all our attendees are safe and sound although some had to experience being locked in till the wee hours of the morning wherever they were at the time of the incident aside from being in the comforts of their bed in a hotel, like the David Sumera cousins, Manuel Martinez and cousins. Let us thank the Lord that we were spared… and let us offer a simple prayer for the innocent victims that were at the wrong place at the wrong time. May the fallen Rest in Peace, and the injured recover soon! If anyone from our group got injured in any way, please let us know, so we can offer prayers and support in any way we can. Thank you!” Fe and her husband Al drove back to Corona the following day.
My classmate Bert Lapena, UCHS Batch ‘65, and his wife Zeny were thankful because it was a blessing on their part they were not able to attend both events. “We were 80% sure of attending the reunion and we intended to attend also the concert at the same time…” Bert said in his FB post. The couple, who are residents of Melbourne, Australia, are music lovers and they just love country music. Bert used to be a member of the UCHS marching band during our high school days. They are members of the choir of their local church in Melbourne.
Cris Ramirez, also a UCHS Batch ‘65, just like Bert, was with his wife Jackie who came all the way from the Philippines to attend the reunion, were stopped at the Las Vegas Blvd. on their way to the strip, and was told to back up, so they went back to their hotel 3 miles away from the scene.
Iris Lauvao, OLLA ‘70 and her daughter Benicca, who came all the way from Hawaii to attend the reunion, were stunned by the atrocities and were afraid of the situation. They stayed with their host family who are local residents of Las Vegas.
Drs. Fe Ranada, UCHS ’73 and Belinda Grace San Juan, OLLA ’74 also coming from the Philippines, stayed in their hotel very much afraid of the situation and for their safety that they are having thoughts now if they will proceed to Grand Canyon the following day.
Dr. Alfredo Gonzales, UCHS ’60 and his wife, who flew from Orlando, Florida to attend the reunion was calm as ever but of course worried of the fate of those people who were caught in the crossfire.
Yvonne San Juan-Sera, UCHS ’73, one of the organizers who drove with her husband Ron from LA said, “We thank God we are safe and past the ordeal but the pain is sinking…unbelievable. After a joyous event comes mourning for innocent people.”
Driving from Fairfield, CA to Las Vegas, Amadeo Lopez, and UCHS ‘68 and his wife and sister Carolina Gorospe, UCHS ’72 enjoyed the fun they experienced in attending the 2-day reunion, but became sad and gloomy as they mourned for the families of the 59 innocent people who died in the massacre. They likewise offered their prayers to the some 420 innocent concert attendees who were wounded.
For Cynthia Manangan Cortez, OLLA ‘66 also one of the organizers said, “I was shocked and worried to wake up hearing this atrocities. I hope alumni friends who are still in Vegas are safe. So sorry for those who missed their flights. I will continue praying that all of you will go home to your family safely. My heart goes out to the families of those killed and hurt. God bless us all!”
Roselily Jacob, UNHS ’79 also one of the organizers and a host to our special entertainment guest, Lizbeth Joy Ezra Ng from Israel, whose mother was an alumna of UCHS too and who also stayed at Tropicana Hotel said, “Friends and family that are still there , please be careful. Thoughts and prayers are for the victims and their family.”
Overall Coordinators Fe Gonzales-Sepulveda, OLLA ’63; Rufino Ortiz, Jr., UCHS ’72; and Rey de Vera, DWCU ’77 thanked all the organizers and all alumni and attendees for a very successful reunion. They also thanked Bernadette Ortiz-Ordonez, UCHS ’64 and Elpidio R. Estioko, UCHS ’65 who emceed the formal and informal gatherings and Guest of Honor Dr. Clare Adalem, UCHS ’60. They also extended their deepest condolences to the bereaved family of the 59 innocent people who died in the mass shooting and offered their prayers for immediate recovery for those who were hurt and now in the hospital for treatment and recovery.
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