Support the news

#VegasStrong: How Shooting Survivor Nick Robone Healed With The Help Of Hockey16:30
Download

Play
The Las Vegas Golden Knights honored first responders and victims of the shooting at their inaugural home opener. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
The Las Vegas Golden Knights honored first responders and victims of the shooting at their inaugural home opener. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

It’s been nearly two years since the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting in Las Vegas. A lone gunman firing from a high-rise hotel shot and killed 58 people. More than 850 people were wounded. It all happened just around the time that the Las Vegas Golden Knights were beginning their inaugural season in the NHL.

And sometimes you can find community in the least likely of places.

"I had been here 10 years, and I had a pretty good grasp of Vegas. But even I underestimated how much togetherness and how much community there was here," says Jesse Granger, who covers the Golden Knights for The Athletic. He was also among the first reporters on the scene of the Harvest festival shooting.

"Everyone outside of Vegas sees it as the Strip and hotels and clubs and all that. And pools," Granger says. "I feel like I didn’t even give the city enough credit. And after that, it completely changed the way I viewed Vegas."

But for many in Vegas, the events of that day — and the weeks and months after —changed the way they looked at a sport: hockey.

Hockey in Vegas

27-year-old Anthony Robone grew up with the sport. His dad brought his love of the game with him from Los Angeles.

"He’s always been a big Kings fan. So when we grew up, especially when we started playing hockey, we grew up watching the Kings play all the time. Luc Robitaille, all those guys," Robone says. "Our neighborhood was half the hockey community at the time, I felt like, because a lot of the kids that grew up in our little area are the ones who all went and started playing at the same time. But you go to school and tell people you played hockey and they’d be —  kind of give you a weird look."

Anthony’s older brother, Nick, went to UNLV and played for the Rebels' roller hockey team. Anthony joined him for the 2011-2012 season.

Nick (left) and Anthony Robone (right) grew up as hockey fans in Las Vegas. (Susan Valot)
Nick (left) and Anthony Robone (right) grew up as hockey fans in Las Vegas. (Susan Valot)

"Even playing for UNLV, you know, for a long time, people would be like, 'Oh, we have a hockey team?' " Anthony says. "I’m like, 'Yeah, we got a hockey team. We’re pretty decent.' "

A few years later, Nick signed on as a coach for UNLV’s men’s ice hockey team. Hockey was growing in Vegas.

In June of 2016, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the Las Vegas Golden Knights were coming to town. Of course, hockey fans booed him.

"No, no, keep the booing," Bettman responded. "That proves you’re now an NHL city."

The NHL had arrived. For the Vegas hockey community, the excitement was like Christmas morning. But while the Golden Knights were preparing to play their first regular season game, Las Vegas was hosting the Route 91 Harvest music festival, a three-day party featuring country artists in an open field at the south end of the Vegas strip. Nick and Anthony and some of their childhood hockey friends decided to attend on Sunday, the final night of the festival.

"So I went and played my men’s league game on Sunday, like I always do. And then afterwards, I actually zipped down there as fast as I could," Nick says.

Anthony took the day off from his job as a paramedic. But he also had plans for before the concert.

"I had actually skipped our Sunday night league game that night to go to the Golden Knights' preseason game against the Sharks," Anthony says. "So [Nick] went and played in our hockey game. I went to the Golden Knights' game. And the plan was to meet up around 8:30, 9 o’clock to catch the last two acts of the concert together.

"I was just lucky that we actually got to meet up, because there’s no real good cell service there. And we were just kind of trying to figure out where everyone was at. By the time we all got together, it was the end of Jake Owen's set."

Like One-Two ... Then A Barrage

"It was kind of like towards the end of the concert, obviously," Nick says. "Jake Owen was the second to last to perform, and Jason Aldean was the last and final one. You just hear like two loud, like, bangs. It was like one-two. And then it kind of stopped. And then you hear like a consistent barrage of what essentially is gunfire.

"But, at the time, you’re never thinking, 'OK, I’m getting shot at at a concert.' We’ve definitely shot guns in our lives plenty of times. But I think it’s different when you’re hearing it from how far that is. So you’re still not really sure what it is. Maybe it’s a blown speaker or something. And you crouch down. And everybody’s crouching down. And then the music stops, and you’re like, 'OK. Something’s up.'

"I feel like somebody just smashes me in the chest with a sledge hammer."

Nick Robone

"And then it stopped for a second. And all of a sudden it goes again. And probably the second time around when it goes again, you know, I feel like somebody just smashes me in the chest with a sledge hammer.

"I crouch down and [I'm] still not thinking I was shot with a bullet. But then blood started coming out of my nose and my mouth. And then I looked down and, you know, I got a hole in my chest. And my brother’s there, thank God. And our buddy, Billy, who’s also a paramedic."

"I heard someone say, 'I got hit,' " Anthony says. "And I look over my right shoulder and I see my brother spitting up blood. And that kind of, you know, turned it into, like, 'OK, we’re getting shot at, and my brother’s been shot. We gotta get the hell out of here.' "

"They both grab me, and we just start running — just like everybody else starts running," Nick says. "And it’s just chaos, you know. I got one hand around my brother, one hand around Billy, and we’re running as fast as I can go, which isn’t too fast."

"And so we started heading east, out of the concert venue," Anthony says. "And, at that point, I was like, 'Oh, crap. Danielle.' "

Danielle, Anthony's girlfriend, was with him at the concert.

"And I looked up. And luckily she was — they were running right in front of us," Anthony says. "And so I told our friend Emanuel, who’s — he’s in the Army, and I trusted him with her life. And I was just like, 'Hey man, you've got to take her. Go that way. Go to the exit and get her out.' And so, yeah, we ran outside the east gate of the concert venue.

"We saw where Nick was shot at that point. He didn’t have an exit wound. He just kind of had an entrance right here above his left pec, right in the spot where your lung would be at. So that kind of got me nervous with his breathing and the blood coming out. So immediately, I was like, 'All right, well, he needs to go to the hospital. It’s the only thing that’s going to save him.' "

"You know, and then we get to a cop car," Nick says.

"And we kind of place Nick down behind the cop car," Anthony says. "And I remember asking the cops, ‘Hey, man, we gotta get my brother to the hospital right now. He’s been shot.' And he’s like, 'I can’t do that.' I mean, he’s hunkered down behind his car with his AR out."

"Cops are, they’re, you know, just as kind of shell shocked as everyone," Nick says. "They’re just telling people to run and get out, go this way or that way."

"I kind of realized, like, 'Hey, we’re on our own for this one,' " Anthony says. "I looked at Billy and I said, 'Hey, dude, we’re going to steal this cop car.' So we started wrenching on the door handle. And, of course, it’s locked. And then a few yards down the way, another cop was like right down there. He's looking at us trying to steal a cop car.

"So I asked him if he had a first-aid kit. He had kind of like that Walmart first-aid kit with Band-Aids and Neosporin in it. And we took the plastic off of it and made what’s called like an occlusive dressing."

"And then we ran further backwards onto a side street," Nick says. "And then that’s when I was sitting down, and we were waiting for an ambulance to come."

"Loads and loads of people who had been shot started to kind of flood to where we were at," Anthony says. "And he was shot in the first minute, and it went on for about 10 to 12 minutes. So, I mean, a lot of people continued to get shot. And at that point, when Nick was kind of stable, Billy was able to sit there and stay with Nick, keep an eye on Nick, and I just kind of started to see what other people I could help.

"Originally, my plan is, you know, that’s my brother. He’s getting on the first ambulance that shows up. Right as that first ambulance is coming down the street, felt like a lifetime. And right as that’s happening, a guy who had been shot in the neck, he’s bleeding out pretty bad. I was like, 'That guy needs to get on this ambulance.' And, luckily, I saw a couple ambulances coming behind that."

"It was like a scene from ... 'Pearl Harbor,' when they have the nurses running around when Pearl Harbor’s being bombed."

Anthony Robone

Nick got into the second ambulance.

"I didn’t even get to say 'bye' to him," Anthony says. "I mean, he was in the back of that ambulance, and I was able to peek through that window. And I saw him back there sitting on the bench seat. And I just saw the medic, and I just said, 'Hey, where are you going?' He said, 'Sunrise.' I said, 'Perfect.' And I mean, that was it. Like that was — that was all I could do, and I would just pray that that wasn’t the last time I saw him."

'We Need To Find A Way To Get To The Hospital'

Anthony and Billy stayed behind as first responders, helping out at the scene for about an hour and a half.

'At that point we're like, 'OK, well, we need to find a way to get to the hospital. There’s not going to be any Ubers or anything around here. Like, how the hell are we going to get back?' " Anthony says.

Anthony and Billy made their way to the Tropicana, where they were pushed inside as rumors swirled about more shooters. They were moved into a hallway while police tried to figure out what was going on.

"Finally, they said, 'Hey, there’s someone on the fifth floor who’s been shot in the head. We need some people to come up there and help us,' " Anthony recalls. "So I raised my hand right away. I said, 'Billy, let’s go. This is our way out.' The guy had been shot in the head, but it didn’t really penetrate the skull, or anything. It just kinda wrapped around his forehead.

"He was super lucky, but he still needed to go to the hospital. So we basically helped him down to the valet, where an ambulance was at. I remember talking to the one EMT, and he said, 'Oh, we’re gonna go to UMC.' And I was like, 'Uh-uh. No. You’re gonna go to Sunrise. And we’re gonna go with you.' "

The ambulance brought Anthony and Billy to the emergency room at Sunrise.

"Basically, when we first got there, they said, 'Hey, you can’t come back here. You can’t come back to the emergency room.' I said, 'Fair enough.' And I walked down to the waiting room, and that’s where a lot of our family and friends were," Anthony says. "So I got to give my mom and dad a hug and a kiss. And I said, 'Well, all right, I’m going to go find my brother.' "

Anthony had done some of his training at Sunrise.

"So I knew the door code, and I was able to kind of sneak into the emergency room," Anthony says. "It was like a scene from — I don’t know if you’ve ever seen 'Pearl Harbor,' when they have the nurses running around when Pearl Harbor’s being bombed, and there’s blood everywhere. And doctors and nurses are running everywhere and screaming. It’s like that."

Finally, Anthony found someone who knew where his brother was.

"He was already intubated. And he was actually not doing very well at that point," Anthony says. "I don’t think he even knows how critical he was, but his blood pressure was about 70 over 40, which — I don’t know if you know how low that is, but that’s a pretty bad sign.

"And I remember them kind of ripping in his chest, trying to get a chest tube in. And, you know, sometimes ignorance is bliss. But I wasn’t ignorant, because I work in that field. So I kind of knew where he was at. And it was a little frightening.”

#VegasStrong

Anthony went back to the waiting room and sat with his family — for three grueling hours.

"You see families get called up, and then they go sit back down," Anthony says. "Then you get another family get called up, and that whole family starts to break down and cry. And it’s like, 'All right, well, their loved one passed.' And just, they call another. And you’re like, well, which one am I going to be?"

But before his family’s name was called, Anthony’s phone rang. It was Nick’s doctor, letting Anthony know that his brother was going to be OK. The bullet hadn’t pierced Nick’s lung. But doctors had to cut open Nick’s rib cage to find the bullet, and there was a lot of internal damage.

Nick had been put in a medically induced coma.

"I was in the coma for essentially that night and all the next day, because I couldn’t breathe on my own. So they had that breathing tube in for like, you know, a day and a half," Nick says. "And then I woke up, and it was Oct. 3."

Doctors told Nick that being in good shape, in part from playing hockey, had helped him survive the shooting.

"You have very, like, mixed emotions. Because you don’t know who’s alive, who’s dead, why it happened, what happened," Nick says. "And now I’m just seeing, like, newspaper articles with my face on it and name on it, you know, and I’m just, like, kind of irritated because I just didn’t want any of that. Like, I just wanted to figure out what happened and then just be alone for a little bit, just to collect my thoughts and everything."

James Neal scores the Knights' first-ever goal on Oct. 6, 2017. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
James Neal scores the Knights' first-ever goal on Oct. 6, 2017. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

While Nick recovered in the hospital, the Vegas community rallied. And the city’s brand-new NHL team joined in.

"I went with the Golden Knights players to Metro headquarters, where — it was, like, two days after the shooting," Granger says. "And there were officers there that had been working non-stop since the shooting happened, and they’re exhausted. And they’d just been dealing with horrifying things for the last two days. And it just kind of lightened their day a little bit.

"These players had reached out to the team and said like, 'What can we do? We’ll do anything we possibly can.' And this is the week before the regular season opener in Dallas. They’re preparing for the first game in franchise history, and that was what they were doing that week."

Nick would stream his UNLV games from his hospital room, taking notes to give to the team. And his buddies came to watch the opening game of the inaugural Golden Knights season.

"It was actually 1-0, and the Knights scored late to tie it up, really late," Nick recalls. "I was in that room with seven or eight guys that I grew up playing hockey with. And, you know, I’d watched tons of games with them in the past before, and we'd never all cheered when one team scored."

But this time when the Knights scored, Nick says, everyone in his hospital room cheered.

"And I thought that was so strange," Nick says. "I just remember vividly looking around, and I was like, 'Wow!' They wanted to help this city heal and I think they did it. It gave so many people something to cheer for, and it gave them a distraction from the hardships that everybody was still going through."

As victims were released from the hospital and life began to return to normal, Nick says the city stayed behind the Knights.

"People really took grasp of the Knights, their style of play, which I think really embodies the city," Nick says. "It’s very fast paced, very hard-working, just like a lot of people in this city. So hockey truly brought everybody together at that time."

Granger saw the Knights' impact on the city, too.

"I think people, because of how screwed up our society is, people forget about tragedies too quickly, and we move on to the next thing. Whereas the Golden Knights made 'Vegas Strong' their calling card and their motto," Granger says. "And it ended up pulling the city together for a longer period of time, I think."

Nick Robone was left with a scar right underneath where hockey players wear a captain’s "C," where doctors dug out the bullet and the shrapnel. Nick had to work on breathing and walking again. He fought to build back strength. And, seven months after he came out of a coma, Nick stepped on the ice for his first hockey game.

"You don’t sweat the small stuff as much," Nick says. "When things come up, you know, before I might get a little frustrated and take things to heart a little bit more.

"But now I definitely just realize that it’s just — life is about the relationships you make with people, loving people, enjoying it to the best of your ability because when you’re gone, the only thing people will remember is how you made them feel. And I realize now I catch myself a lot quicker trying to do that."

Every day, as he gets ready to head out, Nick looks at one particular letter that a family friend sent him during his recovery from the shooting:

“It’s now up to you to take advantage of this gift, the second chance that was given to you that, unfortunately, 58 people will never know.

“Like a fortuitous bounce, God has put you in front of the net and the puck right in front of you. Don’t let him down.”

This segment aired on September 28, 2019.

Related:

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news