AF Reservist experiences, survives Vegas mass shooting

Jones, 720th Security Forces Squadron, is a U.S. Air Force Reservist stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and a full-time civilian police officer. Jones was in the audience Oct. 1, 2017, at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, when an active shooter opened fire on the crowd killing 58 people and injuring more than 850 before he was stopped. (Staff Sgt. Margery)

Two off-duty police officers were enjoying a concert in Las Vegas when their lives suddenly changed.

The sound of fireworks filled the air. The officers saw a young woman fall from what appeared to be a shot to the head; then their training kicked in.

“That’s when Tammy and I ran directly to the girl to try and save her,” said Staff Sgt. Margery Jones, 720th Security Forces Squadron, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

In October 2017, Jones, an Air Force Reservist and a full-time police officer with the Buckeye Police Department, was attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival with her civilian co-worker, Det. Tamela Skaggs.

The mass shooting began during country artist, Jason Aldean’s performance. Jones had seen Aldean before so she and Skaggs were further back from the stage.

“That’s when the shots initially started,” Jones said. “I thought they were fireworks, which is weird because I make fun of people for not knowing the difference between fireworks and gunshots.”

In that setting, with the loud music and tight security, Jones said to Skaggs, “Is that just fireworks?”

Approximately 15 feet away, Jones recalls seeing the female victim go down, seeing the blood and thinking how surreal it seemed.

They ran toward the victim, a young woman in her 20s.

“Tammy stabilized her neck and I was trying to figure out what we could do at that point because shots are still coming,” Jones said. “It seemed like they never stopped.”

“Shots kept coming down, and Tammy and I could feel the ricochet from the bullets hitting the ground,” Jones said. “The crowd was going crazy. They were all trying to run out – but there were maybe only three exits.

“In my training, I’m used to there being a lull in the fight, which means the shooters are either exchanging magazines or they’ve stopped firing, and it seemed like the shooting just never stopped.”

While rendering aid, they realized the victim’s mother was next to them. The mother was screaming and crying while the two off-duty officers worked.

“We were trying to calm her down and looking to see what we could do for her daughter,” Jones said.

Jones was also on the Buckeye PD SWAT team and had trained on active-shooter scenarios. “We do it in the military as well, but it can’t prepare you for real life,” she said. “So the girl’s bleeding out; I looked at Tammy and it felt like forever had passed by, but I knew it was only minutes.”

Jones asks Skaggs, “Do you have a pulse?” Tammy said “No.”

In active-shooter training, they teach you to leave the dead behind to try and save others.

“I tried to get the mom to leave with us, but she wouldn’t leave, which I totally understand,” Jones. “She was not going to leave her daughter. I mean her daughter’s laying there but there was no cover for us, so we couldn’t even move the body.

“To this day, I feel like it’s the hardest decision I ever made to leave her there,” Jones said. “There’s nothing we could do. She had already bled out. She had no pulse.”

While shots are still raining down, Jones and Skaggs ran for cover. Once outside the concert, they hid behind a car and waited for a lull.

“People everywhere tried to run and everyone was trying to go in the same direction,” Jones said.

Jones says she wishes she could have done more and believes she did what anybody else would have done, especially those in military or police services.

Seven months after the mass shooting, Jones deployed to the Middle East with the 720th SFS.

“At the time, I felt like the deployment was a good distraction for me,” she said. “Being over there I realized I was totally wrong; it was not a good distraction. If anything it just made things worse. I snapped at people all the time.”

She was suffering from survivor’s guilt and had not dealt with it. For her recovery, Jones said it was challenging as a first-responder and military service member to ask for help.

“I know I should have asked for help because I needed it, but I was also afraid (peers) would not treat me as an equal,” she said. “I didn’t like being classified as anything; I don’t think I’m a hero, or a victim, or a survivor, and that’s what people try to term us.”

Jones’ advice for people who have gone through a traumatic event is to ask for help for whatever they’re going through.

“Something might be super traumatic to me but might not be to someone else. People handle things differently.”

During her deployment, Jones said she had great support from her team.

While deployed, Jones’ father slipped into a diabetic coma in October 2018, one year after the mass shooting in Las Vegas. She was sent back home on emergency leave for three weeks to be with her family.

“Seeing my dad in that state and it being the first year of Vegas,” Jones felt like she needed to be closer to her family.

Since returning from her deployment earlier this year, Jones has moved back to Ohio to be near her family and friends.

Jones said, “I have good outlets, good family support and good friends.”

First responders and military personnel put on the warrior ethos to accomplish the mission and sometimes at great personal cost.

“There is nothing wrong with being injured and seeking treatment,” Jones said.

Although the wounds may not be visible, they are still there. You are not alone.