Longtime friends and co-workers, Serena West and Rachel Sheppard went to Las Vegas to attend the Route 91 Harvest Festival. The three-day concert started on Friday, Sept. 29, and was to be a dream vacation for the 27-year-olds who both work at Don Perico Mexican Restaurant in Tehachapi.
The two friends got rooms at the Excalibur Hotel, and attended the first two days of the concert without incident with four other friends, all from Tehachapi. West said her only complaint was she was tired by Sunday, and needed a nap.
"On Friday and Saturday, we were very close to the stage," West said Friday, Oct. 6. "On Sunday, I was really tired because Rachel wouldn't let me take a nap during the day, so I went and tried to take a nap on the grass at the venue before Jason Aldean started."
It was because of this nap that the two women would end up in the back of the crowd gathered in front of the stage, which put them directly in the path of danger.
On the final day of the concert, country music star Aldean was on his fourth song when their dream vacation turned into a waking nightmare as rapid-fire gunshots filled the concert's air.
West said she was standing next to Sheppard when they heard what they thought were cherry bomb firecrackers going off nearby. While looking around and wondering who was throwing fireworks, West said, she saw Sheppard grab her stomach and say, "Oh my God!"
At first, West said she thought Sheppard was hit by a firework, until her friend screamed and grabbed her stomach again, then fell backward onto the ground.
Said West, "She moved her hand, and there was blood just pouring out of her stomach."
Realizing Sheppard had been shot, a friend of the two women started jumping up and down and calling for help, yelling, "Paramedic! Paramedic!"
"At that time, we thought she was the only one who had been shot, perhaps from a stray bullet from a fight or a random gunshot," West said. "We didn't know that we were being attacked."
Two off-duty paramedics heard the screams for help, and ran over to the group of friends gathered around the wounded Sheppard, and began providing medical assistance.
Said West, "All of a sudden, we heard, 'br-br-br-br,' and we got down because we realized that she wasn't the only one hit, and that everyone was getting shot."
One of the paramedics attending to Sheppard was shot in the leg, but kept going, said West.
Panicking, West said she ran and hid behind a trash can in between the few seconds of silence, which she believed were due to the gunman reloading his weapon or reaching for another weapon.
Clad in a pair of shorts and cowboy boots, West said she dove for cover, and skinned up her bare kneecaps. During another few moments of quiet, she ran toward a food and beverage booth, then ducked behind a bar and hid behind a table and boxes.
Said West, "I was pretty much planning to stay there, but people kept running by saying, 'He's coming! He's coming! You need to get out of here!'"
During the chaos, West called her father, John West, in a panic.
"She called us right after she took off running, and I could hear the gunfire in the background," said her father. "First, we thought she was kidding, and we didn't believe it. But then I thought it was a terrorist, and told her to stay down, and to stay behind the trash can. I was trying to picture it. I told her not to trust anyone. I was thinking all this stuff about terrorists."
When it was quiet again, West said, she jumped up and took off running and didn't stop until she got to the parking lot of the Tropicana Hotel. As she was running, West said, she saw each person running on both sides of her get shot and go down.
"The guy next to me hit the ground and said he was shot in the leg," West said. "There were people running and holding each other, yelling they had been shot. There were people dropping left and right, or already laying there. I have a 3-year-old daughter, so that's all that was on my mind — getting out of there."
West said she thought it was a terrorist attack, and the gunfire sounded much like a helicopter hovering above the crowd.
Said her father, "She was right in the middle and both of those people went down. It was like an angel was over my daughter.. as she was running for her life."
By Tuesday, surgeons had already performed four surgeries on Sheppard to repair the damage.
Her father, Mark Sheppard, said Monday that she had suffered organ damage.
Doctors later performed a fifth surgery on Sheppard after some swelling went down.
"She's doing a lot better," West said Friday about her friend's condition. "They just say it's going to be a really long process. She will probably be there for six weeks or more."
West said she plans to attend the street taco fundraiser, which will be hosted by their employer Saturday with proceeds to go to Sheppard and her family. In fact, West said she may end up working during the event, as life marches on.
"I called one of the hotlines yesterday and talked to them, a crisis hotline, and they said if she can't sleep past three to four weeks, then she needs to go see someone professionally to get debriefed or something," said her father. "I think a person can go through their whole lifetime and never see anything like that, even if you are in the war, you can go through your life without seeing something like that."
An hour before the shooting began, West and Sheppard took a selfie, which will forever serve as a haunting image for both women.
"It's a little eerie because you see the Mandalay Bay right behind us," said West.
Her father said the incident will forever change his life, and the way that he looks at his daughter.
"I went over to her house yesterday and I gave her a hug and told her how glad I was to see her," said her father. "This feels like some kind of action movie, it's not real — it's just something you watch on TV."
Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect Rachel Sheppard's condition and the surgeries she's had.