It was the end of the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 1, 2017. Country crooner Jason Aldean stood in front of 22,000 fans, strumming his guitar, his cowboy hat glowing beneath the bright stage lights.
As his set neared its conclusion, a popping sound rang out over the crowd. Many initially thought that it was caused by fireworks. It was the end of a music festival, after all, and everyone was in a celebratory mood. But when no one could see anything shining over the field, people realized that the source of the noise might be much more sinister. Even Aldean himself raced off stage.
Bullets rained down over the crowd, the source of the gunfire steady, rapid and unknown. In the panic, everyone started running or seeking out cover. Friends and family members became separated, some never to find each other again. And then there was five-year-old Aden Huser, who lost sight of all of his family members in the fray.
Fortunately for Huser, one woman took the lost boy under her wing and helped him escape to safety. The only problem was, she had no idea where his family was – or even if they were alive. But she had one trick up her sleeve and used it in a last-ditch effort to reunite him with his mother, sister and aunt, all of whom were at the music festival that fateful night.
The mass shooting in Las Vegas became the deadliest in United States’ history, with 58 people killed and 546 injured. A single gunman perpetrated the atrocity on his own after checking into a room on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay, a high-rise hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
Stephen Paddock reportedly carried more than ten suitcases into his hotel suite. They weren’t filled with clothing or other personal effects, however, but with an entire arsenal of semi-automatic weapons and ammunition. He smashed the windows in his suite with a hammer, aimed his guns and began firing hundreds of rounds at festival crowds a quarter-mile away.
The music festival grounds consequently erupted into chaos. One eyewitness named Jackie Hoffing described the scene to the The Guardian. “It was hysteria. There were people trampled,” she said. “We jumped walls, climbed cars, ran for our lives. I’ve never run that hard or been that scared in my whole life.”
Five-year-old Aden Huser was in the crowd, too. Just minutes before the gunfire started, Aden’s mom, Doris Huser, and his eight-year-old sister headed to the bathrooms on the concert grounds. They left Aden with his aunt, likely thinking that the boy was safe and sound.
As they made their way back to the concert, however, everything instantly changed. And as the gunfire continued, Doris and her daughter were unable to locate Aden. He subsequently tried to explain how he felt in that moment to KTNV Las Vegas. “I lost her and I felt sad because it was just me and my aunt,” he said “And I didn’t know where my sister was and I didn’t know where to run.”
Across the concert grounds, his mother instantly realized the severity of the situation and the danger that her young son was in. “The whole crowd just started rushing at me,” she told ABC News. “I was screaming at the top of my lungs, but screaming did no good. It did nothing, we couldn’t find them.”
It would be difficult for her to find her son – and for him to make it out of the shooting alive. During the chaos, in fact, he fell and became separated from his aunt. The kindergarten pupil then had to fend for himself, making a quick decision to go into a merchandise tent. There he was lucky to find 26-year-old Lindsey Rogers. She, too, was seeking cover from the onslaught of bullets.
But Rogers knew something that the boy didn’t. Their shelter was not bullet-proof, so they’d be safer running away than crouching down and hoping for the best. She couldn’t decide whether or not to take the young boy with her, however.
Rogers told ABC News, “I was nervous to take him because I knew that his mom would be devastated to find that her child was gone. But in the moment we thought that the best decision was to get as many people as safe as possible. The shots were so sporadic and it wasn’t stopping, so we took a chance.”
“He was really brave and really good,” she told KTNV Las Vegas. “He didn’t cry or anything, he was, I think, just… confused.” There was no time for Rogers to explain the situation to the young boy, though. So she picked him up and ran and didn’t stop until they made it to a motel on nearby Tropicana Avenue.
There, Rogers tried to call the police, who she thought would be able to help her reunite the young boy with his family. The police were extremely busy, of course, and suggested that she take the boy to a nearby hospital instead.
But Rogers and other survivors of the shooting knew that they still had one tool at their fingertips to help them find the boy’s family: social media. So they snapped a picture of Aden and posted it online. Alongside it they provided details of his location and reassurances that the boy was safe and sound.
One of Rogers’ friends who shared the photo, Taylor Sutton, told ABC News that she couldn’t believe how rapidly the news spread – and how quickly they got in touch with Aden’s grandfather. “I’m not even sure how it happened,” she said. “I just know all of a sudden we had a phone number, and we called it and it was his grandpa.”
Nearby, Doris received a phone call and heard her father crying on the other end. “[I] talked to my dad, he answered the phone crying,” she told ABC News. “He said, ‘They found Aden, I don’t know how he is or anything. I just got a phone call saying your grandson is at Sunrise Hospital.” She then felt a wave of relief wash over her. “[It was] something that at one point, I didn’t know I was going to have,” Doris admitted.
And the morning after the shooting, Doris and her son were reunited. “His whole face lit up,” she said as she recalled the moment when her son came running toward her. “I dropped to my knees. I don’t think we’ve ever held each other that hard and that tight. We were one for a minute, and he just didn’t want to let go.”
Then, her son asked her an absolutely heart-breaking question: “Next time, can we all go to the bathroom together?” His mother consequently burst into tears, promising, “I’ll never leave you ever again… We will all go together, no matter what, every time.” Doris also plans to sign both her children up for professional counseling, in the aftermath of the inexplicable act of violence that they experienced at such a young age.