Stories abound of on-duty and off-duty first responders, veterans, others saving lives

By Lou Ponsi

Amid the unfolding horror, heroes emerged.

Whether it was shouting “get down,” acting as a human shield, helping someone over a wall, transporting victims to hospitals, or simply providing comfort, we may never know the exact number of concertgoers who came to the aide of others, strangers in many cases, during the deadliest mass shooting in history.

But we’ve heard about many.

We know about Tommy McGrath, an off-duty San Diego police officer, who used his body to shield his wife and friends from the hail of bullets, and stayed behind to aid gunshot victims and carry the injured and wounded to vehicles.

We know about the drivers of those vehicles who rushed them to the hospital.

“He and all the other off-duty officers, military personal, and anyone else in the venue and out who helped save a life tonight are the true heroes,” wrote McGrath’s wife, Tiffany on her Instagram page.

As Tiffany points out, there are scores of off-duty police officers and other first responders who sprang into action at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, including many from Orange County agencies.

Dep. Joe Owen of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department led his wife and another woman to safety underneath the stage, and then went back to help others when he was shot in the abdomen and thigh.

Owen was released from the hospital Tuesday night.

Concertgoer Melanie Cooper, a 16-year deputy with the OCSD, performed CPR on sefveral people in the aftermath of the shooting and led a terrified young woman back to the safety of a nearby hotel.

“People were going down all around,” said Cooper, in an interview with the Orange County Register. “I keep hearing those gunshots going off and off and off and off.”

Two other OCSD deputies helped Las Vegas Metro Police Department officers establish a perimeter around the chaotic scene.

Off-duty Buena Park PD Cpl. Ryan Herst helped two shooting victims and led his girlfriend to safety behind a parked car and started yanking others, complete strangers, behind the car with them.

Cpl. Ryan Herst of the Buena Park Police Department was in Las Vegas for the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Concert, along with about 10 friends, many of them other members of the law enforcement community. Photo courtesy of Ryan Herst

He then found refuge in an office in an industrial complex, where he guided others and helped set up a makeshift command post.

Retired Orange County Fire Authority Battalion Chief Don Forsyth and Carlsbad Police Lt. Greg White were on top of a building in the middle of the venue while the shooting began.

The two men ordered people to the ground.

When there was a break in the volleys of gunfire, White and Forsyth scuttled people quickly down the stairs.

“We would hustle people down the stairway as quick as we could,” Forsyth told CBS 2.

They led a group of about 200 to a chain-link fence and pulled sections of the fence up allowing concertgoers to escape to safety.

“It might sound odd to the general public, but public safety people tend to be in places at the right time,” Forsyth said.

Country music singer John Rich of the band Big & Rich performed Sunday afternoon and then went to a nearby bar owned by Rich.

When word got out about the shooting, there was still uncertainty about the number of shooters and their location.

Rich, who has a concealed carry permit, was approached by an off-duty Minneapolis police officer, who asked Rich a question.

“He showed me his badge and said, ‘Are you armed?’” Rich said in an interview with Fox News. “I said I am. He said, ‘I’m not armed for the first time ever. Can I have your firearm?’”

Rich gave his gun to the officer, who proceeded to keep watch at the front door of the bar.

“For about two hours, without flinching, this guy kept a point on the front door in case anybody came through,” Rich said.

Taylor Winston, 29, a retired Marine who served two tours in Iraq, was to the right of the stage, dancing with his girlfriend when shots rang out.

Before first responders arrived, Winston ran to a field of trucks, hoping to find one with the keys in it.

“First one we tried opening had keys sitting right there,” said Winston, in an interview with CBS This Morning. “I started looking for people to take to the hospital.”

Winston threw as many of the wounded as he could fit into the truck and rushed them to the hospital. He figures he took at least 20.

But he wasn’t looking for hero status.

“There was a lot of bravery and courageous people out there,” the former Marine said. “I’m glad that I could call them my country folk.”

Retired nurse Lynette Brinkis, of Laguna Hills, and her husband, Julius, attempted CPR on victims and carried a woman who had been shot out of danger, according to the Orange County Register.

“I started assessing people as ambulances were coming,” she told the newspaper. “That’s all I did for the next three hours. We tried to help as many people as we could.”

Las Vegas Metro PD Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said Tuesday that stories of heroics by first responders and civilians alike continue pouring in. The department released some body-camera footage that provided a snapshot of the courage and danger his officers faced.

“I commend all of their actions,” McMahill said. “They showed immense courage in the face of extreme danger.”