- By Kristina Webb Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Caught in the barrage of gunfire and human carnage, two Wellington sisters escaped from the Las Vegas shooting in a pickup truck piled with bleeding victims where the wedding planners found themselves transformed into triage nurses.
Lauren and Lulu Farina, once safely back to their Vegas hotel, remained stunned at the depravity of one assassin and the generosity and courage of so many.
Their story, told exclusively to The Palm Beach Post, reveals minutes of horror and hours of chaos amid suffering, exhaustion and finally relief. Through it all, the human spirit — courageous and empathetic — displayed itself repeatedly.
The two were seated on a platform near the main stage of Jason Aldean’s concert because Lauren was in a wheelchair after injuring her knee and lower back earlier this year.
Lulu’s first instinct once the bullets began flying was to protect her sister: She flipped the wheelchair, toppling Lauren to the ground.
“All hell broke loose,” Lauren said. “It felt like, 100, 70-something shots, all at once.”
Video from Lauren’s cellphone captures the sound of a bullet pinging off the railing in front of them. It’s followed by the pain-filled scream of a woman hit by one of the hundreds of rounds sprayed into the festival crowd from 32 stories above.
Lulu ducked behind the platform and pulled Lauren behind her, dragging her younger sister between railings. Lauren lost her sandals, leaving her barefoot and barely able to move.
They stayed still on the ground for about 45 seconds before a member of the event staff opened a nearby VIP tent. With one of Lauren’s arms slung over her shoulders, Lulu dragged her sister away.
‘All hell broke loose’
The sisters, in their 10th year running their Wellington-based wedding planning company, came to Las Vegas for a three-day wedding planners’ convention. They arrived early to attend the Route 91 Harvest country-music festival.
When they attended the same convention this past year, they heard about the festival. It started three days before the conference and ended the night before the convention began. Both country music fans, Lauren, 32, and Lulu, 35, decided to arrive early this year to have some fun.
“We had a great time,” Lauren said. “Saturday was great. All day Sunday was wonderful.”
The only hitch: Lauren hurt her knee and lower back earlier this year, leaving her in a wheelchair for the weekend’s festivities. But from a raised platform on the east side of the main stage, they had a clear view of the acts.
The pair first listened in disbelief to the staccato pops coming from seemingly everywhere. They thought maybe someone in the crowd had firecrackers. But their father, a 30-year veteran of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, made sure they knew the sound of gunfire and how to react. They quickly realized they were hearing gunfire and Lauren set her phone to record.
About a minute into the video, the world turned sideways as Lulu flipped Lauren’s wheelchair
Then: “More shots, more shots, more shots,” Lauren said.
They fled for the VIP tent.
“There was no rhyme or reason. He was just spraying everywhere,” an exhausted Lauren told The Post Monday night from her hotel room.
They moved through the tent. Gunshots sounded around them.
A man came up and saw Lulu struggling with Lauren. He grabbed Lauren’s arm to help. Soon that man’s husband joined them, moved Lulu to the side and continued helping to carry Lauren — to where, they didn’t know.
They had no idea where the shots were coming from or how many shooters were out there. Even as the video shows Lauren, Lulu and the two men moving farther away from the stage, more shots rang out.
“We were thinking at this point, this person could be behind you,” Lauren said.
The group trudged through a parking lot, a field, past shipping containers, until they reached a spot about a mile away. That’s where, Lauren said, one of the men noticed she was shoeless. He crouched down, took off his flip-flops and put them on her feet — a touching moment between strangers.
They still don’t know the men’s names.
“I wish I could find these men and thank them,” Lauren said.
Pickup truck to safety
With Lauren’s wheelchair left behind, the two men hailed a pickup truck, yelling, “Let her in! Let her in!”
They “literally just dumped” Lauren into the truck’s cab, she said, then hoisted Lulu up and into the truck’s bed, joining one gunshot victim already in the truck. The driver took off toward the bloodied festival, the only way out of the area.
The driver pulled up to rescue more people.
“We pull up and there’s just people driving bodies out,” Lulu said. She frantically worked to lower the truck’s tailgate to let more victims in. When the handle wouldn’t work, she began kicking the tailgate over and over again.
“They just started throwing people who had been shot in the bed of the truck,” she said. “There were six to eight people in the bed of the truck who had been shot.”
Two people had severe wounds. One woman had been hit in an artery, and Lulu the wedding planner began applying pressure to her wound. Another woman had been shot in the stomach and was bleeding profusely.
“We were slapping her because she had her eyes rolling into the back of her head,” Lulu said.
They got closer to ambulances being loaded with the dead and wounded. They saw victims stacked one on top of the other inside ambulances, Lulu said.
A police officer asked the truck driver if he could take people to Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center, a backup hospital because the trauma hospital, University Medical Center, was full.
The pickup’s driver handed his phone to Lauren and told her to guide him to Desert Springs.
“He was so calm and strong,” Lauren said. “He was driving 80 mph, he was running over curbs and he was running through red lights.”
They made it to the hospital, but there was no rest to be had: Lulu got her sister settled and immediately began to help the overwhelmed hospital staff.
The bloody aftermath
During the next few hours, Lulu ran from person to person in the emergency waiting room, writing down names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of each of the wounded.
“She kept wiping her cheeks and there was just blood all over her,” Lauren said.
Lulu was applying tourniquets, doing everything she could to help — and she wasn’t alone.
“Everybody that was there that wasn’t hurt was helping,” she said. “There was just such an overwhelming pour-in of injured people all at once.”
Lauren was consumed with pride for her sister in that moment, as others in the waiting room asked if Lulu was a nurse or doctor. “I said, no, we’re wedding planners and florists,” Lauren said, laughing. “I was able to just sit there and kind of watch her. She was such a rock star.”
When things settled down, the hospital still was on lockdown, and the sisters had been there for four or five hours. They had lost the wheelchair, their wallets, their IDs, their money and Lulu’s cellphone. A woman let Lauren borrow a charger so she could power her now-dead phone, their only line to their family and friends at home in South Florida.
Somewhere in the earlier chaos, Lulu had called their father to tell him they were safe. “All I remember saying was, ‘There was a mass shooting. We’re OK, we’re OK,’” she said.
‘My life was spared’
With the help of a police chaplain at the hospital, Lauren and Lulu made it back to their hotel. They arrived in their room, exhausted. Lulu showered first, scrubbing the dried blood of others from her skin and hair. Then she took Lauren into the shower, where she washed the blood from her sister’s body as Lauren balanced on her crutches and one leg.
Then they settled into bed and turned on the TV.
“I don’t even think we said one word to each other,” Lauren said. They put the TV on mute, held hands and prayed.
“We said, just, thank you for shielding us,” Lauren said, expressing her disbelief at their experience. “I truly feel like I was gifted. I was helped by guardian angels and I’ll never be able to find them or say thank you.”
Together, they are trying to process the shooting. They are scheduled to return to South Florida early Thursday. Lulu hopes to get their possessions, including the wheelchair, back before then.
They haven’t “had a full-on cry yet,” Lulu said. They’ve gotten teary-eyed. They’ve watched their video over and over in disbelief. They’ve seen the videos taken by others.
“My life was spared,” Lulu said, with Lauren agreeing.
“There were people there that didn’t get to call their parents and tell them they’re OK,” Lauren said. “Lucky. Blessed. All these words don’t even begin to describe this feeling that literally someone a few feet from you got shot, died.
“How are you able to put that into words?” she said. “There’s no words.”