Dee Ann Hyatt hugged the ground and played dead. Bullets sprayed the Sunday night crowd stampeding around her for the exits at the outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas.
Her younger brother, Sonoma County native Kurt von Tillow, 55, of Cameron Park lay nearby, fatally wounded. Hyatt of Santa Rosa was hit by shrapnel in an ankle and her adult daughter, Araina Hyatt, also of Santa Rosa, was shot in the leg.
She figures if von Tillow, a truck company owner and a 1980 El Molino High School graduate, hadn’t tipped her to the start of the mass shooting, more of her family at the concert could have died.
“My brother saved our lives basically,” Hyatt said Tuesday, still in Las Vegas and awaiting her daughter’s surgery. “He took a bullet. Because of him we got on the ground and stayed there.”
She was among a handful of Sonoma County residents caught up in the terrifying attack by Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada, that become the worst U.S. mass shooting in modern history.
From his 32nd floor room at the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel, Paddock fired on the crowd of 22,000 people for about 10 minutes, killing 59 and wounding more than 500. He took his own life as police converged on him.
His motive remains unknown.
Several people with North Coast ties, including Sonoma State University student Paige Gasper and Petaluma resident and San Diego State graduate student Jeannine Ruggeiro, are recovering from gunshot wounds suffered in the ordeal.
The husband of Sebastopol native Heather Gulish Melton, Sonny Melton of Big Sandy, Tennessee, was killed trying to carry his wife to safety.
Numerous others, including Nadine Reyes of Santa Rosa and her adult daughter, Rebecca, escaped the bullets and crush of the panic-stricken crowd. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office posted on its Facebook page its employees and families who attended were safe.
Hyatt’s family had attended the three-day concert in years past, a family tradition, said her husband, Michael Hyatt.
He had attended Friday and Saturday night but wasn’t feeling well Sunday and stayed in his Caesars Palace hotel room.
Sometime after 10 p.m. his cellphone buzzed with a cryptic text message from his daughter: “Dad, we’re OK,” wrote Araina, 28.
Michael Hyatt had no idea what she meant. She was at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival with her mother and uncles, including Von Tillow, a 2012 inductee into the El Molino Athletic Hall of Fame.
He switched on the TV. A massacre was unfolding on every channel.
He panicked. His phone rang. It was his daughter.
“She said they were on their way to the hospital,” Michael Hyatt said Tuesday.
He bolted from his room, but with the hotel on lockdown he was forced to wait several hours before joining his family at the hospital. His wife was released Monday and his daughter was expected to undergo surgery later Tuesday. She was visited by Nevada Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison.
“It’s so unbelievable,” Michael Hyatt said Tuesday as he waited at a Las Vegas hospital. “But the city has really stepped up with all the volunteers at blood lines, the free food and cab rides.”