Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank could hear the bam-bam-bam of gunfire when he first turned on his police radio the night of the Las Vegas shooting.
At the time, he was a deputy chief for Metro Police, charged with overseeing the tourist safety division, and on that Sunday night, a bureau commander called him at home. The shooter was still firing into the crowd of roughly 22,000 concertgoers when Hank received the news.
“It’s one of those things you look and say, ‘It’s happening on my watch,’” he said. “Initially, I thought it was like a Mumbai, India-type incident, where we were getting hit at multiple locations.”
Hank turned around and called the higher-ups in the chain of command — the assistant sheriff, undersheriff and sheriff — to make sure they knew as well. Then, like dozens of other law enforcers that night, he raced toward the Las Vegas Strip, where the threat was still unknown. Injured and panicked concertgoers were flooding into nearby casinos, triggering what police refer to as “echo calls” up and down the famed boulevard.
The seasoned law enforcer doesn’t sugarcoat the frightening nature of the tragedy’s initial minutes.
“It was chaos,” he said. “You had really a lot of disorganization. You’re just trying to seek some clarity, figure out what exactly is going on.”
Ultimately, Hank headed to Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino and set up an ad-hoc command post in the valet area. The gunfire had stopped by then, but officers were still working on gaining access to the shooter’s 32nd-floor hotel room.
His mindset in those early stages of the investigation: “Everybody looks like a threat.”
In the hours that followed, Hank visited the concert venue, where cell phones were still buzzing and ringing next to the deceased victims. Days later, he attended an outdoor vigil for Charleston Hartfield, an off-duty Metro officer killed at the music festival.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, as a community clamored for more information. But police never unearthed a motive for the lone gunman’s actions.
These days, the police department deploys strike teams — a group of specially trained officers, including some armed with rifles — to certain events and tries to think even more strategically each day, Hank said. The key word, he said, is vigilance.
“We have to remember that something like this — one of the worst things in our history — happened at an event that, in most cases, we would assume nothing is going to happen,” he said, referencing the peaceful nature of the music festival in previous years. “We have to be even more vigilant and, in some ways, hypervigilant if you will at these mass events.”
As training continues to prevent future mass-casualty incidents, so does the healing process. Hank said he believes the community’s emotional recovery is only in its “infancy” one year later.