Hours after Nikki and Ron Goodheart paid a visit to the Hoover Dam on their vacation to Las Vegas, they were hiding under a concert stage from a gunman who would eventually kill 58 people and injure more than 500 others.
The couple from Freeport, Maine, who describe themselves as “huge” country music fans, planned the trip to Las Vegas five months ago. They’d heard about the Route 91 Harvest Festival and were excited about seeing Jason Aldean. But the Goodhearts also wanted to see the sights, so after spending the morning at the national landmark, they filled their day with other activities, like taking a zip line ride down Fremont Street.
Then, after a quick stop at the Bellagio where they were staying, they headed to the music festival.
“We took seats out back, and we took some photos of Big & Rich playing,” Nikki Goodheart told Boston.com on Tuesday. “My husband was like, ‘Get the casino in the background.’ ”
The mother of a 15-year-old and 4-year-old snapped a photo of the stage with the Mandalay Bay hotel rising into the night sky beside it.
The Goodhearts listened and danced for a while, but when they headed for the concessions area for a food and bathroom break, Ron Goodheart presented a plan to his wife: They should make a move up to the front of the stage to see Jason Aldean right up close.
They made their move when Jason Owen finished playing, as other people walked back toward the concessions area in between the sets.
Ron Goodheart said they were having a great time — dancing, taking pictures, and recording videos to share with friends later.
Nikki Goodheart was recording one of Aldean’s songs when the first round of gunfire went off.
The 37-year-old Maine resident said as soon as she heard it, she knew what it was.
“I instantly knew — growing up with guns, around guns,” she said. “As people were hollering that it was fireworks, my husband and I were hollering, ‘No it’s not, get down.’ ”
Her husband dove on top of her.
“I instantly went to the ground and I covered her up, just praying that she didn’t get hit, and we got two girls at home that need her,” Ron Goodheart, 38, said. “So I just continued to cover up. She was holding people’s hands, we were praying.”
Nikki Goodheart estimated that the first round of gunfire lasted about 15 seconds before it stopped for a moment. In that moment, she said she thought to herself, “OK, the police are going to get him.”
People around them started to stand up.
But the bullets started flying again and “just kept going.”
“We watched people get shot as the second round of fire came,” she said.
That second round lasted longer, and the mother of two said she could tell that it was getting closer to them from the way the shots were hitting the ground, sending up pops of dirt like in a movie.
With people starting to step on them in the panic, she told her husband they had to move.
“My adrenaline was going so much I was just really focused on making sure I was covering her and she was as safe as she could,” Ron Goodheart said. “And she then said, ‘It’s make or break. Either we’re going to lay here and get trampled — we got to get up and get out of here.’ ”
The couple ran toward the stage, and Ron Goodheart picked his wife up and threw her over a fence. A man on the other side grabbed her and pulled her behind a speaker while Ron Goodheart helped a few other people over the fencing.
“The gunfire was just completely bep bep bep bep bep bep bep bep,” Nikki Goodheart said. “And Ron — I screamed for him — and he made it over but like half of his body was exposed and then there was about just five of us just hunkering down on top of each other. And we just ran under the stage. We could hear the gunfire hitting the stage.”
Ron Goodheart said he heard a bullet hit a nearby air tank, which began to hiss.
“We started running and we were just saying, ‘Oh my God, they’re going to blow the whole place up,’ ” he said.
They could hear people running on the stage above them as they moved, crawling through electrical wires and equipment, toward the end of the stage, where lines of 18-wheeler trucks were parked.
“You’re just waiting,” Nikki Goodheart said. “I just remember cringing, waiting for the bullet hitting you in the back. You’re under the stage. You don’t want to pop your head out but you know that you have to keep going.”
They ran to the trucks, “diving in and out” for cover from the bullets.
“As I was trying to flee, these images go through your mind, you know. ‘What is my family going to do? What is my 15-year-old going to do? You instantly think of everything,” Nikki Goodheart said. “I even went to, ‘How are they going to get my body home?’ ”
When they came to the end of the vehicles they found another fence. They were surrounded by fences and there was no way out.
“There was no place else to run,” Nikki Goodheart said. “We were fenced in.”
She called her sister, screaming. She told her that she loved her and asked her to tell the rest of the family the same. She felt like it was going to be her last phone call.
But people started pushing down one of the fences, and they raced through. They saw an SUV backing out without its lights on and pounded on it, asking to be let in. They and three other people piled into the car.
The Goodhearts said the driver stayed calm as she drove them to safety.
She brought them to her club, Cheetahs, where the Maine couple was reassured by the presence of the business’s armed security guards. Once there, they contacted family members again to let them know they were safe.
They weren’t able to leave the club until 5 a.m. Monday when the strip reopened. They took a cab to their hotel.
“I can tell you that during the whole course of this and just walking into the hotel after that, you know what it’s like to feel hunted,” Nikki Goodheart said. “What it’s actually like to feel hunted.”
They got on a flight by 8 a.m. to New Jersey and arrived home in Maine Monday evening.
Nikki Goodheart said she immediately hugged her two daughters, 15-year-old Callie and 4-year-old Riesling, when she walked through the door.
“You never think it’s going to be you,” her husband said of the moment the bullets started falling around them. “Never.”