Steven G. O’Donnell, the retired Rhode Island State Police colonel, saw harrowing crime scenes during a law enforcement career that spanned more than 30 years.
But nothing prepared him for the call he received Sunday night from his son Conor, a State Police detective who attended the concert in Las Vegas where a gunman opened fire, killing over 50 people and wounding hundreds more.
O’Donnell, who now heads the YMCA of Greater Providence, listened in disbelief as his son told him an “active shooter” had sent concertgoers into a state of terror. Conor O’Donnell said he and his girlfriend were safe, the colonel said, even as shots rang out in the background.
“I said, ‘Conor, is that shooting now?’ ” O’Donnell said Monday in a phone interview. “He said ‘Yes, but we’re safe. A lot of people have been shot. We’re fine, I just want to make sure that you know that. I gotta go, I gotta go.’ ”
What followed was 75 minutes of uncertainty, when the retired colonel and his wife heard no word from Conor. Eventually they spoke with his girlfriend, who confirmed they were still safe.
Conor O’Donnell reacted quickly as the attack unfolded, tending to the wounded in any way that he could, O’Donnell said, including tying his belt around one person for use as a tourniquet.
“What he saw was bullets flying everywhere,” Steven O’Donnell said. “Chaos, people running, screaming. He got his girlfriend out and helped some other people out on the ground. He didn’t know if they were shot or just hiding.”
O’Donnell said he was relieved his son and girlfriend were safe but saddened for the victims of the attack. It was the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in US history.
“For me, honestly, it’s very bittersweet,” O’Donnell said. “You’ve got a son and girlfriend who are fine, but you recognize that dozens of other people got killed and [hundreds were] injured. There’s no rejoicing.”
He said it was an “awful feeling” not knowing the status of his son for more than an hour after the initial phone call.
“It shocked me, to tell you the truth,” O’Donnell said.
The longtime investigator praised Conor and all the first responders who helped victims in the midst of the chaos.
“That’s what they’re trained to do,” O’Donnell said. “Thank God we have all those people.”
Also among the concert attendees was Bryanna Giorgio, a Methuen police dispatcher who tweeted on Monday that she and a friend were safe.
“Just keep everyone and Vegas in your thoughts,” Giorgio wrote on Twitter.
She couldn’t immediately be reached for further comment, but she told the Lawrence Eagle Tribune that she could hear “bullets ricocheting off the stage” during the attack. “It was pandemonium. It was crazy.”
David Procopio, a Massachusetts State Police spokesman, confirmed Monday that an off-duty trooper from the agency had also gone to the concert and avoided injury.
“Thankfully neither he nor the people he was with were injured,” Procopio said in an e-mail. The trooper’s name wasn’t immediately available.
Separately Monday, Michael Kuenzler, a retired Lowell police officer who runs a restaurant and golf course in Dracut, said by phone that he and his wife were staying seven floors below the shooter at the Mandalay Bay hotel.
Kuenzler, who was in town with his wife Cindy for a wedding conference, said he heard sirens and looked out the window to see a wave of law enforcement officers descending on the strip.
“I’ve never seen so many police cars and emergency vehicles,” Kuenzler said.
He said SWAT officers later checked the room as part of their room-to-room sweep and told the couple to stay where they were.
The experience, Kuenzler said, drove home “how hopeless people feel when these things are happening. There’s noting you can do to combat it. Nobody knows what’s next. . . . It’s a pretty helpless feeling, to be honest with you.”
Kuenzler said he later saw dried blood on the walkway floors between the hotels, as well as witnesses who were “completely distraught.”
“I just want to add, our thoughts and prayers go out” to the victims, Kuenzler said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
A local airport was also teeming with investigators in the wake of the killings.
Reina Cracknell, a senior at Boston University, was in Las Vegas to celebrate her 21st birthday with friends.
As the group traveled via Uber to the airport Sunday night, they noticed an increased presence of emergency vehicles.
“We just saw a bunch of ambulances and cop cars, and there were crowds of people running,” Cracknell said in a telephone interview from Boston. “We didn’t know why [at first], but they were actually just running away from the venue.”
The group realized later what had happened, as they watched news unfold from the airport.
Another traveler, Waltham native Nick LeBlanc, shared real-time reactions to the news in the immediate aftermath of the shootings as he waited for his Boston-bound plane to take off from a Las Vegas airport.
“Just drove thru hundreds of people running and crying,” LeBlanc tweeted. “Laying all over the ground. ... Was a very disturbing thing to see. ... Planes gettin ready to takeoff and most people seem [very] uneasy.”Steve Annear of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.