LAS VEGAS - Some people attend concerts for what may be a once in a lifetime chance to see their favorite artists, while others may simply want to enjoy a relaxing evening of entertainment. But what does one do when a peaceful musical performance is abruptly ignited by a horrific event? A heroic Soldier put his military training and instincts into action during a time of terrifying crisis that saved the lives of innocent civilians in what is being called the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history.
On the night of Oct.1, 2017, Staff Sgt. Markos Mendoza, an Army Reserve culinary trainer/instructor assigned to the 8th Battalion, 104th Quartermaster Regiment, 1st Brigade, 94th Training Division- Force Sustainment, 80th Training Command, found himself in an unimaginable predicament. As the general manager of the Tropicana Las Vegas Robert Irvine's Public House restaurant, Mendoza was in his office at the restaurant when he received a phone call from the restaurant's hostess, Madison Vincent, saying that an active shooter was in the hotel.
Initially, Vincent didn't know what to think when she heard about the shooting as people ran at her.
"I was the lead hostess at the time," said Vincent. "There was a stampede of people coming through the door, screaming and crying, saying there was a shooter behind them. The thought of being shot and dying was running through my mind, which was scary."
With panic filling the air, Mendoza quickly took charge of the situation. He armed himself with a sledgehammer and pocket knife, and assessed the possibility of an active shooter in the area. He set a plan in place. He secured the area by barricading the stairwell and locking the elevator.
"I knew he (Mendoza) has a military background," said Vincent. "I knew right away that we were in good hands with Mendoza. His background and training kicked in almost immediately. He was calm and collected when most people would have panicked."
Carrying the sledgehammer and pocket knife, Mendoza ran upstairs to the main floor. He saw a large number of wounded people running and screaming from the Route 91 Harvest Festival concert. Mendoza secured guests in a bathroom, then sent staff and victims to a downstairs basement where they barricaded themselves in offices. He provided them with safe words to verify and open the doors if necessary.
Vincent was amazed at how Mendoza's demeanor and responsiveness helped the restaurant staff and concertgoers.
"Mendoza's behavior and attitude was something I've never seen in him before. It was like a different person walked up those stairs," said Vincent. "Not only was he concerned for the concertgoers, he instructed our staff to get downstairs and get to safety. He was firm and confident yet compassionate."
When Mendoza returned upstairs, more victims had arrived. Some had shrapnel injuries and gunshot wounds. Others were trampled from the running crowds. He took them downstairs to provide cover, in case any additional shooters were being reported on the news.
As soon as Mendoza secured shelter for everyone, he set up a triage area in the security office. Fortunately, some of the civilians there had medical experience and were able to assist with treating wounds. Working together in their newly formed triage team, they provided medical treatment to as many people as they could.
"I used a belt as a tourniquet for gunshot wounds," said Mendoza. "Another victim was a female with a shrapnel injury. I quickly wrapped her fingers and hand after cleaning her wounds."
Throughout the night, Mendoza helped to distribute water and provide medical care to more victims in the hotel ballroom areas. In total, the hotel sheltered more than 2,000 people during the mass shooting until the Las Vegas Metropolitan police and FBI cleared everyone.
Vincent recalls how Mendoza helped everyone persevere in the midst of mayhem that tragic night. She said Mendoza's bravery gave a light of hope to everyone there.
"I remember when I called Mendoza to let him know what had happened," said Vincent. "The next thing I know, he came around the corner with a sledgehammer. In that moment, with all the cries surrounding us, that was a glimmer of light. It was him finding anything he could to protect us."
Vincent explained that seeing Mendoza put himself in harm's way, not hiding from fear, and helping others in need will be forever etched in her memory.
"I'm thankful for everything he did for us that night," said Vincent. "He came forward and showed the kind of person he really is....brave, strong hearted and willing to put his life on the line for others he didn't even know."
Mendoza explained how his military training paid off and guided him in making life-saving decisions during such a significant catastrophe.
"As a Soldier, I remained composed throughout the shooting," Mendoza said. "I didn't hesitate. I reacted using what I had learned in combat lifesaver training, active shooter training, and leadership training. I always carry a first aid kit, inhalers and medical stuff with me in my Army backpack."
One particular memory of an injured woman and her husband clinging to each other left a profound impression on Mendoza. He recalls that the husband said to his wife, "I'm scared too, but we are with an Army guy...we're safe now." Mendoza said it didn't register then, but it hits him every time now that he thinks about it.
"(That made me realize) Soldiers represent more than just a uniform or a rank to Americans; we represent safety and security," Mendoza said. "Seeing the fear and sadness in people's eyes turn to healing and hope made every day in the Army worth it."
As a result of the shooting, Mendoza resigned from his management position at the restaurant where he'd worked during the time of the shooting.
"It became hard for me to work in the same place every day," said Mendoza. "For a while I felt that I had failed because I couldn't help or save other victims at the concert. I felt like I could have done more."
Since the shooting, Mendoza has met with victims who thanked him for his heroic actions. They refer to him as the guy with the sledgehammer who guarded them that night. In memory of the more than 400 he saved, Mendoza got a tattoo of the American flag and a sledgehammer on his arm.
For Mendoza, the shooting has changed his life. He doesn't carry a physical hammer anymore, but instead carries a spiritual hammer when he looks at his tattoo. He explained his spiritual hammer is a positive force in people's lives, for building people up, kindness, and creating a better world for the people around him.
"I believe that God puts us at the right place at the right time," said Mendoza. "I remember...what the hammer represents to me. That hammer is a constant reminder of how I have a responsibility to build a world where things like this don't happen. If I should find myself in an event like this again, I will be ready to deploy, engage and destroy enemies of the United States both foreign and domestic."