CHULA VISTA, Calif. (KGTV) - A Chula Vista police officer celebrating a birthday in Las Vegas was injured in the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, department officials confirmed Wednesday.
CVPD officials said Agent Fred Rowbotham was attending the festival Sunday night with his wife and another couple when the gunfire erupted. The group was about 100 feet from the stage where singer Jason Aldean was performing.
When the shooting began, Rowbotham said, "I immediately recognized the sound, but in my mind, I was trying to explain it away. I looked at the stage for pyrotechnics which may explain away the sounds. I didn’t see anything. I looked at the nearby speaker tower, thinking perhaps there was a problem there. The sounds stopped and I thought that perhaps it was an electrical problem, but then the sound of fully automatic rifle fire started again and we knew immediately what it was."
CVPD officials detailed Rowbotham's account:
The sound was very loud. The men grabbed their wives and yelled, "we need to go!" The venue was a big open area with no place to take cover. Many people seemed unsure of what to do and were frozen in place. Rowbotham knew that when you go places, the first thing you should do is to identify the exits. He had done that so they knew where to go. Gunshot sounds were coming from the west, so they ran east. Looking at the crowd, he noticed many attendees were huddled on the ground not moving, and only half were running. As they ran toward the exit, they could feel things hitting them on the back side, perhaps the asphalt pavement chipping as bullets impacted the ground. At this time, they also heard bullets flying by. The volley of bullets seemed to be targeted closer to the stage where most of the crowd was. This second volley seemed to be targeted toward where people were fleeing.
Rowbotham said his wife fell, but he held onto her and insisted they continue toward the exit. Then, he felt a bullet graze his left hip. Although he was bleeding from the injury, he kept running toward the airport. About 100 people started following them and Rowbotham says he kept telling people, "we’ve got to keep moving." It seemed like people didn’t know what to do. Seriously wounded were being put in nearby pick-up trucks as well as ambulances.
The group walked until they reached a large security fence at the airport perimeter. Many in the group were falling down from exhaustion but wouldn’t stop until they felt they were a safe distance away. Someone in the group kicked in a door and the group emerged on to the runway where they hiked until they came upon three Las Vegas Police Department vehicles approaching them. The officers were well aware the group was fleeing the active shooter scene and waved them to continue moving across the airport tarmac.
The group of 100 stayed there for several hours and were following social media and receiving updates from friends - much of which turned out to be rumors. They were amazed at how long and consistent the gunfire was. It seemed as though it went on for 20 minutes and they could still hear shooting from the airport tarmac. Eventually, airport buses came to pick up the group and took them to the airport terminal.
After renting a car at the airport, the Rowbothams took others with them to a friend's house in Las Vegas. This was the first opportunity for them to tend to their own wounds and try to assess what happened. After tending to his grazing gunshot wound, Rowbotham said they relaxed but no one could sleep that night.
"As much as I try, I'll never forget this birthday," said Rowbotham. "The sound of automatic rifle fire, even in this line of work as a police officer, is very rare. The sound of hearing bullets whizzing by is something you never want to hear."
His best piece of advice is that you have to determine a course of action once you are in this situation. Run, hide, fight. As an officer, his instinct is to put up a fight first, but in this circumstance, the only option was to collect those nearby and run to safety. The bottom line is…always be prepared.