‘I realized people were dying’: Photographer who captured chaos of Las Vegas massacre describes scene

Published: Wednesday, October 04, 2017 @ 1:54 PM

Las Vegas Shooting: The Story Behind A Heartbreaking Photo

Photographer David Becker had finished shooting the final act of the Route 91 Harvest Festival and was in the media tent, filing his photos, when the first round of popping sounds began. 

“A security guy said it was just firecrackers, so I went back to work,” Becker told Time magazine on Monday.

Little did Becker, who was working the festival for Getty Images, know that he was about to witness firsthand the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Suspected gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire Sunday night from his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, which overlooked the festival grounds, and killed at least 59 people and wounded more than 500 more. 

Complete coverage of the deadly Las Vegas concert shooting

“The second time I heard the popping sounds, somebody said to me, ‘It was just speakers or sound equipment,’ and again, I went back into the media tent,” Becker told the Washington Post. “Then the noises went again, and that was when the crowd started to flee.”

People run for cover at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017, after a gunman opened fire from his nearby hotel room. At least 59 people were killed and more than 500 were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.((David Becker/Getty Images))

Even as he grabbed his camera and went outside, Becker had no idea what he was seeing. Still, he began shooting photos of the crowd, some of whom were crying, ducking for cover or talking on cellphones. 

Becker stood on a table and kept taking photos, telling himself it was a speaker popping, he told both Time and the Post. He had no idea at the time that the sporadic sounds he was hearing was gunfire from automatic rifles being fired about 500 yards away.

“It was really hard to get a sense of what was happening,” Becker said, according to the Post. “At this stage, I still just thought it was a speaker popping, so I was trying to capture people’s emotions and a sense of the panic that was around me.”

He witnessed a man shielding a woman with his body. Unable to tell if the woman was injured because the lighting was so poor, Becker watched as she and the man got up and ran away. 

A man shields a woman with his body at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017, after a gunman opened fire from his nearby hotel room. At least 59 people were killed and more than 500 were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.((David Becker/Getty Images))

He saw a man in a wheelchair being helped to an exit. He saw bodies lying on the ground, but could not tell if the people were injured, or just pretending.

“I was trying to capture anything that was moving and that had good lighting,” Becker said. “That was critical. It was so dark, and there was limited lighting.”

Becker said it was only after he went back into the media tent that he learned the reality of what he was seeing. He called a colleague, who told him that police had called a “code red” and set up a perimeter around the festival grounds. 

“It was then I started looking at my photographs, and what I was seeing was just unbelievable,” Becker said. “It had been so dark outside, I couldn’t see the details. I just saw a lot of people laying on the ground, thinking they were playing possum, but now I could see people covered in blood and I thought, ‘This is real.’

People carry a wounded concert patron to safety at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017, after a gunman opened fire from his nearby hotel room. At least 59 people were killed and more than 500 were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.((David Becker/Getty Images))

“When I saw the image of the woman lying on the ground, covered in blood, that was when the impact of what I was experiencing hit. When I realized people were dying.”

Becker kept editing and filing his photographs, working solely by the light of his laptop after officials cut the power to the venue to help hide those cowering in fear. After several minutes of working, police officers arrived and escorted him to his car.

See more photos from Becker and other photographers in the galleries at the bottom of this story. 

The seasoned photographer did not stop working, however. He spent the rest of the night capturing images of law enforcement moving in and those wounded in the shooting helping one another on the streets.

Las Vegas police officers stand guard outside the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on Oct. 1, 2017, after a gunman opened fire from his hotel room in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, pictured in the background. At least 59 people were killed and more than 500 were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.((David Becker/Getty Images))

Becker told the Post it is hard for him to comprehend what he saw that night. He said he continued working by using his instinct to “photograph first and ask questions later,” which he said is “second nature” for a photojournalist. 

“I was on autopilot, just doing my job capturing what was happening, which I think is important,” Becker said. “Impactful images like these tell a story, they move people to think twice about doing anything like this.”

What it’s like decorating a Tournament of Roses Parade float

Published: Friday, December 15, 2017 @ 8:08 AM

Florist K. Mike Whittle helped create this rolling botanical wonderland.
Photo: Courtesy of Rain Bird Corp.
Florist K. Mike Whittle helped create this rolling botanical wonderland.(Photo: Courtesy of Rain Bird Corp.)

Sports fans watching the 2018 Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 will be eager to see if No. 3 Georgia can get past No. 2 Oklahoma when the teams meet at the College Football Playoff semifinal in Pasadena, Calif.

One local florist will be watching the preceding Tournament of Roses Parade with a trained and appreciative eye.

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“It was one of the most fantastic things I’ve ever done,” said K. Mike Whittle, who helped decorate a parade float years ago. “You learn so much.”

As operator of K. Mike Whittle Unique Floral Designs just off the Marietta Square, he doesn’t have a lot of free time at any point in the year. Certainly not during the holiday season. But with the University of Georgia heading to the Rose Bowl for just the second time ever, he let us tag along the other day while he set up for a party at the the Hilton Atlanta Marietta Hotel & Conference Center so we could press him for intel.

The main takeway: you just cannot believe how many flowers go into all those floats.

(Photo: Jennifer Brett)

“We used 35,000 roses,” he said, his voice still full of awe at the memory. “I was a kid in a candy store with all those flowers. They didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat but they turned me loose.”

A Marietta native who got his start as an entrepreneurial kid who would dig cattails from a ditch and sell them to an area flower shop, Whittle was working in Carrollton when he got the call to go west.

“It really steamed up my career,” he said. He didn’t love getting up on scaffolding to attend to the top of the float, but otherwise enjoyed learning floral problem-solving skills on that big a stage. “We worked 29 hours straight. It just showed me yeah, it can be done.”

The annual parade, older than the football contest, dates back to Jan. 1, 1890. That first year, horse-drawn buggies festooned with blooms were meant to echo a festival of roses in Nice, France. Two years later, winter weather threatened the supply of roses and nearly turned the event into the “Orange Tournament,” but the fledgling tradition held.

Automobiles showed up in 1901 and were shoved to the back of the parade, so they wouldn’t spook the horses. The following year saw the first merger of flora and football, when the University of Michigan rolled over Stanford University, 49-0. One year, 1913, organizers thought a camel vs. elephant road race would be fun. The elephant won, and the species’ record remains unbroken as there have been no similar matchups since.

Famed zookeeper Jack Hanna rode on the float Whittle worked on in 2002, accompanied by giant botanical tigers, monkeys and exotic birds. If your Rose Bowl party plans call for slightly less elaborate floral decor, Whittle likes roses (of course) as well as red ginger and anthurium.

“Carnations are not bad, either. It’s a sturdy football kind of rose,” said Whittle, who has created displays incorporating football helmets.

Proper hydration is key – he’ll give newly arrived blooms a couple of days to drink up before placing them in arrangements – and he uses a sharp knife, not scissors, to ensure a clean, angled cut.

Then again, he mused, there’s one major flub people make when setting out to arrange flowers.

“That is the mistake,” he said with a twinkle, “doing it yourself.”

The float Mike Whittle helped create in 2002 was an award-winning beauty.(Photo: Courtesy of Rain Bird Corp.)

Intruders dressed as police duct-tape, rob family

Published: Friday, December 15, 2017 @ 9:49 AM

Cobb County authorities are searching for intruders who dressed as police officers during a home invasion. (Photo: WSBTV.com)
Cobb County authorities are searching for intruders who dressed as police officers during a home invasion. (Photo: WSBTV.com)

As many as five men dressed as police officers broke into a south Cobb County home, duct-taped the residents and robbed them, police said. 

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Officers were called to the house just before 3:15 a.m. Thursday, Cobb police Sgt. Dana Pierce said.

When they arrived, the victims — all in their 20s and 30s — told police four or five people kicked in a door at their home, tied up the residents and took an undisclosed amount of cash, jewelry and cellphones.

The family had just moved into the home about two weeks ago, Channel 2 Action News reported.

“Once they got into the house, they said, ‘Get down! We are the police,’” one of the victims told Channel 2, asking not to be identified.

The men first encountered the woman’s brother-in-law, she told Channel 2. 

“He was the first one to have duct tape all over him and a gun to his head, telling him not to move, not to look back,” she said.

The intruders then went room to room with guns pointed.

“They had put my husband on the floor and told him not to move,” the woman told Channel 2. “They had told me to go back to bed.”

The intruders left when they suspected police were on the way, Pierce said.

Witnesses saw two vehicles leave the scene. Descriptions of the vehicles and the robbers have not been released.

“Investigators will continue looking into this to establish a motive and possibly apprehend the suspects,” Pierce said.

While no injuries were reported, the woman told Channel 2 she hopes to never see the intruders again.

“I’ll be scared now to even live here,” she said. 

Three sisters, three Ivy League colleges

Published: Friday, December 15, 2017 @ 7:39 AM

FILE PHOTO: Harvard University students walk through the campus.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
FILE PHOTO: Harvard University students walk through the campus.(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Community college probably won’t cut the mustard when two sisters get accepted into the Ivy Leagues.

Xaviera Rowan found out this week where she was going to school and it was met with cheers from her fellow classmates from Democracy Prep Harlem High School, WNBC reported.

Xaviera’s oldest sister, Chris, was accepted to Dartmouth College two years ago. Last year it was Ella and Yale. 

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This year, Xaviera found out she is going to be a freshman at Harvard University, WNBC reported.

The family’s story is a true American Dream tale.

They immigrated from Cameroon and didn’t speak much English when they arrived in the United States, except for phrases they picked up watching television.

“We started learning English, going to the library, reading books and using dictionaries,” Xaviera told WNBC.

“We essentially had to learn English within a period of six months before standardized exams,” Chris said.

The girls said their parents made education a priority at all times and credit the school Democracy Prep for their success, WNBC reported.

Prince Harry, Meghan Markle set May wedding date

Published: Friday, December 15, 2017 @ 8:26 AM

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Engaged

Royal watchers now have the date of the royal nuptials.

May 19, 2018, will be the day that Prince Harry and his fiancée, Meghan Markle, will be married at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

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Kensington Palace, the official Twitter account of the royal family, posted the announcement Friday morning.

The couple announced their engagement Nov. 27, The Associated Press reported

FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2017 file photo, Britain's Prince Harry and his fiancee Meghan Markle arrive at Nottingham Academy in Nottingham, England. Prince Harry's fiancee is set to join Britain's royal family for Christmas. Kensington Palace says Meghan Markle will join Queen Elizabeth II and other senior royals at Sandringham, a sprawling estate in Norfolk, 110 miles (175 kilometers) north of London, it was announced on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)(Frank Augstein/AP)

Markle will be spending the Christmas holidays with her betrothed and his family, including his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II at Sandringham, the royal estate in Norfolk, north of London, The AP reported.

WATCH: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle First Engagement Interview