Heather Gooze went from laughing and posing for pictures with colleagues as she bartended at the Route 91 Harvest music festival to holding two dying men in her arms after a gunman perpetrated the deadliest mass shooting in United States history on Sunday night.
“We were having a blast,” she tells PEOPLE. “But then all of a sudden there were people running through the bar and we couldn’t understand why.”
She heard shots, but at the time she thought they were just part of the show.
“Everyone was dancing and [Jason Aldean] kept on singing,” says Gooze, 43, of Las Vegas. “Then there were thousands of people running through trying to break the gate down behind my bar. They were literally climbing on top of each other.”
Gooze’s bar was on the way out of the venue. But instead of running for safety, Gooze stayed to try to help as many people as possible.
“We had so many injured people and they couldn’t get out,” says Gooze, who at the time thought the shooter was still on the premises — and not on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. “I saw a lot of deceased people.”
Fifty-nine people were killed in the mass shooting, with 527 injured.
As she tended to those who had been shot, one man came up two her carrying someone who had life-threatening injuries.
“He told me to come over and asked me to hold this guy’s jacket, put my hand on the back of his head and hold as much pressure on it as possible,” she says. “I could literally feel the bullet hole in the back of his head. There was blood everywhere.”
As she held his shoulder and kept him close, she could feel him stop breathing. The pair got him into a car, but he had already died. Gooze only heard the man’s first name.
Soon after, she spotted three men were carrying a young man on a ladder — something they used along with barricade gates and banners to help get the injured out.
“I reached out and held his hand,” Gooze recounts, tearfully.
No one knew his name or anything about him, so when his phone rang, Gooze and a stranger she was with picked up and learned his name was Jordan McIldoon, and that he was from British Columbia.
“We asked him to help us find names and phone numbers for his family,” she says. “Jordan’s phone was locked but Facebook messages kept on coming up so I went on Facebook to try and find him.”
While she was sending messages to everyone who had his last name, McIldoon’s mom called. The man she was with picked up and she told him that her son was there with his girlfriend, Amber. McIldoon died in Gooze’s arms as they tried to track down Amber to see if she was okay.
“She picked up but was in lockdown at the Tropicana [hotel],” Gooze says.
Gooze then had to tell her her that McIldoon had died.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to be the one to tell you this but he didn’t make it,’” she recounts.
Amber’s response was heartbreaking: According to Gooze, she said, “No, that can’t be true.” She added, “He’s the love of my life.”
Gooze then made her a promise: She wouldn’t leave McIlldoon’s side until Amber showed up to be with him.
She also called McIldoon’s mother back, and made the same promise to her.
“I wouldn’t leave him or go anywhere until I could make sure that they knew where he was and what was going on,” she recalls. “I’m not a brave or courageous person but something inside of me just wouldn’t let me leave the venue.”
Gooze — who was with McIldoon for four hours — was determined to make sure that he wouldn’t be forgotten.
“I didn’t want him to be a John Doe,” she says.