Edward Prince decided to get out of his hometown of Olney for a few days to relax and have fun in Las Vegas earlier this week. The six-year Army veteran was laughing and hanging out on The Strip Sunday evening, connecting with new and old military friends from around the country, when the unimaginable happened.
“Out of nowhere, there was a bunch of gun shots,” Prince said. “People started screaming and all chaos broke loose.”
The 28-year-old has put himself in harms way to protect others overseas, but he never expected to have anything like that happen on his home turf.
“I am used to gun shots,” Prince said. “It was different here. You expect to be safe back in the States.”
Instead of running and getting out of the way, Prince and his friends entered the concert area where people were being shot at by a lone gunman from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Hotel. At least 59 people were killed and 527 injured in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
“We looked at each other and ran toward the venue. People were in there screaming. People that needed first aid,” Prince said.
The Montana resident had just met Austin Depiazza, a military veteran who lives in Arizona, for the first time in person that day. They had bonded over their work with an organization that helps prevent veteran suicide, Depiazza said. What they went through that day has now bonded them for life.
“Eddie — that guy is a hero. Usually you would have to coerce people to go help. But he didn’t blink an eye,” Depiazza said. “I’ve never seen anybody react as fast as he did.”
Prince and Depiazza ran to help people who had been injured. They used their shirts and belts to help stop the flow of blood.
Prince said he doesn’t know how long he was there, but “it felt like forever.” And while the Montana resident’s instincts kicked in to help people who needed it, the only thing going through his mind was “How? And Why?”
“It was horrible,” Depiazza said.
But he knew there would only be a limited number of people who would know how to respond, and the group of veterans had the training people would need.
Prince and Depiazza kept their eye on each other as they rushed to help victims.
“He was right by my side,” Depiazza said of Prince. “We knew there was going to be a lot of people that needed help.”
Once law enforcement and medics started showing up, the group of veterans were directed to leave the scene. But the humble Montana native didn’t stop there.
“I bet he didn’t tell you this, but he probably paid for everything he gave to people,” Depiazza said. “He gave away things to people who didn’t have a place to stay. Pillows and blankets from his hotel room. Everything he could.”
Both veterans said they saw the goodness come out of the Las Vegas community following the tragedy. People lined up in droves at 2 a.m. to donate blood, they said. They also saw Las Vegas residents handing out sandwiches and water to first responders.
It was a sad irony that the group of veterans had come together for a conference on post-traumatic stress disorder, Depiazza said.
“I have sat and thought about it and gone to counseling and worked through what happened in the military, and I brought my wife [to Las Vegas] to meet these great guys,” Depiazza said. “We were there trying to relieve stress.”
It’s also good for veterans from small towns to get together because they might not have other veterans around who’ve been through the same thing, he said.
“I’m not a religious person, but there was something, something put us there,” Depiazza said.
The group of friends have returned to their home states, and will now attempt to return to life as normal.
Prince returned to his job at Weyerhaeuser on Wednesday.
“You just got to continue on and move past it. You’ve got to go back to work and keep the mind busy,” he said.
The group of friends and military veterans plan to keep in touch, and get back together next year.
“Most of us have been through it before in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are good about keeping in contact with each other and talking to each other,” Prince said.