TABER – Every year Taber resident Martin Sorensen, his wife Joanne and a couple they travel with visit Las Vegas. It’s what they do.
This year was no different, and on Sunday, Oct. 1, they were enjoying a night out at the Route 91 Harvest festival, watching as Jason Aldean closed out the three-day outdoor show.
And then all hell broke loose.
"Everything kind of just blew up a little bit... but I fell back and it was bleeding very, very badly." - Sorensen
“Suddenly there was what I thought were firecrackers, going off to our right. It sounded like a strand of 20 or 30 firecrackers, you know, that pop-pop-pop-pop type noise. Nobody actually really reacted in our area,” Sorensen told Lethbridge News Now.
He explained that he began to realize what was happening when people started ducking and trying to get out of the area. Then he noticed a man bleeding at his feet.
“Somebody actually passed me a folded-up shirt or some sort of cloth, so I put it on the wound and I tried to apply some pressure. I started talking to the man a little bit, but then the sound was back, but of course now I knew it was gunfire,” Sorensen recounted.
“I'm hitting the deck as much as I can, while still putting pressure on this guy's wound. I'm laying on him and my wife is laying on his wife, not out of any sort of heroics, but that's just all you could do, you could only lay where you could lay.”
With the man in front of him fading, Sorensen knew they needed help, so he started waving and calling for assistance.
“That's when I got shot in the arm that was waving in the air. I just kind of fell back, it was just kind of this little pop or something in my arm. Everything kind of just blew up a little bit... but I fell back and it was bleeding very, very badly.
“I immediately took off my belt and my wife took off her belt and we tried to make a tourniquet,” he continued. “That's when a man came up behind me – whose name I later found out to be Joe – and Joe helped me get the tourniquet on and get it tight.”
Joe and another man carried Sorensen first to a metal fence for cover, and then out to the road where the small group managed to get a ride from a passing truck. Sorensen noted that several other wounded were also loaded into the truck, which followed a car to the nearest hospital.
"It was chaos and there was a little bit of confusion," Sorensen explained of the scene inside the hospital, saying they were among the first to arrive there. He was taken into emergency, with Joe still applying pressure to his wound, while his wife had to remain outside.
He would ultimately receive five internal and 13 external stitches for his gunshot wound, and was discharged from hospital the next morning.
“It's actually not that bad, relatively speaking,” says Sorensen, having returned home on Wednesday, Oct. 4. “My hand works. There was no bone breakage, [the bullet] managed to miss the muscle and missed most of the nerves. I'm expected to make a mostly full recovery.
He adds that about 30 cm of his arm is still numb, and his family doctor says it could take up to a year to regain full feeling.
“It feels like it's frozen, not unlike how your face feels when you've been to the dentist.”
As for the emotional impact, Sorensen says he’s sleeping well and hasn’t had any emotional breakdowns, but admitted that he doesn’t know what to expect moving forward.
“I don't actually feel that much, surprisingly. It's been like that ever since it happened,” Sorensen explains. “I'd imagine that will change at some point. Maybe, being around people I know and telling the story over-and-over again, maybe I'll react, but I don't know, maybe I'm a little numb. I don't know the right word to describe how I feel.”
He acknowledges that Joanne is still emotional, but says she’s held up well as she cares for him in the early stages of his recovery.
“I guess I should be happy that I'm reacting the way I am so far. I don't want to be scared, I don't want to break down.”
“They will not solve their problem” - Sorensen
While Sorensen has managed to remain positive about what happened to him during the shooting – which claimed the lives of 58 people and saw over 500 injured – he says he’s saddened by what he sees as an inevitability.
"You're never going to mow down hundreds of people in Canada, because you're not going to get access to automatic weaponry" - Sorensen
“Somebody in the news said this is the deadliest shooting in U.S. history,” Sorensen says, followed by a brief pause. “But it's only the deadliest shooting in U.S. history until the next one, right, and there will be a next one. And there will be one after that, there will be another one after that. And they will not solve their problem.”
That problem, Sorensen continues, is a culture that is opposed to banning assault rifles.
“These are weapons that serve no other purpose than to kill as many people at a time as you can, in the shortest amount of time.
“You already hear all this stupid stuff on social media, 'Well it's not guns that kill people, it's people that kill people.' And, that is very true, I mean obviously there's a person pulling the trigger, but this event cannot happen in Canada. It's just not possible. There are bad people in Canada, there are bad people in the United States… but, you're never going to mow down hundreds of people in Canada, because you're not going to get access to automatic weaponry. Even if you happen to get one or something, you're not going to get 30, you're not going to spend your life building up your arsenal of weapons.
“We don't have this horrific gun violence, and it's partly the fact that we don't have the guns. Common sense tells you that the two are connected.”
The Good Samaritan
Before returning home in the days after the shooting, Sorensen reached out to Joe – a lineman from California who takes an annual first-aid course as part of his employment – via text message. Joe and his wife had already left the city, but Sorensen says he plans to phone him, and hopes to one day see him again in person.
“He was in a group of 18 people, he must have been with some of those people when he came to help me. I guess I'm just grateful that he helped me, and I'm curious as to why it happened to be me, there must have been other people in distress,” says Sorensen. “So, I just want to thank Joe. He definitely saved my life.”
When asked about his actions in trying to help another person, Sorensen deflects the credit, saying it never occurred to him to run.
“I had this man at my feet who was in distress… It seemed like the thing to do,” he says casually, adding that he thought the shooter was at ground level and that by staying low he would be safe. “Protect yourself and you can help somebody at the same time. Why not do that?”
What comes next
After acknowledging the fear that came when he realized he might die that night, Sorensen says he still plans on returning to the U.S., and that he doesn’t want this to define his life.
“I'm not going to go to an open-air festival beside a high-rise building in the near future, but we already have a trip scheduled to Vegas in January to see the Edmonton Oilers play the Golden Knights. I might change my mind… but right now I certainly have every intention of going back.”
The reason for his optimism, according to Sorensen, is that when faced with an unimaginable situation, he’s proud of how he and his wife handled it.
“We reacted quite well, considering the circumstances. We stayed calm, the first thing we both did was get the belt off and try to get that tourniquet on. We didn't panic. We'd never been in any major, highly stressful life-or-death situation, so I'm proud of how we reacted.
“I don't want this to change my life… and certainly not in a way where I hunker down at home. I plan on continuing my travels.”
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