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Prince George couple separated in Las Vegas shooting: ‘We just hugged and hugged’

Posted at 2:30 PM, Oct 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-04 14:59:40-04

PRINCE GEORGE, Va. -- Brent and Laura Johnson traveled to Las Vegas to celebrate a milestone birthday, but left with traumatic memories instead.

The Prince George couple traveled to Las Vegas to attend the Route 91 Harvest festival for Laura's 40th birthday. It's a festival they loved and attended last year.

"It was great. We were having a wonderful time," Brent described.

Laura and Brent Johnson

Laura and Brent Johnson

Jason Aldean, the last performer of the three-day country music concert, was on stage when Brent left Laura in the crowd to use the restroom.

Suddenly, distinct popping noises were heard throughout the crowd of 22,000.

"It sounded more like fireworks. Then, I saw the white lights and initially thought someone had some firecrackers," Laura remembered.

But, unknown to the Johnson's, Stephen Paddock was inside a 32nd-floor suite of the Mandalay Bay hotel readying to carry out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

"I was seeing the reflection of the bullets hitting the asphalt near where I was," Laura said.

Brent and Laura Johnson

Brent and Laura Johnson

Brent and Laura began to run and shield themselves from the barrage of bullets, while unknowing whether their loved one was still alive.

"I immediately started calling and texting Laura. I tried to call and no call would go out," Brent described.

The first call of shots being fired came Sunday, 10:08 p.m. -- the exact time when Brent texted his wife of 17 years, "I'm OK, text me."

Laura began running to an exit while people bleeding fell around her.

"Your first instinct was to help people up, but from the push of the crowd it was almost impossible to do that," Laura said.

Once outside the highly secured, fenced-in arena, Laura finally texted Brent back.

"It was the biggest relief of my life," Brent said.

The Johnson's estimate they were separated from each other for about 45 minutes while trying to hide from the threat of more shooters. Staff and security from nearby hotels ushered concertgoers inside kitchens and offices to safety.

"There were people running in the doors saying that they were still shooting, that they were coming," Brent described. "It was chaos. You didn’t know if there was a shooter on the ground or how many were shooting."

The couple was finally reunited near a security office inside the Hooters Casino Hotel.

"We just hugged and hugged. I don't think there was any talking," they remembered.

During the shooting, hotel staff, security, and employees were lauded for their performance during the lock downs.

"They were offering water, drinks and food. In the early morning hours we were still on lockdown and they were giving out towels, sheets and blankets," Laura said. "You knew they were spending long, long hours and trying to tend to thousands of people who weren’t even their guests."

Officials reported the shooting went off and on for nine to 11 minutes.

The massacre left 58 people dead and another 500 people wounded from gunshots to stampede injuries.

No one knows why Paddock gunned them down, but the Johnson's were grateful to survive and be able to return to Virginia to their 10-year-old son uninjured.

"During the shooting, I had a feeling come over me and I knew it was God’s grace," Laura said. "That was the peace I was given."