By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Photos courtesy CDCR staff

During the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas, three CDCR employees found themselves frantically trying to save the life of a critically injured woman while her husband watched.

Lt. Kelli Madsen said yes when her boyfriend proposed on the first night of the country music festival.

Lt. Kelli Madsen, administrative assistant and public information officer for Ironwood State Prison (ISP), was looking forward to tunes, laughter and dancing on the last day of the country music festival – not to mention celebrating her engagement. All that changed with the sound of gunfire, screams and people running for their lives.

“We had about a group of 20 of us – half of them CDCR employees and their adult children or spouses. We had been there together at the festival all weekend. We only separated for bathroom breaks or to get drinks. We all went back to each other and Jason Aldean had come on and sang a few songs. Then we heard a noise to our right,” she said. “We were real close to the stage. I turned around and saw a confetti cannon going off. Confetti was falling everywhere.”

Assuming that or fireworks was the noise she heard, as the concert continued, she focused her attention back to the music.

“Then there was the second round of gunshots and Jason Aldean ran off the stage. I still didn’t know it was gunshots but we got down,” she told Inside CDCR by phone. “It wasn’t sinking into my head that it was gunshots I was hearing. I still would stand up between bursts.”

Then reality set in.

“My fiancé started screaming there were dead bodies everywhere. Then I’m standing there stuck at that moment. I wanted to go help these people but my feet wouldn’t move,” she said. “We were so close, they were getting shot all around us. … Capt. (Christopher) Pierce yanked me down by my hair and we stayed in our pile for the next round or two of shooting. Everyone is yelling run, stay down and other conflicting directions.”

Shots continued to rain down on the crowd. That’s when half of her group broke away and headed for the stage, climbing over the barricade so they could take cover under the stage.

The rest of her group tried to follow the first but stopped when a stranger in front of them was shot as he attempted to get over the barricade.

“Then we dropped to the ground and were sitting ducks,” she recalls.

Gunfire continued, with short breaks between bursts.

Ironwood State Prison RN Stephanie Ortega, left, and Lt. Kelli Madsen tried to help save a gunshot victim in Las Vegas.

“We thought the shooting was coming from two different directions, but now I know it was one shooter using two different windows. The pauses were him reloading and walking to a different window, each facing a different side of the building. Now I know why it sounded like two directions,” she said.

When there was a significant break in the gunfire, what was left of her group took action.

“Then, once the sound of shooting stopped for a longer period than it had prior, we made a decision to crawl out of there. Me, my fiancé and one of the nurses from work, Stephanie Ortega, crawled,” she said.

As they made their way to what they hoped was safety, they found people in need of help.

“We came upon a man and his wife. She had been shot and was still alive. He was frantic, trying to help her. They were alone. Everyone else had fled,” she said. “Sgt. Al Powers from Chuckawalla and I started trying to help this woman. We rolled her over and she had a bullet wound in the back. I was talking to her and I called her husband down to talk to her, to keep her calm. She looked at me, looked at her husband, and back and forth and she faded away.”

They continued working on the woman.

“Powers was doing chest compressions and I did mouth-to-mouth. Then ISP Nurse Stephanie Ortega took over and we revived her. We were near a vendor and there was a table the guys flipped down. We slid her on the table and carried her out trying to maintain CPR while carrying her. The nurse continued CPR,” Lt. Madsen said. “We all worked diligently on this poor woman. I thought, at that point, no one was coming in to help us because we were the point of impact. As soon as we were able to (revive her), we knew we needed to get her outside to a trauma area.”

When they got outside, the woman passed away. What they found outside wasn’t what they expected.

“It was truckloads of bodies. I don’t even know if they were alive or not,” she said. “We set her down with essentially other dead bodies.”

The police told them to go into a nearby casino but others were hysterical and rumors were flying among the survivors fleeing the concert.

“We were told there were shooters everywhere, targeting the casinos, and bombs were going off around the city. At that point instead of staying with this poor man who just lost his wife,” she said, choking up as she spoke, “we made a decision to ignore the police and ran to our hotel, about a mile-and-a-half from the venue. We ran and ducked-and-covered the entire way. When we got to our hotel, the rest of our group started to show up also. We all made it.”

After a few days, she looked up the woman who was killed.

“I finally found the lady we worked on. I reached out to one of her daughters later through social media. Apparently her daughter was also at the concert but they had gotten separated during the shooting,” she said. “I told her I was so sorry and that we tried our best. She said they knew and appreciated it.”

From civilians to off-duty law enforcement or military members, she believes everyone contributed in some way to getting people out of the line of fire.

“I think everybody in that place turned into a hero at one point or another,” she said. “People were using wheel barrows and trucks to save people. They were using everything they could.”

ISP Warden Neil McDowell praised the actions of CDCR staff who stepped up to help.

“I am so proud of the staff for their heroic actions during this horrific event,” he said. “In the chaos of the worst mass shooting in America’s history, they protected one another and helped their family, friends and perfect strangers. They were put in a helpless situation and did everything they could, to assist, to escape and to survive. I am so thankful that these members of our CDCR family survived and were able to be there for those who weren’t as fortunate.”

Lt. Madsen and a few others from her group were struck by fragments of bullets and asphalt, but she said she’s grateful to be alive.

“I got engaged on Friday (at the festival). That was the start of the weekend,” she said. “My fiancé said he was so sorry this ruined my perfect weekend. I told him it didn’t and I wasn’t going to let this man take this away from us. We still have our future life together to look forward to.”

Sgt. Todd Wienke was shot multiple times but also rendered aid at the festival and Fire Camp Commander Lt. Derrick ‘Bo’ Taylor was killed. Read their story,