BUNDLE OF HOPE:
Merced couple welcomes newborn after
surviving mass shooting in Las Vegas
By JONATHAN WHITAKER
February 8, 2018
Everything gonna be alright
Just lay down by my side
Let me love you through this life
From the song ‘When She Says Baby,’ performed
by singer Jason Aldean
now, at this very moment, there’s a good chance Adeline
Smith is sleeping peacefully.
She’s safe inside her family home in Merced, and she’s
probably cuddled in the arms of her mother, or father, or
maybe an adoring grandparent.
most newborns, Adeline sleeps a lot — even if it’s
only for two to four hours at a time — as her tiny
body becomes accustomed to her immediate surroundings, and
the outside world.
parents, Mike and Alexandra Smith, are busy nurturing their
new daughter, as well as dealing with the challenges of
a truly wonderful, life-changing event.
all the more overwhelming, however, because the Smiths carry
with them a range of emotions, and some trauma, just a few
months after they endured the deadliest mass shooting in
modern U.S. history.
them, little Adeline is a special reminder of how life is
so precious and fragile.
Meet The Smiths -
Smith, 35, works in human resource management for a regional
company, and “Alex,” as friends call her, is
a 26-year-old former dog groomer and barista.
is a graduate of Merced High. She is an Atwater High grad.
first met about four years ago at the Partisan tavern on
Main Street. Their first date was just a block away at King’s
they’ve been together ever since.
fun they play tournament poker at local card rooms, and
they go to a lot of music concerts — mostly because
of Mike’s passion for progressive rock bands like
Primus and Tool, and alternative hip-hop performers like
loves playing cards, but the concerts were intense gigs,
and not exactly her cup of tea.
contrast, she’s a big country music fan who is somewhat
claustrophobic and apprehensive about large crowds. In those
situations, she is constantly thinking about the prospect
of getting “stuck” in a potentially dangerous
situation with no way out.
once fainted by Mike’s side in the middle of a packed
Alex is a trooper, and whenever they go out to a show, all
she requires is a little space and a lot of reassurance
from Mike that everything is going to be all right.
on the other hand, absolutely hates country music.
can’t listen to it in the car together,” he
says, shaking his head. “But it came to a point where
… She had already put up so much with my music …
We had to do something just for her.”
when 2017 rolled around, Mike started planning for Alex’s
26th birthday in September. He knew her idea of an awesome
gift was a huge, three-day country music festival called
Route 91 Harvest in Las Vegas, from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1.
was perfect timing, and it was Vegas, a gambling mecca that
they both loved despite the idea of Mike having to endure
the sounds of country stars like Jason Aldean, Eric Church
and Sam Hunt.
bought the tickets in February, but didn’t make hotel
reservations all at once. Instead, he waited to take advantage
of deals throughout the year at three different locations
on the Las Vegas Strip.
few months passed, and then in late May, something a little
found out she was pregnant.
was an early birthday present that changed everything.
couple started hearing wedding bells, and thinking about
starting a family.
what about the concert tickets?
started thinking,” Alex says, “I would be 25
weeks pregnant at the time. … It’s totally doable
… We could still do it. … After all, the tickets
were pricey … What’s the worst that could happen?”
It's A Girl -
August, Mike and Alex experienced their second, monumental
event of 2017.
were married during a small ceremony in picturesque San
the same time — in the 17th week of Alex’s pregnancy
— they found out they were going to have a little
baby girl. Alex had already decided on the “if-its-a-girl”
name of Adeline. It was the middle name of her grandmother,
and the name of her great grandmother.
Adeline sounds very close to “Aldine,” the real
middle name of Jason Aldean, the country music singer Mike
and Alex were going to see perform on Oct. 1.
who was playing when the shooting happened,” Alex
says with an expression mixed with wonder and bewilderment.
“It’s off by one letter … I know it sounds
crazy, but it actually confirmed her name for me. …
I believe in that kind of stuff.”
newlyweds arrived in Las Vegas on Sept. 28, and quickly
settled into a nice suite at the New York-New York hotel
and casino. As luck would have it, Mike hit an amazing $1,600
jackpot on a slot machine that very first night, and he
went to bed smiling and thinking, “We’re gonna
be spending the casino’s money all weekend long.”
vacation was off to a perfect start. The next day, they
moved to a suite at the Mandalay Bay that was right across
from the Route 91 concert venue.
were on the 22nd floor,” Mike recalls. “We had
a pretty good view.”
did they know, however, that 10 floors up, a madman was
preparing an arsenal of weapons for an an unimaginable act
Ready To Go Out -
and Alex were relaxed and having fun as they played poker
near the high-roller tables — the very place where
the Las Vegas gunman — 64-year-old Stephen Paddock
— was said to gamble.
was OK with Mike drinking some beers and cocktails before
the shows, as long as things didn’t get out of hand.
She reminded him to stay back from crowds.
was six months pregnant,” Alex says. “People
could tell I was carrying a baby. It felt kinda uncomfortable.”
that Friday, on the opening night of the Route 91 Harvest
festival, they watched Eric Church and Lee Brice perform
with a host of other stars.
was finally Alex’s turn to be a hyperexcited fan,
and she was treated to more of the same on Saturday night
when Sam Hunt took the stage.
Sunday, Oct. 1, the plan was to see headliner Jason Aldean
perform on the final night of Route 91. In a planned change
they would later be thankful for, Mike and Alex checked
out of the Mandalay Bay. They spent the day visiting the
hotel’s famous Shark Reef Aquarium, played some poker,
and then moved over to a suite at the Vdara Hotel, where
they had made their last reservation.
of the first things I did was look out the window, and I
could see our old hotel room at the Mandalay Bay,”
Mike recalls. “I took pictures of it. … It’s
so weird to think about that … and then to know what
happened just hours later.”
two eventually went out to dinner and made plans to see
the tail end of the music festival featuring Jason Aldean.
love him,” Alex says, “He’s one of my
favorites, but I had never seen him before. … He was
actually the main one I always wanted to see out of all
the country stars out there.”
was going to be the perfect ending to a wonderful weekend.
‘We Need To Run’ -
the anticipation, Alex was a little tired when they got
to the main entrance at around 9 p.m. They both noticed
the security was not as tight as the previous two nights.
Wrist bands were still being scanned, and there was a metal
detector, but they weren’t searching bags or patting
remembers telling Mike: “They didn’t check us
… Someone could sneak a gun in here.”
reassured her, and pointed out that the festival was winding
headed to the concession stand area where they purchased
a funnel cake, a snow cone, and a beer for Mike —
his first and only one for the evening.
last two nights they had been around the left side of the
stage, but this night they chose to go toward the right
side, which was the closest side to the Mandalay Bay which
towered above in the distance. They were about a third of
the way back from the stage, and some 10 feet from where
the standing crowd was packed in.
pointed to the side where they could get closer to the stage,
and said: “Let’s go up there,” but Alex
gave a firm “no,” and he didn’t push it
anymore as Jason Aldean took the stage.
exchange, that moment could have saved their lives.
was shortly after 10 p.m., as Aldean was finishing up one
of his first songs, “Any Ol’ Barstool,”
when some “pops” were heard in the crowd. Unknowing
of the danger, Aldean started into “When She Says
Baby,” an upbeat love song inspired by Tom Petty’s
“Here Comes My Girl.”
a side note: Petty died the next day, Oct. 2, in Santa Monica,
California, after an accidental drug overdose.)
lines into Aldean’s song, all hell broke loose in
first we thought it was fireworks,” Alex says. “Mike
said it might be the sound equipment. It was just a few
pops, and we looked at each other. And then it started again
like rapid fire … and it didn’t stop. …
We took off running right away.”
people ran with them, others were just standing in place
wondering what was happening, and others were ducking and
yelling for others to get down.
was saying, 'We need to run,'” Alex recalls. “I
made sure Mike was behind me, and we never got separated.”
knew it had to be a semi-automatic rifle, and she thought
some terrorist must have jumped a fence and was chasing
people because there was no way that big of a weapon could
be sneaked into the arena.
they ran, they could hear the bullets and ricochets all
kept thinking of the baby,” Alex recalls, “and
I didn’t want to get hit in the head, or my stomach.”
kept telling her “Don’t fall.”
a minute or two later, the couple found themselves with
about 15 others, corralled into a concession stand corner,
seemingly trapped, with no escape path. But then someone
found an opening between two big propane tanks that had
to be shoved aside. The people rushed through, and one young
lady fell to the ground. Mike helped pick her up, and when
they started going again, he noticed a fractured window
with a bullet hole in it.
when I first realized bullets were coming into the crowd
near us,” he said.
made it into a walkway and into another rushing stream of
people, frantic to get away. They noticed one horrified
young woman, obviously suffering from a gunshot, limping
away with her boyfriend.
appeared to be running for one of the main exits, but the
Smiths kept away not wanting to go with the crowd.
were thinking this was an attack, and there might be more
than one shooter looking for crowds of people to shoot into,”
Mike remembers. “We kept running north, away from
the stage, and the crowds.”
five minutes had gone by, they aren’t sure. It was
all a blur. But the shots were real, and they kept coming,
seemingly in every direction. And now they could hear screams
of victims, and those trying to flee the scene.
A Place To Hide -
says throughout the harrowing night there were just endless
one point, the Smiths were trying to get through a section
with a bunch of other people, and a woman near Alex cried
out, “I’m pregnant! Let me through!”
yelled back: “Well I’m pregnant too!”
explains the situation as two people trying to hide from
terrorists with machine guns who were running through a
crowd and shooting at everything they could see.
found a place between two vendor stands, and some tarps,”
he says. “There was a small pathway back there. We
were all crouched down.”
were followed by a few other people with the same idea of
adrenaline was so high,” Alex says. “But we
weren’t freaking out. We were calm. And that surprised
me because the way I usually am in crowds. Maybe I was more
prepared for an emergency situation that I had thought.
… I kept praying to myself … I kept asking God
to keep us safe.”
some points, Mike and Alex had to risk running out in the
open if they wanted to make it out. They eventually ran
behind a side stage and near a gate that a security guard
opened up. They ran out and joined people who were going
straight to a back parking lot of the famed Tropicana hotel
and casino. Maybe 8 minutes had gone by and they could still
hear the shots. They saw a cement barrier to an air conditioning
unit and hid behind that with about 10 others. One woman
became hysterical as she called a loved one on her cell
phone. She kept screaming “I can’t die,”
and everybody else was telling her to shut up because she
was giving away their hiding spot.
was like something out of movie,” Mike says. “We
ended up leaving when someone mention there was a door open
at the back of the Tropicana.”
risked running across the open parking lot to the back door,
and indeed it was open. Again they were followed by several
people. Everybody feared a shooter was coming their way.
Once inside the Tropicana, they realized they were in a
back conference room area, and everything appeared to be
big ol’ country concert guy, full of muscles,’
kicked in the first door he saw,” Mike recalls. “Inside,
we were surprised to see a room packed with terrified hotel
workers who had barricaded themselves inside.”
could hear more commotion from the parking lot they had
just fled, so they all kept going down an interior walkway
toward the casino. A door to a fine dining steakhouse was
open and a chef inside motioned for them to head out a side
door toward an employee rest area with access to the roof.
knew where to hide,” Mike says. “Nobody knew
what was going on. We knew we didn’t want to be part
of any hostage situation. So we kept moving onto the roof
and into places where we could see everything behind us.”
and then hours passed by, as they moved around the top of
the Tropicana casino.
kept hearing different stories,” Alex says. “We
heard there were shootings at the Bellagio. We heard a bomb
had gone off at New York-New York. We heard a guy in camouflage
was shooting up people below us in the Tropicana.”
Finding A Way Back -
her cellphone, Alex made brief online posts to her Facebook
and Snapchat accounts, saying she and Mike were all right.
She also called and woke up her mother who turned on the
TV and begged her daughter not to hang up. Mike called his
brother and asked him to find out if anything bad was happening
near the Tropicana.
they became aware that the terror was being caused by a
lone gunman shooting from high up in a room at the Mandalay
were passing overhead. Emergency vehicles began to arrive
later they were finally approached by a security guard who
said the coast was clear and led them inside the Tropicana.
They saw SWAT team members, and that’s when they knew
they made it to safety.
would end up taking until 5 a.m. before Mike and Alex were
allowed to walk back to their room at the Vdara hotel. They
were lucky because many others were locked out of their
rooms, especially at the Mandalay Bay.
away, we saw people with ripped clothing and blood, and
horrified faces,” Mike said.
Mike and Alex made it back to the Vdara, through and eerie
silence. “It was probably the quietest the Las Vegas
strip has ever been,” Mike says.
they got back, Mike drank a beer, and did something he hadn’t
done since Alex became pregnant. He smoked a cigarette,
and then he smoked another one.
sat down and felt her baby kick.
then she cried, overwhelmed by what had happened.
say Stephen Paddock fired more than 1,100 rounds that night
from a suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel,
leaving 58 people dead and 851 injured. Investigators say
Paddock died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
and Alex told the Times they experienced “survivor’s
guilt,” and initially did not want to talk to anybody
outside of friends and family about what they had gone through.
hard to explain,” Alex says. “First you feel
shocked, you feel sad for the victims, and you feel guilty.
And then you are angry. … There are so many emotions.
I was pissed at that guy. I don’t think I could forgive
him if he had lived. And now, I go out, and I’m still
scared, and suspicious of everything. I’m always looking
for an exit. I mean I was always like that. But it’s
intensified. You get startled when you hear popping sounds.
And we continue to have nightmares in our sleep.”
Mike: “In December, there was the Christmas Parade
in downtown Merced. We wanted to go, and we were just looking
around, and it was extremely uncomfortable. Just looking
at all the people. You realize your whole way of thinking
has changed. … We left after about 30 minutes.”
says she has sought out therapy, and has joined a Facebook
group of survivors.
least no children died in the attack,” she says. “We
saw a 2-year-old on the second night. There were families
sitting in lawn chairs at the back of the concert. There
were a lot of kids there.”
the one other woman she encountered at the concert, Alex
knows of two other women who were pregnant and survived
the shooting. One she met on Facebook, the other she found
out was the wife of Jason Aldean, Brittany, who was backstage
when the shots rang out. She had a baby boy in December.
Jan. 14, Alex and Mike welcomed their daughter Adeline into
this world. It was her exact due date. She was 6 pounds,
say this little girl is bringing joy and a fresh start to
also has a big, stepbrother, 10-year-old Arlo Smith, Mike’s
family is getting a lot of support from relatives and friends.
When Alex posted a picture of Adeline on Facebook, it received
more than 300 likes.
realizes that one day she will have to tell her daughter
about the tragedy they experienced before she was born.
they all had to run for their lives on that horrific day
in Las Vegas.
day,” Alex says, “when she’s a lot older.”