Merced couple welcomes newborn after surviving mass shooting in Las Vegas

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

Right 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.

Like 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.

Her 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.

It's 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.

For them, little Adeline is a special reminder of how life is so precious and fragile.

- Meet The Smiths -

Mike 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.

He is a graduate of Merced High. She is an Atwater High grad.

They first met about four years ago at the Partisan tavern on Main Street. Their first date was just a block away at King’s Asian Cuisine.

And they’ve been together ever since.

For 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 Dr. Octagon.

Alex loves playing cards, but the concerts were intense gigs, and not exactly her cup of tea.

In 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.

She once fainted by Mike’s side in the middle of a packed audience.

Nevertheless, 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.

Mike, on the other hand, absolutely hates country music.

“We 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.”

So 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.

It 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.

Mike 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.

A few months passed, and then in late May, something a little unexpected happened.

Alex found out she was pregnant.

It was an early birthday present that changed everything.

The couple started hearing wedding bells, and thinking about starting a family.

But what about the concert tickets?

“We 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 -

In August, Mike and Alex experienced their second, monumental event of 2017.

They were married during a small ceremony in picturesque San Francisco.

Around 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.

Coincidentally, 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.

“That’s 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.”

The 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.”

The 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.

“We were on the 22nd floor,” Mike recalls. “We had a pretty good view.”

Little did they know, however, that 10 floors up, a madman was preparing an arsenal of weapons for an an unimaginable act of violence.

- Ready To Go Out -

Mike 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.

Alex 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.

“I was six months pregnant,” Alex says. “People could tell I was carrying a baby. It felt kinda uncomfortable.”

Later 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.

It 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.

On 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.

“One 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.”

The two eventually went out to dinner and made plans to see the tail end of the music festival featuring Jason Aldean.

“I 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.”

It was going to be the perfect ending to a wonderful weekend.

- ‘We Need To Run’ -

Despite 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 anyone down.

Alex remembers telling Mike: “They didn’t check us … Someone could sneak a gun in here.”

Mike reassured her, and pointed out that the festival was winding down.

They 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.

The 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.

Mike 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.

That exchange, that moment could have saved their lives.

It 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.”

(On a side note: Petty died the next day, Oct. 2, in Santa Monica, California, after an accidental drug overdose.)

Three lines into Aldean’s song, all hell broke loose in Las Vegas.

“At 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.”

Some 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.

“I was saying, 'We need to run,'” Alex recalls. “I made sure Mike was behind me, and we never got separated.”

Alex 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.

As they ran, they could hear the bullets and ricochets all around.

“I kept thinking of the baby,” Alex recalls, “and I didn’t want to get hit in the head, or my stomach.”

Mike kept telling her “Don’t fall.”

Maybe 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.

“That’s when I first realized bullets were coming into the crowd near us,” he said.

They 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.

Everyone appeared to be running for one of the main exits, but the Smiths kept away not wanting to go with the crowd.

“We 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.”

Maybe 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 -

Mike says throughout the harrowing night there were just endless surreal moments.

At 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!”

Alex yelled back: “Well I’m pregnant too!”

Mike 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.

“We found a place between two vendor stands, and some tarps,” he says. “There was a small pathway back there. We were all crouched down.”

They were followed by a few other people with the same idea of hiding.

“Our 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.”

At 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.

“It 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.”

They 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 shut down.

“A 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.”

They 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.

“Nobody 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.”

Minutes, and then hours passed by, as they moved around the top of the Tropicana casino.

“We 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 -

With 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.

Eventually they became aware that the terror was being caused by a lone gunman shooting from high up in a room at the Mandalay Bay.

Helicopters were passing overhead. Emergency vehicles began to arrive below.

Hours 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.

It 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.

“Walking away, we saw people with ripped clothing and blood, and horrified faces,” Mike said.

Eventually 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.

When 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.

Alex sat down and felt her baby kick.

And then she cried, overwhelmed by what had happened.

The Aftermath

Police 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.

Mike 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.

“It’s 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.”

Says 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.”

Alex says she has sought out therapy, and has joined a Facebook group of survivors.

“At 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.”

Besides 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.

On Jan. 14, Alex and Mike welcomed their daughter Adeline into this world. It was her exact due date. She was 6 pounds, 13 ounces.

They say this little girl is bringing joy and a fresh start to their lives.

Adeline also has a big, stepbrother, 10-year-old Arlo Smith, Mike’s son.

The 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.

Alex realizes that one day she will have to tell her daughter about the tragedy they experienced before she was born.

How they all had to run for their lives on that horrific day in Las Vegas.

“One day,” Alex says, “when she’s a lot older.”

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