LATHROP, Calif. - Robert Cathey was front and center for country singer Jason Aldean’s concert in Las Vegas on Sunday night.
He heard three volleys of gunfire. He ducked for cover. He ran through the grassy field to a nearby hotel seeking safety. He even got the blood of a woman on his shirt. The woman, it turned out, was Dorene Anderson of Alaska, one of the 59 victims who died during the worst U.S. mass shootings in recent history.
So when he hears that the red on his shirt might be ketchup, gunman Stephen Paddock was an antifascist, there were multiple shooters at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, the rampage was a government hoax, or any one of the number of conspiracy theories abounding spreading on Facebook and beyond, Cathey can’t keep quiet.
“This is as real as it gets,” he told KTVU on Wednesday, adding he is still traumatized by the attack and has barely slept. “I had this lady’s blood on me. She was lying on her back, and my right lower back touched her shirt. People who think this was a hoax or a setup are all wrong.”
The security director who lives in Lathrop, and who was a former San Francisco police officer, is used to emergency situations. In fact, the department awarded him in 2013 for saving a drowning toddler. His wife isn't squeamish either. She's a nurse at Kaiser Permanente.
But even he didn’t realize the first spray of gunfire was from a real rifle: He thought it was firecrackers at first. But then rounds two and three were fired, and Cathey’s instinct was to grab his wife’s hand and run.
"I was terrified," he said.
Coincidentally, another San Francisco police couple were at the concert: Vinnie Etcheber and his wife Stacee, were enjoying the music, too. Cathey knew both of them – he had attended a French-style picnic with them in May, as was their annual tradition. Vinnie Etcheber’s reaction was to help the wounded at the concert and he told his wife to run. She, too, was among the casualties.
Cathey said he decided to take pictures of what happened, both to document history and to provide DNA to police. He wanted to provide photographs and witness testimony to preserve this awful slice of U.S. history, to make sure it isn't ever forgotten.
“I had this lady’s blood on me,” Cathey said, “and I thought they might need it as evidence.”