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Local cop pivotal in Castlegar group's escape from Vegas gunman

Jo-Ann Bursey says she's grateful for her husband's police training.

A local retired RCMP officer played a huge role in getting six Castlegar residents to safety during the mass shooting in Las Vegas Sunday night.

Jo-Ann Bursey, a local realtor, and her husband, retired RCMP Const. Wally Bursey, were part of a group of eight people attending the country music festival (six were from Castlegar and two from Texas).

“We went there specifically for the concert,” Jo-Ann said. “We were in Mexico last February when we heard about it, and booked it right away.”

She said they had even remarked, the day before, on how odd it was there was such a huge crowd, and only one entrance in, and one exit.

“Jason Aldean was the last act of the night, and we were listening to him, and you heard pop-pop-pop-pop-pop,” she said. “I thought it was fireworks, but Wally said, “No, that’s not fireworks.’ Then the music stopped and we heard that pop-pop-pop-pop-pop again, and Wally said, ‘Off the bleachers’.”

“I’m still digesting it. I keep thinking it’s a dream and I’m going to wake up.”

She said they hid under the bleachers briefly as the sound of the gunfire got louder. She said Wally’s police training kicked in, keeping him calm and level-headed despite the chaos and fear of the moment. He led them through the back flap of a vendor’s tent, then escorted them to a parkade with a cement wall they could hide behind.

“It seemed to go on forever,” she said. “Realistically, it was maybe 10 or 15 minutes, I don’t know, but it felt like forever.”

The group, who had been staying at the Luxor, managed to make it to the attached Excalibur Hotel.

“The security guard was saying, ‘Get in, get in, get in,” she said, adding some of the group had become separated. “How we all got back together is beyond me.”

She said the hotel was in lock-down, with 200 to 300 concert-goers (some injured) huddling together when they all heard a big bang, and people started screaming – but Wally was able to calm people down.

“Wally told us it was SWAT,” she said. “Everyone thought it was the gunman. It was absolutely nuts.”

She said festival refugees were moved to conference rooms on the third floor, given blankets and water, and were stuck there in lock-down until 4:30 a.m. (the shooting started at 10 p.m.).

When she spoke to The Source late Tuesday afternoon, Jo-Ann had just arrived back home in Castlegar.

“Needless to say, I’m glad to be home,” she said. “I’m a little bit numb to it, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. We’ve been just glued to CNN, because we haven’t had the opportunity to be near a TV screen. (At the Excalibur) someone pulled out a phone and was telling us what they could. At first we thought two people were dead.”

Ultimately, 58 people died and more than 500 people were injured when the 64-year-old retired millionaire, Stephen Paddock, opened fire on the crowd from his hotel room on the 32 floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel.

“He had 23 guns in that room. That wouldn’t happen in Canada. They need to get this in check,” Jo-Ann said. “The sad reality is, we may never know why this happened.”

She said she was incredibly grateful for Wally’s training and experience during the crisis.

“It was his police background that kicked in, definitely, big time. Out of the group, he was definitely the one who was the calm, cool one – along with Chase, one of the Texas couple with us, who has a military background.”

“It could’ve been a hell of a lot worse,” she added. “I’m still digesting it. I keep thinking it’s a dream and I’m going to wake up.”