(LAS VEGAS) — Five-year-old Aden Huser was enjoying a night watching Jason Aldean perform at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas with his family Sunday night when suddenly, everyone started running.
There were loud pops, like fireworks, and then a chaotic crowd that pushed him from his aunt. His mom and his sister had gone to the bathroom just moments before.
It would be two hours before strangers and social media reunited Aden with his family.
Police would later confirm that at least 59 people were killed and 527 injured when a gunman opened fire on the music festival crowd from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history.
During those two hours, Doris Huser, Aden’s mother, said she was imagining the absolute worst. She felt completely “hopeless and helpless” but tried to stay strong for her 8-year-old daughter, she said.
As the shots rang out, Lindsey Rogers, 26, ran to a merchandise tent. There, she found Aden. He’d fallen and been separated from his aunt. His mother, on her way back from the bathroom, said when she heard the shots her heart sank.
“The whole crowd just started rushing right at me,” she said, and she didn’t have half the family she came with. “I was screaming at the top of my lungs, but screaming did no good. It did nothing, we couldn’t find them.”
In the tent, Rogers made the split-second decision to take Aden with her.
“I was nervous to take him because I knew that his mom would be devastated to find that her child was gone, but in the moment we thought that the best decision was to get as many people as safe as possible. The shots were so sporadic and it wasn’t stopping so we took a chance,” Rogers wrote ABC News in a message.
Rogers picked Aden up and didn’t put him down again until they’d cut through a parking lot and made it to the closest building — a Motel 6 on Tropicana Avenue.
Rogers and her friends tried to call the police to locate Aden’s family. Eventually, nearby officers told them the best place to take a missing child was the hospital.
Aden’s mother Doris was just buildings away with his big sister, and his aunt had escaped to a Hooters on the same street. But among the chaos, they had no idea they were in such close proximity.
As Rogers and her friends arranged for a ride from the motel to the nearest medical center, Taylor Sutton and her boyfriend Chris Cunningham, an off-duty officer with the Las Vegas Metro Police, posted photos of Aden and his location to social media, asking for people to share it. Others who were nearby in the motel posted on social media too, “in order to cast the biggest net,” Rogers said.
Aden looked around, stayed calm and told them his mother’s name, Sutton recalled.
“He honestly kept me calm. I didn’t want to freak him out so we told him they were fireworks and asked him, ‘Who were you with before the fireworks happened?’ He didn’t seem scared or worried,” she said.
Meanwhile, their social media posts quickly garnered hundreds of shares. It was on the way to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, about four miles from the motel, that a phone number ended up in someone’s inbox.
“I’m not even sure how it happened. I just know all of a sudden we had a phone number, and we called it and it was his grandpa,” Sutton said.
They arranged to meet him at the hospital with Aden.
At the hospital, Aden was taken to a back room to wait for his grandfather. Eventually, they got the good news: Aden was with his family.
Aden’s mother got the call while she waited at a casino, where she and her daughter had fled.
“The second time I called and talked to my dad, he answered the phone crying. He said, ‘They found Aden, I don’t know how he is or anything. I just got a phone call saying your grandson is at Sunrise Hospital,'” she said.
When she knew Aden was safe, she felt a huge sense of relief, “something that at one point, I didn’t know I was going to have,” Huser said.
She was finally able to see her son again the next morning. She saw the garage door open and Aden ran out.
“His whole face lit up. I dropped to my knees. I don’t think we’ve ever held each other that hard and that tight. We were one for a minute and he just didn’t want to let go,” she said.
On the way home, Aden asked his mom a question: “Next time, can we all go to the bathroom together?” he said.
“I lost it and I started crying. I said, ‘I’ll never leave you ever again. … We will all go together, no matter what, every time,'” Huser told her son.
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