Recovering Las Vegas Teen Survivor Remains Fearless And Positive

Oct 8, 2017
Originally published on October 8, 2017 10:24 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's been a week since a man opened fire on thousands of people attending a country music festival, killing 58 and causing hundreds of injuries. As they fled, they left purses, cell phones, backpacks and other possessions. Authorities have been removing and cataloging each item. Survivors of one section of the venue have been invited to pick up what they left behind, and more are expected to follow in the coming days.

Among the survivors is 16-year-old Nicholas Campbell. He was at the concert with his girlfriend. They got to go to the Route 91 Harvest music festival because they were doing really well in school. His mother says Campbell was born on 9/11. Last week, he was among those who were shot. NPR's Leila Fadel talked to him about surviving and moving on.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Nicholas Campbell - he goes by Nick - isn't used to laying around all day. But he's in a hospital room with two broken ribs, a chest tube in his body and IVs in his arms. He loves basketball, rap music and, of course, country. That's why he was a few feet from the stage on Sunday night.

NICHOLAS CAMPBELL: We were all watching Jason Aldean. He was, like, a good performer - you know, the main guy at that night. He was the last performer of the night.

FADEL: Then, Campbell heard what he thought were firecrackers.

CAMPBELL: They just kept going off. And then the one hit the stage. So, I mean, I knew a firecracker hit the stage.

FADEL: Campbell's first thought was to protect his girlfriend. He jumped on top of her as Jason Aldean rushed offstage.

CAMPBELL: If she gets hit, that's a problem. If I get hit, I'm fine.

FADEL: He recounts the story with the composure and sensibilities of a person much older than his 16 years. You can hear that he still is struggling to breathe. He felt the bullet pierce his shoulder and told his friend next to him he'd been shot. He says he tried to stay calm, so his girlfriend didn't panic. At first, he didn't feel the pain.

CAMPBELL: That round of shooting stopped. And then, I told her to go behind the metal fence that was to the left of me. She then jumped over the fence.

FADEL: The fence around the stage. His girlfriend hid under that stage.

CAMPBELL: We thought it stopped, but then we realized he was reloading and then just kept shooting and shooting.

FADEL: And Campbell was too weak to jump the fence. The bullet had traveled to his chest, and he couldn't breathe.

CAMPBELL: So I hid underneath someone that was, like, dead - already deceased. I hid under him for a little while because the shooter's not going to shoot where there's already someone dead.

FADEL: It felt like 30 minutes, he says, but it was probably five. And then, the shooting stopped again - this time, for good.

CAMPBELL: I tried to walk to the exit, but I probably got, at least, 10 feet before I was like, no, this is not going to happen. So then, I just sat down.

FADEL: Campbell put his back against the wall and called his dad.

CAMPBELL: I told him I got shot. He didn't really believe me at the time, but couldn't say anything more than that because I couldn't breathe. So I kind of texted him. I was like, I can't talk. But he heard the commotion.

FADEL: His parents got in the car and rushed to get him, but the roads were blocked. Campbell says other concertgoers were checking to see who was dead and who was alive. One of them found him. The stranger put him on his back and rushed him to a car. Another woman was in there with her husband. He was shot in the leg. Campbell says, only then, did he start to feel the pain. To stop him from passing out, the woman asked him questions about his life, about his girlfriend.

CAMPBELL: She was like, what do you - like, do you play sports or what sports do you play? What color eyes does your girlfriend have? How was the concert? What color hair does she have? Like, why do you like her?

FADEL: And now, Campbell says he just wants to heal and get back to school. It's hard to sleep still. The chest tube hurts. But he hopes he's back in training in time for basketball season.

CAMPBELL: They said this would - could be six weeks. So hopefully, it's only six weeks.

FADEL: He says the experience has not made him afraid.

CAMPBELL: I'll stay the same. It's just - I mean, it's a bizarre accident.

FADEL: A few days ago, his friends visited the hospital. Nick Campbell hopes he's back at school with them this week. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Las Vegas.

MARTIN: We'd like to be sure you knew that Nicholas Campbell's girlfriend survived. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.