Michele Di Palma talks about her surprising stay in Las Vegas
I have always felt safe in Vegas. I stay on the Strip, don’t engage street vendors, keep my valuables out of sight and make sure I’m back at my home hotel by 11 (if I am out by myself). Behind the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, I knew crimes occurred more often than I heard of but I had never been close to any……until this past weekend.
With my husband out of town, friends busy with their lives and a forecast of snow, I booked a last minute weekend stay at the Bellagio. Arriving Friday night, I checked in, scoped out my room and headed back out. After a lovely meal at Mon Ami Gabi and some shopping at the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, I wandered back to Bellagio and settled into some slot playing in the casino by the lobby.
After about an hour, I was getting tired. The casino was still hopping as it was only 12:30 am. I was in the middle of debating between heading straight back to my room in the spa tower or getting a snack, when I heard a loud smash. I didn’t think much of it, as Vegas is always noisy. But then, groups of 10-20 people started running by from the lobby and into the casino. It seemed odd, so I turned around, and more people were sprinting through the casino yelling, “Get out!” “Go, go, go!”
Still bewildered, I grabbed my shopping bag just as a blackjack dealer pulled on my arm and shouted, “We have to go! A man in the lobby has a gun and is shooting!” As we ran, I yelled back, “Where do we go?” She replied, “I don’t know, just keep going!” With lungs burning, I ran through the casino and saw people hiding under tables or searching for a spot to duck into. Just past the casino, I turned left and exited at the valet entrance just before the Bellagio shops.
Once outside, confusion set in among the crowd. One gunman or more? Was anyone hurt? What do we do now? A group of Bellagio casino staff huddled together wiping away tears. People looked at each other with shocked expressions. We wondered just what was happening inside.
After about 30 minutes, we were allowed to re-enter the Bellagio. I walked towards the lobby, through the eerily quiet casino. Table games all shut down. Lounges vacant. Slot machines empty. The lobby was blocked off with police tape and being guarded by plainclothes officers while uniformed police scurried around behind them assessing the scene.
The officers told me what we all now know, the high-end watch store in the lobby, Tesorini, had been robbed. No one was hurt, thank goodness. It would be another hour or so until they moved the police tape around the crime scene and I could head back to my room in the spa tower. While I waited, I sat at a blackjack table listening to a pit boss and dealer discuss how to figure out how much in chips each player had and how to handle any issues that may arise the next day.
I was able to get back to my room just before 3 am. After a restless sleep, I got up Saturday morning and prepared to head out for the day with last night’s excitement behind me. I took my last sip of coffee, and as I looked out the window between the Bellagio and Cosmopolitan, I counted over 20 police cars and ambulances surrounding something. Traffic was shut down, and it was clear something was happening. My initial thought was that they caught the robbers from the night before. I called down to the front desk for information and was told that it was police activity and I was advised to stay in my room.
That was at the start of a day-long standoff between the police and a gunman who shot two people, one fatally, on a double decker bus. The casino at Cosmopolitan was evacuated, and swarms of people were walking the side street between the Cosmopolitan and Bellagio to the back of the strip. For a couple of hours, I sat at my window and listened to the police try to negotiate with the man. I watched as the SWAT team moved in and jolted at the sound of a small explosion the officers set off to get the gunman to leave the bus. Finally, in the late afternoon, the gunman emerged and was arrested. By evening, the crime scene was cleared, and it was back to normal on Las Vegas Boulevard.
I have always felt safe in Vegas, and for the most part, I still do. But, the two major crimes within 12 hours this weekend were a strong reminder that just like anywhere else, it is smart to keep my awareness up and not get too comfortable. While I was never in any danger, I guess you just never know how quick your luck can change.
[Photos: Michele Di Palma]