Family members wept and wrapped one another in prolonged embraces at the Colorado Springs Airport on Monday evening while reuniting with loved ones returning from the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, where a gunman fired fusillade after fusillade into the crowd from a nearby high-rise hotel.
A father who endured the deadly show hugged his teenage daughters. A husband held his wife, who also survived the trauma.
Returning travelers recounted the heinous chain of events - seeing the dead and wounded, hearing the screams of the masses and feeling the panic and confusion.
Brian Wallingsford said he hid behind semi-trailers, dumpsters and concrete pillars after bullets began raining from the sky, sometimes in barrages lasting up to 40 seconds.
"We were literally fish in a barrel," he said. "It felt like it was never going to stop."
He described it as "the scariest thing you could imagine."
He and his girlfriend, Amy Charbauski, lost one another in the chaos. She said she found temporary refuge in a VIP trailer with other concertgoers. Both of them were dumbfounded by the news that only one shooter was responsible for the ambush.
"People thought there were shooters everywhere," Charbauski said. "It was a pure nightmare."
Jessica and Sabrina Martin heard from their father, Steven Martin, about the crackling sound - like speakers popping, he first thought - that he soon realized was gunfire, the heat he felt as a bullet whizzed by his ear and the SWAT team that ushered him through a back entrance of the Luxor Hotel where he was staying, his daughters said.
"He was on the verge of tears," 19-year-old Sabrina Martin said, recalling a call with her father late Sunday. "My heart dropped."
As the sisters waited for Frontier Airlines Flight 1090 to touch down, Jessica Martin, 16, said the crisis was "an eye-opener."
"We could have lost our dad," she said, crying.
LeShawn Carey said she and her husband, Tom Cox, were watching Aldean's performance with Charbauski and Wallingsford when the first shots rang out during the country star's third or fourth song. Hordes of people began to run as others dropped to the ground, she said.
She vividly recalled a young woman in a skirt, 20 or younger, crying out, "I'm bleeding between my legs."
"I'll never forget the look on her face," Carey said, her voice trembling.
She and her husband eventually made it into a hotel, where she hid beneath the front desk and implored him to do the same. People flooded the lobby, some dragging injured victims. Many asked for rooms to take shelter and towels to make tourniquets. A security guard later handed out keys to a crowd of about 75, she said. The couple stayed at the hotel until about 7 a.m. Monday before returning to their booked hotel, the MGM Grand.
She said she has tickets for the Country Jam in Grand Junction, which she attends annually. But she's having second thoughts about whether she "can do this again."
The Gazette's Hugh Johnson contributed to this report.