American country music stars have expressed their horror after Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas turned an open-air festival into a scene of carnage, and one says it forced him to change his opposition to gun control.
The Route 91 Harvest festival, promoted as a “three-day neon sleepover”, attracted fans from across the United States to hear country’s biggest stars, including Jason Aldean, Eric Church and Sam Hunt.
At least 59 people were killed by a 64-year-old gunman who released a hailstorm of bullets into the festival site.
Caleb Keeter, a guitarist with the Josh Abbott Band, which played the festival earlier on Sunday, said he had been a lifelong supporter of the right to bear arms “until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was.”
“We need gun control RIGHT. NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn’t realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it,” Keeter said on Twitter.
Aldean, the Sunday night headliner, had just taken the stage when bursts of gunfire rang out, sending thousands of people diving for cover.
“Tonight has been beyond horrific,” Aldean, 40, who was unharmed, said on Instagram.
“It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night.”
Country singer Tyler Reeve says he was backstage when a volley of shots rang out.
He and other singers took cover in a trailer while bullets struck tour buses, equipment cases and the stage.
Reeve and others lay down on the floor and turned the lights off.
“As we were lying in this trailer, I was thinking, ‘This can’t really be happening’, and it just went on and on. I can’t even describe the feeling, just absolute terror,” Reeve said.
After about 45 minutes, Reeve and his friends left the trailer and ran through the streets to the MGM Grand Casino.
“It was just shoes and clothing and blood and bodies,” Reeve said.
“It was a war zone.”
Singer Jake Owen, who performed minutes before Aldean, tweeted: “Shots were ringing off the stage rigging and road cases. No one knew where to go.”
Owen told Fox News in an interview early on Monday: “This isn’t what America is supposed to look like.”
Taylor Swift, who started her career as a country singer, said on Twitter there were “no words to express the helplessness and sorrow my broken heart feels for the victims”.
Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert and Shania Twain tweeted they were heartbroken, while veteran singer Brad Paisley said “there are no words right now that suffice,” and Australian Keith Urban said he was “stilled and speechless”.