Group Of Friends Miss Tragedy By Minutes

A group of friends from Oskaloosa were enjoying their time in Las Vegas, before tragedy struck on October 1st.

A group of friends from Oskaloosa were enjoying their time in Las Vegas, before tragedy struck on October 1st. (submitted photo)

Oskaloosa, Iowa – People from around the world watched in horror as the tragedy in Las Vegas unfolded on our television sets.

In Oskaloosa, some families were concerned for the safety of their loved ones and reached out desperately to hear the news that they were safe.

Eight friends were on vacation together, enjoying friendship and the sights of the Las Vegas Strip. Tony and Laura DeJong, Mark and Bridget Ringgenberg, Thad and Lee Jones, and Darrin and Lisa Alderson had planned this trip for some time, and the laughs together kept their time enjoyable.

The group of friends enjoyed the casino, “ate like pigs” and took a ride on the ‘High Roller,’ which is a 550-foot tall Ferris wheel on the Las Vegas Strip, which ended up being the last thing did as a group. The Ringgenberg’s went to the ‘Bodies Exhibit’ at the Luxor.

Before 10 pm on October 1st, the group of friends were having the time of their lives, and plans were being made for their next adventure the following day.

Before calling it a night and leaving ‘The Strip,’ Lisa Alderson had a friend from Iowa that was also in Las Vegas, and the whole group decided to go to Caesar’s palace to have a drink.

The group had a car and driver already scheduled to pick them up and take them back to their hotel, The Four Queens, so that they could take in Fremont Street. “There’s always a concert,” added Laura DeJong. “There was a concert every night right outside the hotel.”

Their pickup from the hotel was scheduled to be at the Luxor, but the group called the driver and asked if he could pick them up at Caesar’s Palace instead; he agreed and also arrived early. So their ride made it back before ‘The Strip’ was closed.

“Once we got back to The Four Queens, then there was a bunch of law enforcement,” said Lisa Alderson. The group arrived there around 10:30 pm. “Life was still good,” the group exclaimed.

By 11 pm, the group made their way back to their rooms, and by 11:30 pm Fremont Street was closed down, which was unusual.

Lee Jones asked one of the security guards what was going on, and got the answer “everything’s fine.” But the group said they could tell something was different.

“They [law enforcement] were walking around with urgency,” added Lisa Alderson. “We didn’t want to be a part of whatever was going on.”

With their hotel being so far away from ‘The Strip’ and the incident, other than seeing an increased police presence, none of the group was really aware of the tragedy taking place near to where they had just been.

They started to hear reports that there had been a shooting, and that a couple of people had been killed. “The news said active shooter on the strip,” explained Thad Jones.

“We had no idea. We’re going to our room, Bridget’s sister calls her on the phone, and they’re yaking, I said goodnight,” added Mark Ringgenberg. “I woke up the next morning and my phone’s blowing up, and I hadn’t looked at the news, and said what the heck is going on.”

As the group started to get frantic texts, messages and calls from friends and loved ones asking if they were ok, each couple on their own started to take in what had just happened in the city they were visiting.

Laura DeJong said that by 3:30 in the morning in Las Vegas, 6:30 am here, she had messages from the kids asking about them. “Between 3:30 am and 5:30 am, my phone was just blowing up, so I’m texting kids and calling kids. My ten year old called, and he was balling.”

Police presence in Las Vegas was heavy after the massacre of October 1st. (submitted photo)

Police presence in Las Vegas was heavy after the massacre of October 1st. (submitted photo)

But then the network reached capacity, and her ten year old was worried because the phone call had suddenly quit. “He’s crying, and I’m trying to tell him we’re ok. I’m crying because I’m watching the news,” said Laura DeJong.

Friends and family not knowing where the group was exactly had added to the level of anxiety for those at home.

“We stayed up most of the night watching the news,” said Lee Jones.

“Every time a report came in, the number went up,” said Thad Jones. “Initially it was seven people injured, and then the next time it’s two dead, ten injured. Then the next time it’s ten dead and 50 injured.”

“I got a frantic text from my dad. You could tell it was frantic because it was in all caps,” said Thad Jones. “Text me as soon as you get this and let me know you’re ok.”

Tony DeJong, who was in their hotel’s casino, had heard about the shooting, but reports he was getting were that five people had died and 20 were injured. “This was shortly after we got back. When I go back up to the room, she (Laura) had the tv on then, and it was like, oh my god, there’s 30 dead. It just kept escalating and escalating.”

It was a restless night for the group, as every noise would cause the anxiety level to rise.

“Waking up Monday, it was unreal,” the group said.

Then, the party atmosphere that is Las Vegas became hushed and tense. “There’s still this underlying question, not being quite sure this guy worked alone,” explained Laura DeJong.

At breakfast, the group sat for an hour and a half “just drinking coffee and talking teary-eyed.” It was during this time that the group pieced together their timeline of the night before and realized that they only missed being near the shooting by 10 minutes.

All of the group’s friends and families were trying to talk to them into coming home early.

The group of friends said “it just didn’t seem right to go do something fun, you felt guilty when so many people had suffered. It just… You felt guilty. You felt guilty to…”

The group had planned to go to the Hoover Dam that Monday, but instead decided to just stay together and stay near the hotel and at the pool.

The police presence during that Monday served as a constant reminder of the tragedy, and even dinner together brought more reality to how close it was when their waitress told them that two of her friends were killed.

The festive, party atmosphere of Las Vegas was gone, and on Fremont Street, tributes were being played “Pray for Vegas.”

“We needed that one day, together, at the pool, so that we all knew we were safe and how lucky we really were,” said Bridget Ringgenberg.

As the totality of the event played out in front of them on local television, it became apparent how lucky they were not to have been at the scene as the shooting started.

“Still kind of in disbelief I think,” added Thad Jones.

“And were all ok, thank God we aren’t dead,” said one from the group.

“The hardest part for me was when people that care about you were telling you things that they want to make sure you know before you die,” said Lisa Alderson. “That was hard.”

Everyone in the group agreed.

“That kind of put it into perspective of how close and bad that situation was,” said Thad Jones. “We weren’t there where it happened, but just the proximity we were in was enough to make people that concerned.”

“Just that 10-minute window. I can’t get past that,” said Lee Jones. “In 10 minutes, we could have walked on easily,” towards the Luxor, which is on the other side of the Mandalay Bay.

One member of the group had sore feet and that had changed the group’s plans in that last 10 minutes.

“That was my thing, the timing of this whole thing didn’t hit us until the next day,” said Tony DeJong. “We left at 10’oclock, and we were two hotels away, and this [shooting] started at 10:08 pm.”

“If that [shooting] had started while we were sitting there…,” said Tony DeJong.

“We originally started at the Luxor, which is on the other side of Mandalay Bay,” said Bridget Ringgenberg. “And that’s where we were supposed to get picked back up at, but we asked the driver if he could pick us up where we were at. Had we walked back down; we would have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s no getting around it; we would have been right in the middle of it.”

The chilling fact that the group would have been in sight of the shooter isn’t lost on the group.

“I guess one of the things that bothers me, thinking back about it, is when we got dropped off at the Luxor, we walked out, we walked right past this field where this concert was at,” said Thad Jones.

“You think, that guy was up there planning all that crap while we were walking by that day,” added Laura DeJong.

“We were supposed to start there and end there [Luxor], added Mark Ringgenberg.

“It just wasn’t our time,” said Lisa Alderson.

“I believe there was some divine intervention. There’s a reason why we didn’t go back down to where we were supposed to,” added Thad Jones. “Her [Lisa] friend called and said he wanted to have a drink. That was our divine intervention there.”

“We did everything together. If we had decided at that moment, hey, let’s go into this concert, would all 8 of us came back home?” said Laura Edwards.

“I wanted to come home and hug my kids,” said Laura DeJong.

Lisa Anderson said, “One of the things Darrin and I talked about, and I think it’s really important to say. Bad things are always going to happen, it’s just how it is. But the things people do for each other, those heroes that will never get any recognition for what they did or the medical personnel who just worked tirelessly through the night to save as many as they could; the people that lined up for 5 or 6 hours to donate blood. That’s what we have to focus on.”

I don’t want to pretend you don’t talk about gun control, or mental illness or whatever. The fact is that there are so many more people that are willing to do good.”

“Bad things are always going to happen, and it skews people’s perception of the world because that’s what gets reported. All the bad stuff gets reported,” said Lisa Alderson. “There are always little feel-good blips, but that’s what we’re going to choose to focus on.”

“Yeah,” came up from the group.

“Is all of the wonderful things people did for each other,” added Lisa Alderson.

As Tuesday arrived, the group got loaded up and headed for the airport.

The group from Oskaloosa was waiting to take off from Las Vegas, with Mandalay Bay visible to them while they waited. (submitted photo)

The group from Oskaloosa was waiting to take off from Las Vegas, with Mandalay Bay visible to them while they waited. (submitted photo)

As they sat in the plane preparing to head for home, the group felt guilty.

“There’s none of that complaining about having to switch flights, or any of that, because we’re going home to our families,” said Laura DeJong.

“There was no problem with that,” said Thad Jones of the return trip and the delays that often come with air travel. “We all got to go home.”

Mark Ringgenberg commented that the guilt built up as they sat waiting in their plane, and looking out their window at the Mandalay Bay hotel.

As the flight left for Salt Lake City, “It was sober in the plane,” said Bridget Ringgenberg. “It wasn’t noisy like flights usually are.”

When the DeJongs got back home, Laura hugged her 2-year-old granddaughter, along with 2 of her daughters and her son. “That’s what I did too,” added Tony.

“I was thankful I could hug them again,” explained Laura.

The Ringgenberg’s don’t have any kids at home, but they went and got their dog. “The dog has stuck by our side ever since we got home.”

For the Jones family, life back in Oskaloosa picked back up pretty quickly, retrieving one child from football.

The request for food soon arrived on the Jone’s phones.

“I just waited until the kids got home and hugged them,” said Thad.

“My mom said that Mark and I aren’t allowed to travel together anymore,” said Lee Jones, sister to Mark.

The Alderson’s went to Lisa’s mother’s house to pick up their youngest daughter. “Hugs and kisses and we’re so glad you’re home” was what greeted them.

Darrin Alderson said their youngest daughter said they are “never leaving to go to Vegas again.”

Even after being home for several days, the group says that guilty feeling is still a part of their life and the concern for the families that were directly impacted by the shooting.

Seeing news reports that put faces to lives taken during the shooting make it even more difficult.

Their thoughts are also with all those emergency personnel that were there, “and had to deal with all that they saw.”

“I had to turn it off,” said Thad of watching the stories of those killed.

“They were just doing the same thing we were, having a good time,” said Lee.

“There is a difference, it feels more personal,” said the group.

“Is it a selfish feeling because you feel so lucky?” asked Lee Jones of the group.

Lisa Alderson agreed because as those around her hugged her, and told her they are glad she was OK, her thoughts would turn to those who weren’t able to come home. “I don’t know how to put it into words. I didn’t deserve that because I didn’t suffer like those people did.”

“I feel selfish, I feel guilty, I feel lucky, thankful,” said the group.”We got to come home, to our homes, to everybody in our homes.”

When trying to put the whole thing into perspective, Bridget Ringgenberg wants to know “Why? Why did he do it? What was his motivation?”.

“There’s kind of a helpless feeling that goes along with it,” said Lisa Alderson. “There’s nothing that we could probably do. But what I think we can do to help is to just go out and be kind. Talk to people you wouldn’t normally talk to. Help people that need help. What if somebody had been kind to that man. What if somebody had let him step in front of them in line or something. It might not have changed anything, but maybe it would have.”

“That’s my way to help,” continued Lisa Alderson. “I’m going to try to be nice to as many people as I can. Just pass the good deeds along,”

“It’s just the little things you can do,” added Tony DeJong.

Life seems different to the group now. “That was a little close for comfort,” said Lee Jones.

“Although there’s that feeling of guilt, we made some wonderful memories, and we’re not going to let him steal that from us,” said Lisa Alderson.

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