By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun
Jack Beaton often told his wife Laurie that he loved her. So much so, that he said he would take a bullet for her.
The former Kern River Valley resident did just that when the shooting started during the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival on Sunday, Oct. 1, in Las Vegas. Jack died a hero, while shielding his wife from the rapid gunfire during the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
It was supposed to be a weekend of celebration. The Beatons headed to Las Vegas from their home in Bakersfield for the country music festival with four of their close friends to celebrate their 23rd wedding anniversary. Avid country music fans, Laurie said they heard about the Route 91 Harvest Festival last year, and because it coincided with their anniversary, it seemed to be the ideal way to celebrate.
They had been at the festival all three days, Beaton said and Sunday, the six friends arrived around 7 p.m. to see country music star Jason Aldean, the country music star who would close out the music festival. As Aldean was performing on stage, they heard what they thought were fireworks.
“When the first round started, you could hear it, but you couldn’t see anything,” Beaton said. “We were looking at the Mandalay Bay because that is where the sound was coming from.”
When the second round of gunfire started, Beaton said she was standing in front of Jack. “I felt air breeze past my left arm and I said to Jack, ‘That isn’t fireworks. I just felt a bullet.’ He said something back to me that acknowledged that he also knew it was gunfire.”
With that, Jack told his wife to get down on the ground.
“He got on top of me and gave me a bear hug,” she said. “Then he said, ‘I love you Laurie’ and I said ‘I love you, too.'”
When the second round of gunfire stopped, Beaton said she screamed his name. But her husband didn’t answer. “He was so heavy on my body,” she said. As she moved, Jack rolled onto the ground and she could see that he was bleeding extensively. Then she saw the bullet wound in his upper left chest.
By this time, Beaton said sheer panic had set in as people were screaming and running. The arena lights came on.
“My friends and I were piled on the grass trying to care for Jack. He was bleeding out of his mouth and he was not conscious,” she said. At that time, a man came up to them and told him he was a nurse and had medical training. He told us we were sitting ducks in the open area and told Scott (one of her friends) ‘get these women out of here.'”
With that, Beaton looked at her unconscious husband. “I told him I would see him in heaven, and we ran as fast as we could,” she said. “The gun shots started again and Scott yelled for us to get down. As soon as the bullets stopped, he told us to run. So, I got up and ran but I ran in a different direction than they did and I ended up at the opposite end of the field.”
Beaton found herself running between buildings that gave her and others some shelter from the bullets. As she and the others were running, she said people were yelling that the bullets weren’t real. “I screamed ‘they are real,’ and that is when a woman came up to me, asked my name and grabbed my hand. She said ‘I’m not letting go of your hand until we get out of here.'”
They reached a fence and ran toward a police car. Beaton told officers that her husband was inside and so were her friends. When the shooting stopped, her friends returned to the area where they last saw Jack, but his body had been moved.
“I thought that maybe the man who was with him had helped him and got him into an ambulance. I had some hope,” Beaton said. “But I know that he had passed while I was there. He had no movement.”
Once reunited with her friends, they went to the Luxor Hotel and Casino. Still uncertain if there was more than one shooter, everyone in the lobby was ushered into the basement and they were put on lockdown until 5 a.m. Monday morning. During that time, Beaton said she was calling hospitals desperately trying to locate Jack.
On Monday afternoon, she received the call from the Coroner’s office. Her 55-year old husband had died. He was one of 58 concert attendees killed and 500 injured during the massacre by the lone gunman who was firing from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino.
Beaton then had the daunting task of telling their children, 20-year-old Jake and 18-year-old Delaney.
The support from family and the Bakersfield community has helped the Beaton family deal with their tragic loss. Beaton said her employer, Aera Energy helped pay for her to fly to Phoenix to get her daughter, a student at Arizona State University and bring her back to Bakersfield to be with family.
“Jack was an amazing man and he will be missed not only by family but by so many friends. They have been stopping by and sharing some great stories about him,” she said.
A Memorial Mass and Celebration of Life was held at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Bakersfield on Saturday, Oct. 7. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, more than 800 people attended the service where family photos were displayed and tributes were given about Beaton, who was described as a fun–loving friend and hard-working roofer who was generous and kind-hearted. More than anything, he loved his family.
No one knew that better than his wife, who called her husband a hero. “I knew every day of my life that he loved me. He said to me many times that he would take a bullet for me.”