When a country music concert turned into a killing field in Las Vegas, Scotty Pettersen of Seattle helped so many gunshot victims, he lost count.
As the bullets hit hundreds of people, the 27-year-old Pettersen ran his girlfriend and a nearby family to the safety of an ambulance.
The paramedics were out helping others but inside the ambulance were four gunshot victims. Pettersen’s EMT and firefighter training kicked in.
“I grabbed gauze, grabbed bandages and started wrapping a guy up, and another guy came up who was shot in the back, and I started wrapping him,” Pettersen told KIRO-TV in Seattle just a few days after the massacre that killed 58 people on Oct. 1, 2017. It remains the deadliest mass shooting in US history.
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As Pettersen was helping the man with the back wound, a woman who had been shot in the thigh showed up “bleeding everywhere,” Pettersen said. “Two seconds later a guy comes in with a shoulder wound. Another five seconds, a lady comes in with a neck wound.
“It didn’t stop,” he said.
Pettersen treated victims until he was covered “head to toe” in their blood and the ambulance was out of supplies.
He may have helped save a dozen or more people.
A little over three years later, Pettersen unable to get help for himself, died by suicide on Jan. 18, 2021, at the age of 31.
Now, on the five-year anniversary of that night in Vegas, Pettersen’s parents are searching for any of the strangers their son helped save.
“We have to find all the good that Scotty brought to this world because it was such a traumatic and dark ending to his life and we’re left with that,” his mom, Michele Pettersen, said this week. “If there was a life that he’s saved, what a bright spot.”
On Sept. 6, Scott and Michele Pettersen spread some of Scotty’s ashes in Maui, the last place the whole family was together. The same day, they posted a plea to a Facebook group designed to connect the many everyday heroes of the Vegas shooting with the people they helped save.
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“We are searching for any survivors who were treated by our son, who commandeered an ambulance to save his girlfriend and keep her safe, and during that time, treated many gunshot victims who were needing help,” read the post. “His name was Scotty. We lost him to suicide several years after the concert. Today is his dad’s birthday, the day we also placed Scotty’s remains in his final resting place on Maui. If you have any Information, we would be forever grateful. “
So far, the post hasn’t turned up any of the people Scotty helped. His parents hope his large size, good looks and other unique details might jog some memories.
That night, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Scotty was wearing a short-sleeved, Hawaiian button-up shirt with green leaves and pink flowers. He also had a distinct tattoo, an intricate sleeve that ran from his right elbow up to his shoulder.
Pettersen was treating people at an ambulance parked in front of the Mandalay Bay hotel and was with his blonde girlfriend.
The Facebook group the Pettersens have turned to for help has connected dozens if not hundreds of survivors.
Robert Aguilar of Fontana, California, has become close friends with the Michigan man who saved his life after he was shot in the ribs in Vegas, temporarily paralyzing him and putting him through months of physical therapy and recovery.
Aguilar also was able to connect with the woman who drove him and his then-girlfriend to the hospital when every second mattered.
Before he got to thank them, “that weighed a lot on me,” Aguilar said.
“I was in the Army and I never got hurt like this,” he said. “To go to a concert where you’re not able to protect yourself or who you’re with because of something like that and then to have people do what they did … I needed to talk to them.”
People who survive a traumatic event like Vegas can find healing by talking to other survivors, said Tennille Pereira, director of the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center, which connects those affected by the shooting with mental health services.
“We’ve had people go back to the UK and they’ll reach out to us and they’re like, ‘I feel so isolated. I need to connect with someone who would understand this,'” Pereira said.
Unfortunately, she said, not everyone seeks help or accepts it.
Scotty Pettersen never did.
“We begged him to get help and he didn’t,” said Scott Pettersen. “Scotty was the life of the party. He was the one that turned everyone’s head when he walked into the room … So in everyone’s mind, he’s Scotty, he’s moved on, he’s fine. And I believe everybody thought that but I can ‘t imagine being in the situation he was in and not trying to talk to somebody.”
Scott and Michele said they had no idea just how much Scotty was struggling and saw no signs of suicidal thoughts. They strongly suspect he was haunted by what he experienced in Vegas.
“The faces, I remember them,” Scotty told KIRO-TV. “The guy who was shot in the back, I know exactly what he looks like, and I when I close my eyes that’s what I think about.”
Aguilar said he also experienced some suicidal thoughts following the shooting and eventually got help with therapy.
“There were a lot of days I thought there was no reason I should be here on this Earth anymore,” he said, explaining that he felt survivor’s guilt in the months and years after the shooting.
The Pettersens said that their son experienced something similar. He could never bring himself to look at the photos of the victims who died, they said.
“He was afraid to look them up and see the face of somebody that he gave support to because maybe he didn’t save them. Maybe he didn’t do enough,” Michele Pettersen said.
But she and her husband are convinced Scotty made a huge impact that day.
“Maybe we can just find some of the goodness and a person that he helped save because we couldn’t save him,” she said.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for people in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.
Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7 and confidential.
If you were affected by the Las Vegas shooting, the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center can connect you with a trauma-informed therapist, help you get involved with peer support and connect you with healing activities. To schedule an appointment, feel free to call us at 702-455-2433 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott and Michele Pettersen have started an annual $1,000 scholarship to help fund the education of an aspiring first responder. They fund the scholarship themselves but accept help at https://www.gofundme.com/f/scott-a-pettersen-memorial-scholarship.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Parents of Las Vegas mass shooting hero search for people he saved