Philadelphia attorney recounts chaos of Vegas mass shooting

Bill Ciancaglini of South Philadelphia

Bill Ciancaglini of South Philadelphia, was in Las Vegas, but not at the concert where 58 people killed and hundreds injured. (photo used with permission)

A Philadelphia attorney vacationing in Las Vegas found himself running for his life Sunday night, when a gunman began mowing down concert-goers in what has become the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Bill Ciancaglini had just watched the Eagles beat the Chargers on TV when he headed outside to enjoy the weather and visit some casinos. As he strolled the Strip just three blocks from Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, he saw people sprinting toward him, shouting at him to run the other way.

“I’ve never had a day go from so good to so bad that quickly,” said Ciancaglini, of South Philadelphia. “We had great weather, we ate great food, we watched the Eagles win the game. Dallas and the Giants lost. And then — terrible, terrible — I’m literally running for my life. Other than dying, I don’t ever know if I’ll have that much of a 180-degree turn in one day.”

He first thought the pop-pop-pop-pop sound of automatic gunfire was fireworks. But as more and more concertgoers ran toward him, their terror ignited his panic.

“It sounds like a movie, like a war movie. I’ve never heard machine-gun fire before,” he said. “I wasn’t 100 percent [sure] where it was coming from. I didn’t have a clue if one of these hundreds of bullets was gonna go right through my head. It takes one bullet to kill me.”

In the chaos, motorists trying to flee the violence clipped some fleeing pedestrians, while some concert-goers tried to jump into passing cars, he said.

People were doing “just anything to get out,” Ciancaglini said. “It was a mess.”

Ciancaglini ducked into the MGM Grand Las Vegas, just to get indoors, but stayed just a few minutes before heading back to the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino, where he was staying. There, he ping-ponged between his TV to hear breaking-news updates and his hotel window, where he could see the swirling lights of countless emergency responders at what had become a giant crime scene on the edge of the desert.

“It was kinda creepy,” he said, of the scene where more than 50 people died and another 500 were injured.

Ciancaglini has run unsuccessfully for Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge, and the Democrat is running for office again now, hoping to snag the 184th State House seat now occupied by state Rep. Bill Keller.

His experience last night already has him rethinking his campaign’s top goals.

“I had other things that were my top priorities, like the Mummers and the Rizzo statue,” Ciancaglini said. “Now, it kinda changed in the last several hours. All I’m thinking of is: I go to a lot of sporting events five blocks from my house. I go to a lot of concerts. Who doesn’t? It’s fun times. These people did nothing wrong. They bought a ticket and went to see a concert and have a good time. And they’re dead. They got murdered.”

He added: “Now, with my state rep thing, I hope to win and make a difference and somehow try to do whatever I can to make those things safer. I don’t ever want that to happen in South Philadelphia. I don’t want it to happen anywhere, but especially there.”

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