Identical twins Natalia and Gianna Baca survived the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
On Oct. 1, 2017, the Faith Lutheran High School seniors, then 17, were at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas for what should have been the time of their lives — a night out with friends that involved watching some of their favorite stars, like Jason Aldean, rock the stage.
“We grew up loving country music,” Gianna told Fox News. “Our parents didn’t want us to listen to hip hop music because they felt it would be a bad influence. They always played country in the car. Whenever friends would come over, we would listen to country music.”
“We were super excited,” Natalia reflected. “We were rushing around and getting ready because we really didn’t want to be late. We love music and we love getting together with our friends. We were just so excited for that night.”
Gianna Baca is a survivor of the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting.
The women have come forward for a new documentary airing on Investigation Discovery [ID] titled “In Memoriam,” which features interviews with wounded survivors, grieving relatives, first responders and other local heroes from three recent massacres, including the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church tragedy in Texas, as well as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The film aims to explore the permanent emotional scars mass shootings create.
“We liked it because it’s not focused on the shooter,” said Natalia. “It’s based on the victims, the survivors and their perspectives, as well as how we’re still dealing with it. I feel like a lot of people are very interested in learning about the shooter. But this is focused on the survivors, how they’re doing and how much they really want to survive.”
Fifty-eight people died in the attack and 887 people sustained documented injuries, the New York Times reported. Stephen Paddock, a high-stakes gambler, carried an arsenal of guns into the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino across the street from the festival before shooting at concertgoers below. He later took his life.
The Melanson family in hospital after the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting. Their story is featured on ID’s ‘In Memoriam.’
At first, the twins heard what they initially believed were fireworks that were part of the show. However, the concert quickly transformed into a sea of chaos with flying bullets and bodies everywhere they turned. When the women froze, it was their pals who urged them to get up and run to safety.
“It was all a blur,” said Gianna. “It felt like we were in a dream. We heard sounds but we couldn’t tell if it was real or not or [if] it was part of the show. You don’t usually expect something like this to happen. But when it does, everything is happening so fast and you’re just trying to get your thoughts altogether.”
“We grew up with a family that always reminded us to be aware of our surroundings,” Gianna added. “But I never thought something like this would actually happen.”
Recording artist Jason Aldean performs during the Route 91 Harvest country music festival at the Las Vegas Village on October 1, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
(Mindy Small-FilmMagic/Getty Images)
Soon after, another nightmare unfolded. The twins became separated by the horrifying commotion and were unable to find each other.
“It was tough because we’re always by each other,” said Gianna. “If one of us went somewhere, the other isn’t too far away… But there was just so much chaos and turmoil. There were people everywhere. Even when I tried to look, there was just no way you could have found her… Just knowing we were separated was terrifying. I kept thinking to myself, ‘Where is my sister? Is she OK?’ It was hard.”
The sisters suffered devastating injuries. Gianna’s boyfriend, Parker Marx, got on top of her in an attempt to shield her. However, a bullet went through the then-20-year-old’s left inner thigh and then through the back of her left thigh, near Gianna’s femur. Half of the bullet came out but the rest ruptured all throughout Gianna’s thigh. About 30 pieces are still there.
Natalia and Gianna Baca.
As for Natalia, a bullet hit her right shoulder blade and went through her left shoulder, causing both to break. Her right lung collapsed. She had to be cut open so that a tube could be shoved between her ribs to drain the air and blood from her lung, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. According to the outlet, there was no time for medication.
Both women survived and were reunited at the hospital.
“I was super out of it,” said Natalia. “I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I couldn’t find my phone. The hospital was chaotic. Everyone was all over the place. But something was telling me to look up. And when I did, it’s like time froze.
“That’s when I saw my sister,” she continued. “And at that same moment, she saw me. It’s a feeling that’s so indescribable. We truly have this twin connection. It was such a relief. The nurses couldn’t believe we were twins that somehow found each other within this chaos. They put us in a room together, which was weight-lifting after everything we experienced. We were able to get through this together. Not alone.”
Lindsay Padgett was a witness at the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting.
Natalia also credited Dean McAuley, an off-duty firefighter from Washington state, for saving her that night. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported he quickly took her to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center for her serious injuries.
Today, she said they’re “family.”
“We see each other all the time,” she explained. “We visit him all the time. We talk to each other a few times a week honestly. When we saw him for the first time [after the shooting], it was like seeing my sister for the first time. [At the hospital] he told me, ‘I have your dad’s number. I’ll be back for you.’ When I saw his face again, I just knew it was him. We just started hugging and crying.”
There were certain sights, sounds and smells from that night the twins will never forget. However, they refuse to let fear paralyze them for good. Instead, they’re determined to live normal, successful lives.
Off duty fireman Dean McAuley looking up at Mandalay Bay Hotel.
“Living in fear means to stop living our lives,” said Natalia. “This should certainly make you more aware of your surroundings, but it shouldn’t make you live your life differently. Yes, you become more aware of the people around you… but we’re also young. I’m not going to let fear stop me from living my life. I’m not going to let fear stop me from going places.”
After the women were released from the hospital, they attended a UFC fight with their parents, Natalia’s boyfriend, their godmother and her daughter. When asked if they have since gone to concerts, both enthusiastically said yes. They’re also eagerly pursuing the beauty field in hopes of “building a business.”
“I do hair and lashes,” said Natalia. “Gianna does skin and waxing. And I have to say our clients helped us get through this. It felt really good to just talk to people. Not just talk about that night. Just talk about regular stuff.”
Natalia and Gianna Baca today.
The twins hope the documentary will encourage viewers to have conversations that go beyond the ongoing gun control debate.
“No one should ever say this would never happen to them because we’re living in a day and age where things like this happen all the time,” said Gianna. “So I think it’s important to have conversations about it. It’s really scary, but we have to become more alert and aware of our surroundings. It’s a wake-up call of how the world is. But you have to keep going forward and live each day as if it were your last… We have to keep going because it just wasn’t our time.”
“In Memoriam” airs Feb. 8 at 9 p.m. on ID. The Associated Press contributed to this report.