Native Rhode Islander helps reconnect family members after Las Vegas shooting

Drapes billow out of broken windows at the Mandalay Bay resort and casino Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, on the Las Vegas Strip following a deadly shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas. A gunman was found dead inside a hotel room. (AP Photo/John Locher)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – As panic spread in sin city, one native Rhode Islander wasn’t far from the violence.

During the last day of the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, a gunman fired into the crowd of 22,000 people.

The shooter, now identified as Stephen Paddock, 64, killed 59 people and injured 527 while country singer Jason Aldean was on stage performing the last song in his set.

Tony Totero lives three miles away from Mandalay Bay where the shooting took place. Totero is an East Providence native who has called Las Vegas home for the past 20 years.

“I got a text message and someone just said ‘This is sick, I can’t believe this happened,'” he said, recalling the event. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ and they said, ‘Put on the news.'”

When Totero saw the devastation, he immediately texted his friends, who are police officers and paramedics in the city.

“They just couldn’t see and hearing gunshot and they couldn’t get anywhere,” he said. “They saw people on the ground, and then trampled on.”

On Monday, the mixed martial arts coach made the trip down to the strip.

If you’re having trouble contacting family or friends in Las Vegas, the city’s police department says to call 1-866-535-5654. Facebook has also set up a crisis response page for the attack. More details »

“This feeling of just emptiness,” he said. “That’s how I felt. I just had goosebumps.”

He checked in with members of law enforcement hoping to lend a hand in the midst of the crisis.

“I teach self defense and things like that so I train a lot of the police officers,” he said. “So I’ve been working with them and trying to help them out and keep in contact with first responders to see if there’s anything I can do.”

For now, Totero is helping link families with their missing loved ones by making phone calls, checking social media and praying for the place he now calls home.

“This city is a strong city. We’re always going to come together,” he said. “We’re always going to unite. And we’re always going to push this type of crime out of our city.”