When gunfire staccatoed the music at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas Sunday night, Valdo Panzera Jr. thought the rapid popping he heard was coming from party favors.
"We hear a clapping noise like hand clappers, like they use on New Year's Eve," he said. "It was a short burst like, 'Pap, pap, pap, pap, pap, pap, pap.'"
But then the stage lighting went off. Flood lights came on. And a wall of terrified people started pushing toward the New Jerseyan and his newly pregnant girlfriend, Megan Iannuzzi.
"I turn to the guy behind me and I'm like, 'Please don't push her, she's pregnant, please don’t push her,'" he said Wednesday, tearing up. "The guy starts screaming, 'Stop! Stop pushing! Stop pushing!'"
The North Haledon man and his girlfriend -- a Fair Lawn native who recently moved to Las Vegas to teach kindergarten -- were two of the thousands of people who first ducked, then ran for their lives while rapid gunfire rained down on the Las Vegas Village Sunday night from a pair of busted-out windows at the Mandalay Bay hotel, where a gunman was perched with an arsenal of weapons. Fifty-eight people were killed, and nearly 500 others were wounded.
Panzera told News 4 that as soon as he realized that the noise gun fire -- and not fireworks, the crowd or the PA system, his thoughts shifted to his burgeoning family.
"Megan is six weeks pregnant. I'm going to be a dad and I'm just thinking that it's my girlfriend," he said. "My future wife and my child I have to worry about."
Panzera said that he and Iannuzzi -- both country music lovers -- had planned for months to go to the Route 91 Harvest Festival so they could see some of their favorite acts and sing their favorite songs together. But things took a turn as soon as they heard that mysterious "pap."
"Megan turns to me and goes,'Babe, what was that?' -- I'm like, 'I don't know, fireworks?'" he said. "All of the sudden you hear it again. 'Clap, clap, clap, clap.'"
By the third round of fire, he knew what he was hearing.
"The third round of bullets, you hear 'Bah! Bah! Bah!' and I felt the vibration," he said. "I told Megan, 'Get down. Get Down!' and we literally got down and you kept hearing it. 'Bah! Bah! Bah!'"
When there was a brief break in the fire, Panzera and Iannuzzi tried to get away as others pushed toward them.
"I grabbed Megan by the hand, and I'm like, 'Babe, we gotta go. Let's just do this,'" he said. "She starts saying the Hail Mary. 'Hail Mary full of Grace.' And I just kept going with her."
The couple made it out of the venue and into a Motel 6 off the strip, where a manager was giving concertgoers shelter.
"We go to the back office and there are about 100 people bunkered down. Hiding, girls throwing up in buckets in tears," he said. "A girl came in with bullet shots in the back of her shoulder."
Panzera said they they still didn't know if there was just one gunman or several at the time, so they decided to get as far away from the Las Vegas strip as possible
They made their way past the airport more than a half-mile from the venue and requested an Uber. It wasn’t until the driver called them that they felt safe.
"She was like, 'You're going to stay on the phone with me until I find you. I'm finding you guys and I'm gonna bring you home. Wherever you need to be to be safe," he said. "She was a great woman."
Panzera and Iannuzzi are still reeling from their experience Sunday nearly four days later -- but he said they’re trying to stay strong. Iannucci was back at school Wednesday, telling Panzera "I can't let these children down."
And Panzera said he’s still thankful he and Iannucci were able to get to safety and save their unborn child.
"I'm in love with my kid at isn't even here yet," he said.