- Nick Robone and his brother Anthony went to a concert Sunday in Las Vegas. Nick was among those shot. Anthony's quick actions helped him survive.
The brothers met on the concert grounds, just like they had planned.
Nick Robone, an assistant coach for the men’s ice hockey club team at UNLV, arrived after skating in his weekly adult beer league. He had scored tickets to the Route 91 Harvest festival last month, a gift from his parents for his 28th birthday. Nick planned to sell the Sunday pass and spend the evening elsewhere, but he had so much fun Friday and Saturday that he decided to return for the final few acts.
Anthony Robone, 25, made the brief trek from T-Mobile Arena, where he and his girlfriend were watching the Vegas Golden Knights’ final exhibition game, prior to the team’s inaugural season. Like his older brother and current roommate—they recently split the cost of a house south of the Strip, 50-50—-Anthony played roller hockey at UNLV and loved that an expansion NHL team had landed in their hometown. He had been on paramedic duty with the Henderson Fire Department throughout the weekend and was scheduled for another shift Sunday, but called out to celebrate with his brother instead.
“Can you make it?” Nick had asked.
“F--- yeah,” Anthony replied.
They arrived around the same time, roughly 8:30 p.m, and met with several others, including Anthony Vignieri Greener, UNLV’s head coach, and William Tufano, an old friend from their youth hockey days. They grabbed drinks at the bar and found a spot to stand, maybe 100 yards from the main stage on the west side of the venue. Across South Las Vegas Boulevard, the golden façade of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino glistened in the night. Not long after, country music star Jason Aldean made his entrance and started to play.
When the first round of bullets hit the crowd, the brothers shrugged aside the noise. Fireworks, they figured, launched somewhere into the sky. They reflexively crouched low upon hearing the next round—pop-pop-pop-pop-pop—but even then, they didn’t quite grasp what was happening. “Babe, it’s not real,” Anthony told his girlfriend, covering her like a human shield. “It’s not real.” The third round thundered mid-sentence.
Then, a voice.
“I got hit.”
Anthony turned. There was Nick on the ground, spitting up blood. “An image I’ll never forget,” Anthony says. From there, instinct took over. He pulled aside the strap of his brother’s tank top and found where the bullet had struck, high on the left chest. No other entry wounds were visible, but there wasn’t time to search.
“I knew we had to get out of there,” he says. “So we went running with him, praying that it was the only hole.”
Along with Tufano, who currently works for a medical care company, Anthony grabbed Nick and headed west. Shots kept ringing overhead. Bodies kept falling to the ground. Nick’s tank top kept turning a deeper shade of red. They ducked behind a squad car with several other parties seeking cover from the gunfire, which was coming from a 32nd floor window at the Mandalay Bay. Anthony searched for the flashing lights of an ambulance, but saw nothing except chaos. “So I said, screw it and picked my brother up,” he says.
They moved northeast, dashing through the dark. Several police cars were parked along East Reno Avenue, but they saw no officers. Anthony looked at Tufano. “We’re going to steal a cop car,” he said, but every door was locked. Finally, further down the road, Anthony spied two officers. He identified himself as a firefighter and requested an ambulance. “And,” Anthony said, “I need any EMS equipment you have.”
Based on the location of the entry wound and the blood still spitting from his brother’s mouth, Anthony feared that Nick had suffered a collapsed lung—or worse. But the officers could only provide a small first-aid kit with Band-Aids and Neosporin. “The kind you can buy at Wal-Mart,” Anthony says. So with Tufano’s assistance, Anthony constructed a makeshift occlusive dressing by removing the thin layer of plastic covering the unopened Band-Aid box and pressing it onto the wound with three bandages.
Nick was awake and alert when the ambulance arrived. Another victim was loaded first, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the neck. Next went Nick. The paramedic told Anthony that they were headed to Sunrise Hospital, less than five miles away. Anthony told Nick that he would see him there soon. He was staying behind to help.
“There was a lot that needed to be done,” Anthony says. “And I knew my brother is a tough m-----------. He gave me a nod like, You go handle it.”
The brothers grew up around the game.
They started with roller hockey, joining a local youth club that spent weekends at tournaments in southern California, Arizona and Colorado. Rink space was at a premium, this being the desert and all, but the Robones quickly caught the hockey bug on the ice too. As kids they cheered for the Kings—their father hailed from Los Angeles—and idolized Hall-of-Fame defenseman Rob Blake. Among Anthony’s childhood travel teammates was Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker, the only Las Vegas native to reach the NHL. After the shooting, which killed at least 59 people and injured more than 500, Zucker was among the first to reach out.
Even before Nick enrolled at UNLV in the fall of 2007, his sights had pivoted to coaching. He was a fast defenseman with a thick upper body, equally capable on the power play and penalty kill, but hockey IQ was always his greatest strength. When Nick was a senior at Centennial High, UNLV founded its roller hockey team and asked him to help on the bench. In 2011–12, Nick was named a third-team all-American by the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association and led UNLV to the national championship game—all while serving as player-coach.
“You could tell that sparked something,” says Anthony, who was his brother’s teammate for two seasons at UNLV. “When I was studying to be a firefighter, I was up at 1 or 2 a.m., reading my textbooks. He was up until 1 or 2 with me, writing up plays and practices and looking at tape. It’s what he wants to do with his life.”
From there, as Anthony puts it, Nick’s life “tumbleweeded” into the profession. He would steer UNLV’s inline program to three straight NCRHA final fours, earn his master’s degree in sports administration online from Western Kentucky, work as a marketing coordinator at the Las Vegas Ice Center, volunteer coach several local youth clubs, and eventually return to his alma mater as an assistant for its club ice hockey team in 2015–16. At the time, the Rebels were “a joke D-3 program,” according to Anthony, who started playing ice hockey at UNLV after Nick graduated. Now they compete in Division I, the highest division of club college hockey—the promotion was announced last November—and began this season 3–1, including an opening-weekend sweep of Arizona State, one of several schools that recently called Nick about coming to work for them.
“He’s always been a leader, a motivator,” Anthony says. “He’s very articulate in the way he does things, very tactical. If he needs someone to do things, he goes about it the right way. He’s not the yeller, not the guy who says, ‘You need to f------ skate, hit harder.’ He’s not going to pound on the bench. He’s an intellect, strategic in what he does.”
As the back doors slammed shut and the ambulance headed for Sunrise, Anthony was wrecked with regret. “I felt like there wasn’t enough closure,” he says. “They left right away. I didn’t get to say bye or I love you or anything. That ate at me the whole time.”
But there was work to be done. They saw off-duty doctors and nurses springing into action, civilians using their belts as makeshift tourniquets, others pulling off their shirts to apply pressure onto wounds. “Everyone helped everyone,” Anthony says. “The selflessness that occurred that night...it makes me proud to live here. It was unreal.”
Along with Tufano, Anthony dashed through the streets to triage victims, grabbing IVs and trauma bandages, loading the wounded into pickup trucks bound for the hospital. He has pronounced people dead on the job before, but this was entirely different; the volume of survivors meant there wasn’t enough room in the ambulances. “Tell a family that we’ll give you a sheet, and you need to stand in this corner and pray over your loved one, there’s nothing we can do,” he says. “We had to do that for a few unfortunately.”
Amid the carnage, Anthony’s mind returned to his brother at Sunrise. “If we don’t get out of here,” he told Tufano, “we’ll be here until 5 a.m.” The opportunity came while under lockdown at Tropicana Las Vegas, where they waited in a hallway with roughly 150 others for the all-clear signal. When an ambulance arrived for a victim who was on the fourth floor with a “superficial” bullet wound in his head, according to Anthony, they offered their assistance to the paramedics and hitched a ride to the hospital.
“You walk into that ER, and I know there are some pictures, there’s blood on the floor, blood on the walls, people screaming,” Anthony says. “If you’ve ever seen any war movies where they walk into a trauma tent and everyone’s wounded, that’s exactly what was going on. But Sunrise did a phenomenal job that night, all hands on deck.”
Nick entered surgery around 2 a.m. and stayed for almost three hours. The bullet didn’t puncture his lung, as Anthony has initially feared, instead wrapping around his muscles before burying itself in his left lat. Two main fragments were removed and given to police for evidence, though smaller pieces of shrapnel remain in his left pectoral. His clavicle was unharmed, his ribs stable and intact, but the velocity of the bullet left his lung badly bruised. He was intubated and sedated for 36 hours but awoke Tuesday.
“The first thing he said was, he was more upset because he had seen some local news articles about him, and he was pissed,” Anthony says. “I walked in the room and was like, ‘Dude, why are you so pissed? You’re alive.’ He said, ‘Dude, 59 people died though.’
“But that’s why he’s a coach. He’s an educator. He’s for his team, his crew. That’s his instincts.”
It’s late Tuesday night now, almost 48 hours after the shooting, as Anthony calls from the ICU at Sunrise. Nick is still there, facing a six-month recovery before his lung function even returns “to semi-normal,” according to his brother, and will remain in the hospital for the foreseeable future to guard against infection. But he’s alert, talking, and might try standing up for the first time soon. He also recently tapped a message into his iPhone and tweeted it out to his 400-some followers:
I wanted to thank everyone for their kind words, love, and generosity. I’m out of surgery and expected to make a full recovery. However, there are others not as fortunate to have the same support system as me and my family. I urge all of you to share the same charitableness and kindness for the rest of the community, victims, and their families as you have for me.
Indeed, the hockey world has marshaled its full strength for their “tough m-----------.” A GoFundMe page had raised more than $47,000 as of Wednesday afternoon. The Golden Knights also plan to donate money, says defenseman and year-round Las Vegas resident Deryk Engelland, adding there was talk of the team visiting Robone in the hospital. “That,” Anthony says, “is the brotherhood.”
The UNLV hockey program is still reeling. Several players also attended the concert and are currently receiving trauma counseling from the athletic department, according to general manager Zee Kahn. But it plans to sell t-shirts to benefit the Robone family during its upcoming series against Utah. There was brief talk of postponing the games altogether, but Nick made his wishes clear. When doctors extubated Nick, he promptly told his brother, “Make sure they’re still playing this weekend.”