LAS VEGAS – Brave, selfless and heroic are among the adjectives co-workers and victims are using to describe the actions of Staff Sgt. Markos Mendoza on the night of the Oct. 1 mass shooting here that left 58 dead and 546 injured.
In his military capacity, Mendoza serves as an Army Reserve culinary instructor assigned to the 8th Battalion, 104th Quartermaster Regiment, 1st Brigade, 94th Training Division - Force Sustainment, 80th Training Command. As a civilian professional, he held the general manager position at Robert Irvine’s Public House restaurant in the Tropicana Hotel, roughly 14 blocks north of the concert venue outside the Mandalay Bay Hotel where the shooting occurred.
Mendoza was in his office at the restaurant when he received a frantic phone call from hostess Madison Vincent saying an active shooter was in the hotel.
“There was a stampede of people coming through the door, screaming and crying, saying there was a shooter behind them,” she recalled. “It scared me because I had no idea what was going on, and the thought of being shot and dying was running through my mind.”
Recognizing the escalating level of panic, Mendoza took charge of the situation. He armed himself with a sledgehammer and pocket knife, and assessed the possibility of an active shooter in the area. He introduced himself to the crowd of people, making note of his Army background, in an effort to calm their fears and give a sense of control over the situation. He then set a plan in place, first securing the area by barricading the entrance and locking the elevator.
“I knew (Mendoza) had a military background and was serving our country,” Vincent said. “It made me feel like I was in good hands. His background and training kicked in almost immediately. He was calm and collected when most people probably would have panicked.”
Mendoza proceeded upstairs to the main floor where he encountered wounded individuals from the Route 91 Harvest Festival concert, all of them fearful the shooter was still after them. The Soldier moved them to a bathroom and conducted a brief search of the casino to verify if the shooter had entered the building. Finding no one, he then sent staff and victims to a downstairs basement where they barricaded themselves in offices with instructions to not open the door unless the safe word he provided them was spoken.
“That level of behavior and focus was something I’ve never seen in him before,” Vincent said. “It was like a different person walked up those stairs. I also remember what he said to me after I alerted him to the situation. ‘Maddie, get these people downstairs. Go up front, get them from the kitchen, and show them downstairs.’ Not only was he concerned for the concertgoers, he also instructed our staff to get to safety. He was firm and confident yet compassionate.”
A bartender at the restaurant, Jeremy Stanis, said his response was shaped by the calm, controlled atmosphere established by Mendoza. “I quickly realized how important it was for me to stay calm while all those people were panicked and hysterical,” he said. “He was focused on helping the injured and protecting those who were scared, so that’s kind of where we were at as well.”
When Mendoza returned upstairs, more victims had arrived. Some had shrapnel injuries. Others were trampled from the running crowds, and another person was shot. He escorted them downstairs to provide cover and established a triage area in a security office. Fortunately, some of the civilians there had medical experience and were able to assist with treating wounds. Working together in their newly formed triage team, they provided medical treatment to as many people as they could.
“There was blood everywhere,” said Mendoza. “I used a belt as a tourniquet for the person with the gunshot wound. Another victim was a female with a shrapnel injury. I did what I could to clean the wound before wrapping her fingers and hand in protective gauze.”
As the horrific events continued throughout the night, Mendoza maintained his vigil of escorting fleeing individuals into a safe location and joining in the efforts to provide first aid to those injured.
“After the third wave of victims, I grabbed everything I could find that could be used as a weapon, distributed it to my team and began barricading all entryways to the restaurant basement,” said Mendoza. “Each employee manned a post, and I showed them what needed to be done if a shooter tried to breach their area.”
As he walked his last patrol of the main floor, he was told an elderly woman was having a heart attack. He ran to her, removed aspirins out of his backpack, crushed them so they would easily dissolve, and placed the pieces under her tongue. With the assistance of two other civilians, she was revived with cardio resuscitation and later taken to a hospital.
In total, the Tropicana sheltered more than 2,000 people during the tragic incident. Mendoza’s swift instincts enabled him to provide safe shelter and care for more than 400 frightened concertgoers, bystanders and hotel staff. All of the injured he and others cared for survived the attack. Many of the restaurant staff, victims and their families returned later to thank him for his acts of bravery.
Vincent, in particular, stressed how Mendoza helped everyone persevere in the midst of mayhem. She said she will never forget how his bravery gave a light of hope to everyone there.
“The one thing I remember most is when I called Mendoza to let him know what had happened,” said Vincent. “The next thing I know, he came around the corner with a sledgehammer behind his back. In that moment, with all the cries surrounding us, that was a glimmer of light. It was him finding anything he could to protect us.”
Seeing Mendoza put himself in harm’s way, not hiding from fear, and helping others in need will be forever etched in her memory, she said.
“I’m thankful for everything he did for us that night. He didn’t know much about the situation at the time, only that there was a shooter, yet he came forward and showed what kind of person he really is … brave, courageous, strong-hearted and willing to put his life on the line for others he didn’t even know.”
Mendoza explained how his military training paid off and guided him in making lifesaving decisions during such a significant catastrophe.
“As a Soldier and noncommissioned officer, I knew it was my job to remain composed and provide leadership if I could,” Mendoza said. “I didn’t hesitate. I reacted using what I had learned in combat lifesaver training, active shooter training and leadership training.”
He recalled one moment in particular that touched his heart. He saw an older man and his wife holding each other in the basement of the restaurant. The wife was frightened and was one of the many wounded. She looked at her husband and said, “I’m so scared, babe.” He looked at her with teary eyes and said, “I’m scared too, but we are with an Army guy … we’re safe now.”
Mendoza said it didn’t register then, but it hits him every time he thinks about it nowadays.
“(It made me realize) Soldiers represent more than just a uniform or a rank to Americans; we represent safety and security,” Mendoza said. “Being a Soldier and seeing the fear and sadness in victim’s eyes turn to healing and hope makes every day in the Army worth it.”
Other lingering thoughts from that night have impacted Mendoza in a less-favorable manner. He decided to resign from his management position at the restaurant because it only served as a constant reminder of the tragedy.
“For a while, I felt like I failed because I couldn’t help other victims at the concert,” Mendoza said. “I thought I could have done more. I had bad dreams about that night for weeks. Little by little, though, I started to get better at coping with the incident, especially when I realized I needed help.”
Since the shooting, Mendoza has met with victims who refer to him as the guy with the sledgehammer who guarded them that night. A lower-arm tattoo serves as a reminder of those he protected. The American flag emblem incorporates a sledgehammer across one of its stripes. He describes it as a “spiritual reference” that compels him to be a positive force by building people up with kindness and a constant drive to make the world around him a better place.
“I believe God puts us at the right place at the right time,” Mendoza observed. “(For me,) the hammer is a constant reminder of how I have a responsibility to build a world where things like this don’t happen. If I should find myself in an event like this again, I will be ready to deploy, engage and destroy enemies of the United States both foreign and domestic because that is what we are trained to do.”