LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - American country music stars expressed horror after Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas turned a three-day open-air festival into a scene of carnage, and one said it forced him to change his opposition to gun control.
The Route91 Harvest festival, promoted as a “three day neon sleepover,” attracted fans from across the United States to hear country’s biggest stars, including Jason Aldean, Eric Church and Sam Hunt.
At least 59 people were killed by a 64-year-old gunman who released a hailstorm of bullets into the festival site. Police said the gunman’s motives remain unknown.
Caleb Keeter, a guitarist with the Josh Abbott Band, which played the festival earlier on Sunday, said he had been a lifelong supporter of the right to bear arms “until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was.”
“We need gun control RIGHT. NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn’t realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it,” Keeter said on Twitter.
Aldean, the Sunday night headliner, had just taken the stage when bursts of gunfire rang out, sending thousands of people diving for cover.
“Tonight has been beyond horrific,” Aldean, 40, who was unharmed, said on Instagram. “It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night.”
Singer Jake Owen, who performed minutes before Aldean, said he witnessed “the most unimaginable event.”
“Shots were ringing off the stage rigging and road cases. No one knew where to go,” Owen tweeted.
Owen told Fox News in an interview early on Monday, “This isn’t what America is supposed to look like.
Chris Young, a country singer who was at the festival on Sunday but not playing, said on Twitter that he “spent I don’t know how long on the floor of a trailer behind the stage” listening to the gunfire.
“I’m literally shaking still,” Young added.
Country newcomer Kane Brown, 23, who performed earlier on Sunday, tweeted, “This world is sick.”
The Route91 festival has been held in Las Vegas for three years, attracting large crowds to hear country music’s top talent. The festival was open to all ages, with strollers welcome. Tickets for the 2017 event started at $210 for three days, rising to $750 for an air-conditioned VIP suite, according to the festival website.
Photos taken earlier in the weekend and posted on the festival’s Twitter feed showed crowds of mostly young people in T-shirts and cowboy hats, dancing and drinking in the sunshine.
Festival promoter Live Nation said on Monday that it was “heartbroken over the tragedy.”
“To think that anyone would want to inflict harm on a gathering of music lovers is beyond our comprehension,” the company said in a statement, saying it would do its utmost to support the victims.
Taylor Swift, who started her career as a country singer, said on Twitter there were “no words to express the helplessness and sorrow my broken heart feels for the victims.”
Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert and Shania Twain tweeted that they were heartbroken, while veteran singer Brad Paisley said “there are no words right now that suffice,” and Keith Urban said he was “stilled and speechless.”
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by David Gregorio and Leslie Adler