God was watching over us: Dance teacher’s faith helps her survive Las Vegas shooting
"God was watching over us"
A dance teacher and parishioner of Immaculate Conception Parish, Irwin, was visiting Las Vegas when she was seriously wounded by a mass shooter. Under fire, she turned to the Lord for the strength to make it out alive.
BY ROBIN MULL AND
In July 2007, Carrie (Zeravica) Hertneky was enjoying a Las Vegas vacation with family, including her now-husband of 11 years, Justin, when the unthinkable happened: An armed gunman opened fire on the floor of the casino they were visiting.
“We were getting ready to leave the casino. We were about 20 steps from the escalator, and we heard ‘pop, pop, pop’, ” she said. “I heard the sounds again, and that’s when I knew someone was shooting.”
With tears in her eyes and a hitch in her breathing, Hertneky described her futile efforts to run for cover.
“When I went to step on my leg, I didn’t have a leg to step on. I fell to the ground,”
she said. “So in that second, I realized I was shot.”
In excruciating pain and bleeding profusely from her left knee, she tried to army-crawl behind a slot machine, fearful she would be shot again. It was in that moment that she turned to God for help.
“First thing I did when I was on the ground crawling to the slot machine was pray to God. I said, ‘Please God, watch over us. Please don’t be a terrorist attack. Please get us out of this building, and please don’t get anybody else shot.’
“I was shot and thinking, am I going to get shot again? Is this building going to blow up? I am never going to make it out of here, and I can’t move.”
As a trained respiratory therapist, she had a sinking feeling the bullet hit an artery, and concerns about blood loss were very real. With the help of her family and a passerby, a belt became her life-saving makeshift tourniquet. A fully armed SWAT officer provided cover from the gunfire while the group huddled behind a slot machine and waited 45 minutes for paramedics to arrive.
Later, Hertneky was told that an off-duty Marine watched the scene unfold. He courageously tackled the gunman before he had a chance to fire the other 250 rounds covered by his trench coat.
When she arrived at a nearby hospital, bleeding was no longer the major concern. The attending physician asked her to point and flex her toes.
“I tried to point my foot, flex it, and it wouldn’t move,” she said. “You’re telling your foot to do something and it won’t move at all. It was devastating.”
Doctors told her that the peroneal nerve was severed. The damage in her left leg would be permanent.
Faith and footwork
Hertneky said God made her to dance. She trained for years, then began teaching. But after the shooting, there was a time when she didn’t even think she would walk again.
“I did physical therapy for over a year and not one change in my foot,” said Hertneky.
Almost 14 years later, while teaching a dance class to a small group of girls, a smile hides Hertneky’s pain. Most of her tap students have no idea that her left leg was nearly lost to a gunman’s bullet.
Hertneky said it was her pastor, Fr. John Moineau, who encouraged her to offer struggles up to God, and to be grateful that she was still alive.
Throughout her therapy, she continued to turn to the Lord, who has blessed her with a husband and three sons.
“If I didn’t have faith and I didn’t have God to lean on, I don’t know what I would have done because it helped me through so many things,” she said.
She believes that years of excruciating rehab and daily prayers got her back on stage.
Hertneky’s strong Catholic roots and loving parish community helped her through the setbacks, struggles and fears about the future. For a while, she refused to go out in public, fearing that random gun violence would once again erupt in front of her.
“I am so thankful that I have the Lord, and every Sunday when we go to church, I can just sit there and I can feel him saying to keep pushing through and things will be OK. It was very much a mental struggle for me as well as a physical one,” she said.
Each day Hertneky puts on her tap shoes and a special silver bracelet with the Lord’s Prayer on it.
“I just hold the bracelet and pray every day for everyone out there to be safe and to have good health,” she said. “The world we live in today is scary, and I don’t want my kids to be scared, like I am deep down. This bracelet reminds me that the Lord is coming
to me always.
“It is so hard to look back because I am so upset about my leg; it doesn’t work the way it should. But I am so thankful to be here. I am so thankful that I was able to get married. I was able to have children.”
Hertneky reminds her three young children daily, “When you have nothing, you can turn to the Lord. The Lord will help you with anything.”