Thomas Gunderson had been looking forward to the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas for months. A big fan of country music, Gunderson, a 28-year-old from Newport Beach, California, purchased tickets for the festival and in an August 28 Facebook post offered to sell one to a friend.
Gunderson flew into Vegas on September 28 to attend the three-day concert and had high hopes it would be an unforgettable time. Three days later, though, he was in a hospital bed recovering from injuries he suffered when he was struck in the leg with bullets at October 1 concert.
The shots were coming from the a 32nd-floor hotel room across the street at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, and Gunderson rushed to help people to safety outside of the building. He told Fox News that at first, he thought the gunfire was from a speaker malfunction or firecrackers. But a few seconds later, he realized just how authentic the situation was.
“I went straight to the ground, it didn’t hurt,” Gunderson said to the news outlet after being shot in the leg. “My body numbed up. I was covered in a pool of blood — it was shooting out. It was literally everywhere.”
With blood flowing out of the wound, Gunderson realized he had to take cover in order to survive. So, he crawled behind a row of bleachers but thought he might “bleed out” and die.
“I was getting scared at that point,” he said to Fox News.
Within minutes, Gunderson said he was greeted by two women who administered life-saving first aid on his leg. One of the women wrapped a belt around his leg to act as a tourniquet while the other found a group of people to carry him to safety.
After being treated briefly at the scene, Gunderson was rushed to a nearby hospital. There, doctors revealed that the bullet went through his leg, tearing a muscle in his calf but missing bone and arteries.
“It’s hard to stand, very painful,” he added to Fox News.
Gunderson wrote in a Facebook post that he “did (his) best to protect and save the people (he) could,” but unfortunately got shot doing so.
The gunfire came from 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, authorities say, and it killed 58 people and injured nearly 500 others. It was the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
On October 4, President Donald Trump visited some of the victims of the tragedy at the hospital with his wife, Melania. Gunderson was one of those the Trumps spoke with, and what he did as the the first couple walked into his room went viral.
Here’s what you need to know about Gunderson:
1. Despite His Injury, Gunderson Stood to Shake Trump’s Hand
Gunderson was elated when he heard the Trumps were at the hospital, as seen in the Facebook video below. As Melania entered the room first, he got out of his hospital bed, standing to shake her hand. The two exchanged words as President Trump walked in behind the First Lady moments later. Gunderson, appearing to hobble, greeted the president with a handshake and a few words.
“This guy looks tough to me,” Trump said.
Following the meeting, Gunderson said it was never a question whether or not he would stand to meet the Trumps, despite his gruesome injury. He said to Fox News that the Trumps were “so sweet to me and my family.”
“That was one of the most humbling experiences of my life,” Gunderson said to the outlet. “The fact that the president would take time to come here and just shake my hand and to let him know if I needed anything.”
Gunderson later explained his reasoning for standing in a Facebook post, saying he “will always respect my country, my president and my flag.”
I will never lie down when the President of this great country comes to shake my hand! There may be plenty of issues in this country but I will always respect my country, my president and my flag. Shot in the leg or not, I will stand to show my President the respect he deserves!
At her October 5 press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke about the Trumps meeting with Gunderson, saying that the president “was deeply touched by the spirit of the people in Las Vegas.”
“(Gunderson) suffered a torn muscle in his calf, making it difficult to stand,” Sanders said. “But when the President and the First Lady walked into his room at the hospital, he endured the pain and rose to his feet. When asked why he did it, Thomas said, “I will never lie down when the President of this great country comes to shake my hand.”
The Trumps weren’t the only visitor that Gunderson had to his hospital room. Gunderson, whose Facebook “likes” and posts indicate he likes dogs, was visited one day after the shooting by a therapy dog. The interaction can be seen in the video below.
2. Gunderson Was Interviewed by Sean Hannity on Fox News
Gunderson was interviewed by Fox News’ Sean Hannity in his hospital bed and gave more details on the shooting incident and his meeting with Trump. He said he was standing on the east side of the stage and was “probably one of the last people to get hit” by the gunfire.
“Our minds were so focused on getting people out or finding him that we didn’t see the bodies around us,” Gunderson said. “At that point I hadn’t looked behind me and I saw gunfire coming from the hotel that was perfectly lined up.”
Gunderson said he saw the gunfire coming from Mandalay Bay, but thought the source from about the 15th floor, not the 32nd floor.
“I could have sworn that it was center of the hotel about 15 floors up, could have been the reflection,” Gunderson said. “Right then and there, my mind was like, ‘Uh oh,” and boom, shot through the leg.”
He told Hannity that when he was in the hospital getting treatment, the first person he texted was a friend named Ken who’s in the military.
“I just wanted to talk to him because there’s no one in the world I respect more than our military, I just don’t,” he said. “Those are our heroes for sure, those are the real heroes.
Hours later, Gunderson got to meet the Trumps, which was something he called a “surreal” moment during the Hannity interview.
“I had heard (Trump) just flew in from Puerto Rico, literally just came from there,” Gunderson said. “I don’t care what anybody has to say to me, he cared. He wanted to listen to me and shake my hand and thank me and was so awesome and Melania was so sweet. To me, it felt like they genuinely cared about the people here and what happened.”
3. Gunderson Said He Was Blown Away by the Unity He Experienced & Doesn’t Consider Himself a Hero
Hours after the shooting, Gunderson commented on the unity he saw during and after the shooting in a Facebook post. He said that while there are some obvious problems in today’s America, he “saw every race and gender come together to save lives and protect each other” Sunday.
I had women tie my leg up to stop the bleeding, I had men carrying me on their back to safety and I had many black officers and civilians holding my hand and staying with me every second of the way. Our president is far from perfect, but the divide this country is being created by media and the select few cases that they spread world wide. But you don’t get to see the good in people. I’m lying in my hospital bed right now in tears, not because I’m injured but because I did my best to save lives and not once did I see color or gender. Nor did anyone else. My friends, please please take a step back, turn off the tv and go love the person next to you. Black, white, Mexican, straight, gay or anything else. Love on them and show that we are united as one in this country and NO ONE, no matter how hard they try, can’t break us! Ever!
In another Facebook post, Gunderson said he’d been asked by multiple news organizations for interviews and has been constantly referred to as a hero since the incident. But he said being called a hero “literally makes (him) sick to (his) stomach,” adding “if you’re going to call me a hero then I ask you to call every single person in there a hero.”
“I only had the opportunity to meet the president and share that video because I was in the hospital,” he said in the post. “I am doing interviews with fox only at this point because they promised to spread my message of positivity and the way people came together to save lives no matter what you looked like. I have time and time again told them that I am not a hero. That every single person did what they had to do that night and there was no wrong way to go about it. It honestly brings me to tears every single time I think of those who lost their lives Sunday night.”
Gunderson wrote in another Facebook post that he’s being criticized for trying to get 30 seconds of fame, adding some people don’t want to believe he did anything to help anyone.
“I am not seeking glory,” Gunderson wrote. “I have posted just like anyone else. I posted the uplifting message and even in my interviews I said I owe my own life to two young women who were off-duty cops.”
4. He’s Advocated for People to Donate to the Gofundme Pages of Victims
While in the hospital, Gunderson has encouraged people to donate to crowdfunding campaigns and charities helping out the victims of the mass shooting. Gunderson posted the link of a GoFundMe campaign for the family of a man who was killed at the concert.
“This is for a man who lost his life at Route 91 during the horrific tragedy,” Gunderson wrote in an accompanying caption. “There are so many that have been affected by this mass shooting and I wish we could help them all.”
There have been numerous amounts of GoFundMe pages set up since the shooting. One of them, the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund, has raised almost $10 million in three days.
5. Gunderson Has Commented on Police Shootings & Injustice on His Facebook
Prior to the mass shooting, Gunderson posted many messages of support for police officers and the job they perform amid increased tensions. Gunderson also posted frequently about current events, including Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett’s allegations that Vegas Police assaulted him.
Gunderson referred to Bennett as a “lying scumbag” for alleging that Vegas Police officers used excessive force when detaining him following reports of a shooting in the area last month.
In another post, Gunderson was critical of the American people, saying their criticism of Trump has held America back from being “great.”
In a September 23 post, Gunderson commented on NFL players kneeing during the national anthem as a way to protest injustice and oppression. Gunderson said he “loves” his president, adding that he “can’t stand whiny, uneducated pro athletes who are the furthest thing from oppressed but still look for anything to complain about”
Some of the things Gunderson “likes” on his Facebook page include conservative news personality Tomi Lahren and the “I did NOT vote for Obama” Facebook group.
In a September 19 post, Gunderson asked his Facebook friends: “Who is down to go punch some Nazi scum bags?!” He shared a video post of a man with a Nazi armband in Seattle getting punched in the face.