W.Va. man describes Vegas shooting

Wife died in his arms

A single rose is left at the door of the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nev., on Tuesday. A gunman opened fire on an outdoor music concert on Sunday. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, with dozens of people killed and hundreds injured, some by gunfire, some during the chaotic escape. (AP Photo)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Denise and Tony Burditus of Martinsburg were listening to the last group perform at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas Sunday evening and were about to leave when they heard the first shots.

“She asked me if they were gunshots and I said no,” Tony Burditus said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Las Vegas. “Then we heard the second burst, and we knew they were real.”

Originally from the Hedgesville area, Denise Salmon Burditus, 50, was killed Sunday when 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, of Mesquite, Nev., opened fire on the concert audience of about 22,000 from the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, killing at least 59 people and wounding more than 500.

“We didn’t know where the shots were coming from, so I took her by the hand to lead her out of the grounds when she was struck,” Burditus said. “She held on for a bit. I got her out of the venue to the street and finally got her in the back of a private pickup truck. We lost her on the way to the hospital.”

Burditus wrote on his Facebook page Sunday that his wife died in his arms.

“It saddens me to say that I lost my wife of 32 years, a mother of two, soon to be grandmother of five this evening in the Las Vegas shooting,” he wrote. “Denise passed in my arms. I LOVE YOU BABE.”

Denise had posted a photograph of herself and her husband at the concert on her own Facebook page about 30 minutes before the shooting began. They were smiling.

“She had a beautiful smile,” Burditus said. “And she never met a stranger. We’d be standing in the checkout line and she’d make conversation with people. She was a wonderful mother. She held our family together during my 36-year military career.”

The Burdituses were high school sweethearts, both graduating from Hedgesville High School; she in 1985 and he in 1984. They lived in several states as he was stationed at various U.S. Army posts.

They moved back to the area after Tony Burditus retired. Their family lives in the area.

She had returned to school, taking classes at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College, Burditus said. She was studying business, but he expected her to get into fitness and nutrition.

“We enjoyed getting away, traveling,” he said. “We RV with our grandkids all summer. Sometimes, she was as big a kid as the kids were.”

Burditus said he had talked with their children Tuesday morning.

“They’re emotional at times, but they’re coping, remembering the good things, the happy things,” he said. “I’m having ups and downs, but I’m doing good. I hope to get back home with my family and friends this week. But I’m not going to leave her here. I’ll travel with her.”

He said services are being planned.

Michelle Potts, a lifelong friend of Denise, said a candlelight vigil is being planned for later this week with Hedgesville High School. Details will be forthcoming.

“We’d been best friends since sixth grade,” Potts said Tuesday. “She was my sister from another mother. We talked everyday. She was always smiling. She was very positive, always looking on the bright side. She loved to travel, and she loved country music.”

This was the couple’s second visit to the country music festival. They went last year.

“She was already talking about going back next year,” Burditus said. “It was three days of country music in Vegas. We would have made it an annual thing.”

He said he wanted to get her story out there.

“She was a very, very special person,” Burditus said. “It’s especially nice to hear from people how she affected them for the good.”