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Las Vegas mass shooting survivors tell their own story in '11 minutes' documentary

Mourners attend a vigil in Las Vegas following the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival.
Drew Angerer
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Getty Images
Mourners attend a vigil in Las Vegas following the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival.

On Oct. 1, 2017, a lone gunman in a suite of rooms on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel opened fire on the performers and audience at an outdoor country music festival below. Fifty eight people were killed and more than 800 others were wounded. In 2020 the death toll was raised to 60 to account for victims who later died from complications related to their injuries.

The new four-hour Paramount+ documentary, 11 Minutes, takes a unique approach to retelling the story of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. There's no host, no narrator and, for the first two hours, virtually no footage from TV news stations. Instead the story is told by interviews with survivors of the event — people who were there as musicians, fans, police, paramedics, nurses, doctors, and so on. And it's told mostly through cellphone videos and police body cams — images taken by people in the midst of the attack, as it was happening. And a lot of people had their phone cameras running.

11 Minutes tells its story chronologically, and patiently, introducing us to many of the people who, once the shooting begins, will become victims. Or helpers. Or both. But at first, we don't know which. All we know is whatever we're told by people like Brady Cook, a rookie officer for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department; the twin high-school fans who attend the Route 91 Harvest Festival and the firefighter determined to save as many lives as he can.

Director Jeff Zimbalist, one of several executive producers on this documentary series, lets the participants speak for themselves. It takes most of the first hour of the program before on-location police radio reports begin identifying the Mandalay Bay hotel as the source of the gunfire.

From there, the documentary only gets more tense, and more frantic — but not more graphic. Surprisingly, 11 Minutes is not gruesome — the visuals are selected and edited very judiciously. But you're thrown into the action and the pandemonium anyway, as the circumstances, and the stories, get more emotional.

Ultimately, 11 Minutes is a testament to bravery, and commitment, and empathy. Fred Rogers, when discussing times of tragedy, used to quote his mother, who said, "Always look for the helpers." That's just what this four-part documentary does, beautifully. And intentionally, it doesn't name the shooter — although, in the final moments of the series, it names all the victims of every U.S. mass shooting since this one in Las Vegas.

Accompanying the scroll of names is a song by country artist Eric Church, one of the headliners at that festival. He wrote and performed the song, which is titled "Why Not Me?," in the days after the massacre — and it provides a poignant and very appropriate end to a very powerful documentary.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.