NORTH HALEDON, N.J. — Megan Panzera was four weeks pregnant when she ran from a hail of bullets at the Las Vegas country music concert last October when a gunman killed more than 50 people.
Almost eight months later, she gave birth to a boy — a baby who she and husband Valdo Panzera Jr. say is the youngest survivor of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Valdo Panzera III was born June 3 in North Haledon, New Jersey, where the family lives.
At the time of the shooting, Megan was working as a schoolteacher near Las Vegas. Valdo, who works for his family’s marble and granite business, had come from New Jersey to visit her and see some of their favorite country musicians play the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
The night of the shooting, Megan was tired, so the couple decided to sit in the bleachers instead of standing closer to the stage. It was a decision Valdo said saved their lives.
“If Megan wasn’t pregnant, we would’ve been up in the front. He’s a superhero and he doesn’t even know it,” Valdo said, referring to their son.
At least 58 people were killed on Oct. 1, 2017, and hundreds more were wounded when gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. The attack took less than 15 minutes.
Valdo remembers that day in great detail.
Megan got her first ultrasound in the morning. Then they headed to the venue and sat in the back. Around 10 p.m., they heard what they first thought were fireworks.
“Megan was like, ‘What is that?’” Valdo said.
He remembers seeing performer Jason Aldean stop singing and look up, as if at the speakers. The lights flickered, Aldean left the stage and suddenly everyone was running. Valdo felt a bullet fly past him.
“That was the moment I really realized I have a family,” he said. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to keep them safe.”
About a month later, the couple got engaged, and they married in March in North Haledon.
Valdo said he’s glad he won’t have to worry about it for several years, but he and his wife plan to tell their son about the shooting when he’s able to understand it. Until then, the couple will remain wary in public spaces. They haven’t been to a concert since last fall.
“We’re not ready for it,” Valdo said. When their son reaches the age where he wants to go out, they’ll make sure he knows to be alert and find the exits.
Still, Valdo says he is a firm believer in his right to own a weapon. He owned a gun before the shooting and thinks they should be available to those who pass background and mental health checks.
“You’re never going to get guns out of criminals’ hands,” he said. “The problem’s never going to go away. It’s how we as a country deal with it.”