Last week, the U.S. witnessed one of its darkest days in history when gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire at the Routh 91 Harvest Festival, injuring over 500 and killing 58. The world may never forget his name and its connection to such tragedy, but there are many other names that should be remembered for their connection to hope and heroism, and two of them are Cassidy Huff and Mitchell Tosti.
Tosti, a police officer, spotted Huff and her mother amidst the chaos of gunfire and panic, and he carried Huff to safety.
But to get to this moment, we have to go back to the lives these two led before it all happened.
Although very different, one thing they had in common was they were both already everyday heroes in their own right.
“I joined LAPD in 2014. I’ve wanted to be a Police Officer for LAPD for as long as I could remember,” Tosti told The Mighty. “I’ve always wanted to help people. Family friends growing up were all LAPD, and just being around them really influenced me.”
When the 25-year-old from Southern California wasn’t on the clock as an officer, he could be found spending time with his fiancé, Andrea Lewis, riding motorcycles or enjoying outdoor activities like fishing.
Tosti had wanted to go to the festival for the past few years because he loves country music, but he could never seem to get the days off. This year he finally did, and he was excited to attend it with Lewis and six other friends.
Twenty-year-old Cassidy Huff, from Henderson, Nevada, and her mother, Kelley, were also excited to attend the event because of their love of country music. But there was also a personal reason they wanted to go: they were celebrating Huff’s last chemo treatment after her over year-long battle with a rare bone cancer.
In August 2016, she’d started feeling pain in her rib. On October 24, 2016, after doctors found a tumor on her sixth rib, she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, the second most common type of bone cancer in children that’s usually found in the legs.
She started chemotherapy November 11, endured five rounds, and then had surgery to remove the tumor, sixth rib and a piece of her fifth rib on February 14, 2017. She continued chemo once she healed enough and got nine more rounds, making it a total of 14. She finished her last round of chemo August 18, 2017.
This past September, scans to detect the cancer came back clean, and Huff was declared NED (no evidence of disease). That was best reason in the world to celebrate, so they chose to do it at the music festival.
In an emotional post on Facebook, Huff’s mother described how happy the two were to be at the event with 22,000 other concertgoers:
I am so thankful for every concert goer, perfect strangers, who came up to Cassidy and gave her a high-five, or a fist bump, or a hug, offered words of encouragement or shared their stories of a loved one who is fighting or fought cancer. It was so heartwarming to feel the love from people we didn’t even know and it made me so happy. I reflected on the last year and how far we had come and how happy my daughter was and I savored that moment having her alive and standing next to me at a fun event.
There was even a shirtless cowboy who came up to Huff and asked her to dance.
Then, during a performance by Jason Aldean, shots rang out from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort.
“I just thought this seriously cannot be happening. I just fought a year for my life, and now I’m in a mass shooting, fighting again,” Huff recalled thinking. “I was just waiting to be shot, but at the same time it wasn’t an option. Not after the hell I have been through.”
As people started fleeing in every direction, Kelley and Huff started running as well. Huff, too exhausted after three days of attending the concert and still healing from her last chemo treatment, soon collapsed behind a car.
Tosti wasn’t exactly sure how he first spotted Huff and her mother, but as soon as he did, his instinct to help immediately kicked in.
“I could see the fear and unsureness and exhaustion in their eyes. I knew I needed to help,” he said. “I knew that she was tired and had pushed herself so far already, you could just see it. I did what I thought anyone would’ve done.”
Huff was relieved when Tosti told her he was LAPD. “My dad is a cop, so I have a lot of love for law enforcement,” she said. “The first thing he did was grab me and just held me and talked to me. He kept saying we were going to be OK.”
In between the pauses of gunfire, Tosti continued to carry Huff toward MGM because her legs kept giving out. Lewis and Kelley stayed with them every step of the way, each of them running behind cars for cover whenever the gunfire started up again.
Huff recalls how grateful she was for both Tosti and Lewis as everything unfolded around them. “He kept me calmer than I probably would have been if he wasn’t there,” she said. “His sweet fiancé kept making sure I could breathe, and she was saying she had an inhaler just in case. I just thought it was so nice that she was pretty much in the middle of an asthma attack, but she was making sure I was OK first.”
They finally made it to the MGM Hotel, where a retired Long Beach Officer took Huff from Tosti’s arms. It was last time the LAPD officer would see Huff and her mother that night.
It wasn’t the last time their paths would cross.
Although they both went their separate ways and never learned each other’s names, they never forgot the fateful night that brought them together. Thanks to the help of the L.A. police and a few Facebook postings, they finally learned who each other were.
They’ve been texting ever since, and they plan to meet in person soon.
As Huff, and the rest of the nation, continue to heal, she told The Mighty what happened has inspired her even more to want to give back and help other kids as much as she can.
“I hope to become a successful pediatric oncology nurse,” she said. “I also hope to have a family of my own. That’s what I want most in the world. I hope to just live a happy and fulfilled life.”
She wants Tosti to know how grateful she is. “It was such a selfless and brave thing to do,” she said. “He is my hero, and always will be. I love him with all my heart.”
Tosti doesn’t think of himself as a hero and believes he did what anyone in the same situation would have done. To him, there were countless heroes that night, including people who stayed to help, metro officers, the SWAT team and the security guard who found the shooter.
He also considers Huff a hero.
“After finding out more about her story and how she beat cancer and stayed so strong through all the treatments, and then to run as far as she did with being how weak she was, she is stronger than she knows,” he said. “She’s a warrior, a fighter, an inspiration. She’s a hero.”
They are proof that human kindness, courage and love will always triumph in the darkest of days.
All photos courtesy of Kelley Huff and Mitchell Tosti