Wednesday 20 June 2018

'Psychopath' guns down 59 in Las Vegas

Killer fired at victims from hotel room overlooking concert

Stephen Paddock
Stephen Paddock

Heather Long and Mark Berman

A gunman in a high-rise hotel overlooking the Las Vegas Strip opened fire on a country music festival late Sunday, killing at least 59 people and injuring hundreds of others in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

The gunman, identified by police as Stephen Paddock, was later found dead by officers on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said during a news briefing yesterday.

The massacre marked the nation's latest outbreak of gunfire and bloodshed to erupt in a public place, again spreading terror in an American city transformed into a war zone. The carnage in Las Vegas surpassed the 49 people slain in June 2016 when a gunman in Orlando, who later said he was inspired by Isil, opened fire inside a crowded nightclub.

Mr Lombardo said the death toll had reached at least 59 by yesterday morning, a number that could rise, as police are still investigating the scene. He also said an additional 527 people were injured, though he did not specify how many were wounded by gunfire or injured in the chaos that followed.

Paddock (64) was found dead in his hotel room by Las Vegas Swat officers, police said. They believe Paddock, who had checked in on Thursday, took his own life.

Read More: Heroes and heartbreak as identities of victims emerge

Under the neon glow and glitz of the Vegas Strip, thousands of concertgoers who had gathered for a three-day music festival dove for cover or raced toward shelter when the gunfire began about 10pm Sunday. Police said more than 22,000 people were at the concert when Paddock began firing round after round, shooting from an elevated position that left those on the ground effectively helpless.

Police believe Paddock, a local resident, was a "lone wolf" attacker. Mr Lombardo did not give further details on Paddock's background and possible motivation, saying police "have no idea what his belief system was."

"I can't get into the mind of a psychopath," he said during a briefing. He also said that given what police believe about Paddock being a lone wolf who opened fire, "I don't know how this could have been prevented."

Police believe Paddock smashed the window of his room with something similar to a hammer before he began firing at the people below. The gunman was found with more than 10 rifles, Mr Lombardo said, and he brought them all inside himself.

Relatives of Paddock said they were stunned by what happened. His brother Eric said their mother spoke to the FBI.

"She said, 'I don't understand why my son did this,'" Eric Paddock said yesterday outside his home in Orlando. While his brother had some handguns, Eric Paddock said he was shocked by the weaponry police described in Las Vegas.

Eric Paddock said he did not know of his brother having any mental illness, alcohol or drug problems. When he spoke to the FBI, Eric Paddock said he showed FBI agents three years of text messages from his brother, including one that mentioned winning $250,000 at a casino. Stephen Paddock played "high stakes video poker," Eric said, adding that he did not have any information suggesting the gunman had gambling debts or financial issues.

A former neighbour of Stephen Paddock's recalled that his home in a 55-and-over community in Florida looked like it was home to a college freshman, with nothing on the walls and only a few pieces of furniture.

Read More: 'Weird' gunman who liked gambling and country music lived 'quiet, retired life'

"One of the first times we met him, he told me he lived there, in Vegas," Don Judy, his next-door neighbour in the community until two years ago, said. "He explained that he was a gambler, and a prospector. He said he was buying this house to check it out for his mother ...and that if she liked it, he planned to buy another next door with a floor-plan like ours."

Just as quickly as he appeared, Mr Judy said, Paddock put up a for-sale sign and was gone, saying he was moving back to Las Vegas.

In the initial chaotic aftermath of the shooting, authorities had searched for a woman named Marilou Danley, described only as Paddock's "traveling companion". Mr Lombardo said investigators spoke with Ms Danley, who was found outside the country, and do not believe she was involved in the shooting.

Ms Danley's relationship with Stephen Paddock was not immediately known, but they lived at the same address in Mesquite, Nevada, according to public records.

Mr Lombardo said police in Mesquite were entering Paddock's home to conduct a search yesterday.

Police in Las Vegas had only minimal interactions with Paddock before the shooting, Mr Lombardo said. "We have no investigative information or background associated with this individual that is derogatory," the sheriff said. "The only thing we can tell is he received a citation several years ago."

Few details about Paddock's background were immediately known yesterday. He was retired and lived in Mesquite, Texas, for several years before moving to the Nevada town with the same name. Relatives said he was a quiet man. They said he was licensed pilot who owned two planes and often went to Las Vegas to gamble and see concerts. A spokesman for defence giant Lockheed Martin said Paddock worked for the company for three years in the 1980s.

Read More: Paddock a 'soldier' who converted to Islam months ago, claims Isil

On Monday US President Donald Trump praised the "miraculous" speed with which local law enforcement responded to the shooting, which he decried as "an act of pure evil". "We cannot fathom their pain, we cannot imagine their loss."

Isil claimed responsibility for the attack yesterday, releasing messages through its Amaq News Agency stating that the shooter was one of its "soldiers" and had recently converted to Islam.

"We have determined, to this point, no connection with an international terrorist group," Aaron Rouse, the special agent in charge of the FBI in Las Vegas, said at a news briefing.

The shooting occurred at the end of the Route 91 Harvest festival, a three-day country music concert. The concert grounds are adjacent to the Mandalay Bay, a sprawling casino on the southern end of the Strip.

Videos posted from people who said they were at the scene showed people screaming and running for cover amid the sound of gunshots that seemed unending.

Irish Independent

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