Investigators struggled Tuesday with a chilling but baffling array of clues in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history as they sought to determine the chain of events that caused a 64-year-old to gun down concertgoers from his hotel suite overlooking the Las Vegas Strip.
“I can’t get into the mind of a psychopath,” said Joseph Lombardo, the sheriff of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, on Monday.
At the same time, the probes stretched from a ranch-style home near the Arizona border to the 32nd-floor hotel suite used by Stephen Paddock as a place to scan the crowds at a country music festival and then open fire — leaving at least 59 people dead and hundreds more injured in the rain of bullets or trampled in the panicked rush for cover late Sunday. He then killed himself as SWAT officers closed in.
Once again, a stunned nation was left to grapple with a city riven by tragedy and a resurgent debate over gun control and gun violence. The White House and many Republicans said it was a time to mourn rather than launch into political battles, while some Democrats renewed calls for gun safety legislation.
Lombardo warned that the number of dead in Las Vegas could rise, as an additional 527 were thought to have been injured. Hospitals across the region continued to treat patients from the scene, many of them seriously injured. Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center said that as of Tuesday morning, it had 68 patients from the rampage, 33 of them in critical condition.
While the nation learned more about the lives cut brutally short as well as the heroic actions of people on the ground, few answers were available as to what, if anything, may have motivated the rampage.
Authorities described a level of preparation that suggested the massacre was planned in advance. Police said Paddock arrived on Thursday, three days before the shooting, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip. He took more than 10 suitcases into his suite, officials said.
Paddock aroused no suspicion from hotel staff even as he brought in 23 guns, some of them with scopes. One of the weapons he apparently used in the attack was an AK-47 type rifle, with a stand used to steady it for firing, people familiar with the case said.
Before that, police and hotel security had scoured several floors of the hotel looking for the shooter and came upon Paddock’s suite, Lombardo said. At some point, Paddock fired through the door and hit a security guard in the leg, he said, adding that the guard is expected to survive.
Paddock had purchased weapons legally over a period of years, from local stores near his homes and from major retailers, like Cabela’s, according to law enforcement officials.
Guns & Guitars, a store in Mesquite, Nev., said in a statement that Paddock purchased some of his weapons there, but employees followed all procedures required by law, and Paddock “never gave any indication or reason to believe he was unstable or unfit at any time.” Lombardo said Paddock also seemed to have purchased guns in Arizona.
Investigators believe at least one of Paddock’s guns functioned as if it were fully automatic, and they are now trying to determine if he modified it or other weapons to be capable of spitting out a high volume of fire just by holding down the trigger, people familiar with the case said.
Authorities said a sweep of law enforcement databases showed that before the rampage, Paddock had no known run-ins with police. He was the son of a bank robber who was once on the FBI’s most-wanted list, but investigators turned up no clear links to any criminal enterprises or international terrorist groups — despite repeated claims by the Islamic State that Paddock carried out the carnage in its name.
Police said they believe Paddock was a “lone wolf” attacker, though they were still interested in speaking more with a woman named Marilou Danley who lived with him in Mesquite, Nev., a little more than an hour outside of Las Vegas on the Arizona border.
Danley, Paddock’s 62-year-old girlfriend, was found outside the country — as of Monday afternoon, in Tokyo — and was not involved in the shooting.
“We still consider her a person of interest,” Lombardo said Monday. He said investigators also are exploring a report that Paddock attended a different music festival in September.
People close to the investigation said that in the weeks before the attack, Paddock transferred a large amount of money – something close to $100,000 – to someone in the Philippines, possibly his girlfriend.
The rampage Sunday targeted the Route 91 Harvest festival, a three-day country music concert with grounds across the street from the Mandalay Bay Resort. When the gunfire began Sunday at about 10:08 p.m., some 22,000 people were there, according to police. Country star Jason Aldean was playing what was expected to be one of the last sets of the night as Paddock opened fire, his bullets flying from a window on the casino’s golden facade, which Paddock had smashed with some type of hammer.
“People were getting shot at while we were running, and people were on the ground bleeding, crying and screaming. We just had to keep going,” said Dinora Merino, 28, a dealer at the Ellis Island casino who was at the concert with a friend. “There are tents out there and there’s no place to hide. It’s just an open field.”
The dead included a behavioral therapist who was soon to be married, a nursing assistant from Southern California, a commercial fisherman and an off-duty Las Vegas city police officer. Two other officers who were on duty were injured, police said; one was in stable condition after surgery, and the other sustained minor injuries. Another off-duty officer with the Bakersfield Police Department in Southern California also sustained non-life-threatening injuries, according to a statement from the department.
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