Investigators search for motive as casualties rise to 59 dead, over 500 hurt
Los Angeles – The deadly attack on concertgoers in Las Vegas has prompted a debate about security measures at hotels and open-air venues, but little could have been done to prevent Sunday’s carnage, experts say.
The challenges lie in part in the difficulty of imposing harsh policies on places and events meant for fun and relaxation, and foiling a perpetrator bent on bloodshed.
“This was an unpreventable incident, period,” said Patrick Brosnan, a former NYPD detective who now runs a private security firm called Brosnan Risk Consultants.
Brosnan and several other security experts interviewed by AFP said the shooting at a country music festival that left at least 59 people dead and more than 500 wounded underscored the difficulty for law enforcement to stay one step ahead of someone planning such attacks.
WORST MASS SHOOTING IN U.S. HISTORY – Mourners attend a candlelight vigil at the corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard for the victims of Sunday night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. A lone gunman killed more than 50 people and wounded more than 500 people when he opened fire on a large crowd attending a country music festival. (AFP | Manila Bulletin)
The gunman, retired accountant Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, shot at concertgoers from a room on the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel before killing himself, police said.
Police said Paddock, who had no criminal record, smashed windows in his 32nd floor hotel room shortly after 10 p.m. on Sunday and trained bursts of automatic weapons fire on thousands of people attending a country music concert below on the strip.
In video footage of the massacre broadcast on CNN, the rattle of long, sustained gunfire is heard as people scream and scurry for cover. At first they did not know where the shots were coming from.
“We saw bodies down. We didn’t know if they had fallen or had been shot,” said Ralph Rodriguez, an IT consultant from the Pomona Valley, near Los Angeles, who was at the concert with a group of friends.
“People started grabbing their loved-ones and just strangers, and trying to help them get out of the way,” Rodriguez said.
Investigators were desperately trying to establish the motive of Paddock.
As America grappled with the deadliest mass shooting in its history, officials reacted cautiously to an Islamic State claim that Paddock had carried out Sunday night’s massacre on behalf of the jihadist group. But the FBI said it had found no such connection so far.
“We’re hunting down and tracing down every single clue that we can get on his background,” Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said at a late-night briefing.
Lombardo said the authorities had found no manifesto or anything else to explain Paddock’s actions.
“This individual is a lone wolf and I don’t know how it could have been prevented,” he said earlier in the day. “I can’t get into the mind of a psychopath at this point.”
President Donald Trump denounced what he called “an act of pure evil” and said he would visit Las Vegas on Wednesday.
But the White House pushed back at calls to reopen the US debate on tighter gun controls.
“A motive is yet to be determined and it would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don’t fully know all of the facts or what took place last night,” Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
Paddocks, who photographs showed as a greying man with a trimmed beard and moustache, was a former accountant and a licensed private pilot.
According to Eric Paddock, his brother was financially well-off, and had no criminal record. “He doesn’t even have parking tickets, probably” he said.
He owned two houses in Nevada, one a two-story home in a desert-surrounded cul-de-sac in Mesquite, another on the fringes of Reno, another gambling hub in the northern part of the state. Estimates by Zillow put the value of the homes, both very recently built, at over $700,000.
Neighbors in Mesquite and Reno called him quiet, sometimes grumpy, but mostly keeping to himself, according to The Washington Post.
He was also a regular gambler. He mostly playing high-stakes video poker, often thousands of dollars at a time.
“He sends me a text that says he won $250,000 at the casino,” Eric Paddock said.
He was seen with a regular companion identified as Marilou Danley, a 62-year-old Filipino-Australian who was out of the country at the time of the shooting.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop tweeted: “I understand US authorities have ruled out Australian Marilou Danley as a person of interest.”
“There are reports her ID was used for booking the hotel or some such detail. Australia will support the US authorities in their investigation in whatever way we can, but we have not had contact with Marilou Danley directly.”
US reports and officials said she is either in the Philippines or Japan, although neither country was able to confirm her whereabouts.
Australian media said she was on holiday in the Philippines with three girlfriends.
News Corp Australia newspapers said the Filipino-Australian used to live on the Gold Coast tourist strip and still had a sister there.
He said Paddock probably very easily sneaked his arsenal into his room given relatively lax security measures at hotels.
A total of 23 firearms including automatic weapons were found in the hotel room, Lombardo said.
A search of Paddock’s house in Mesquite, Nevada, 80 miles (130 kilometers) northeast of Las Vegas, recovered 19 additional firearms, some explosives and several thousand rounds of ammo.
Lombardo said investigators had discovered several pounds of an explosive called tannerite in the Mesquite home, as well as ammonium nitrate, a type of fertilizer, in the gunman’s car.
“It would actually be very simple for anyone to get into a hotel on any typical day with that kind of armament because hotels don’t usually vet the type of baggage that’s being brought in,” Broadwater told AFP. “You usually pull up to a concierge, you load your bags and you wheel them up to your room.”
On Monday, details emerged about the lives of those who died, as well as countless more who were wounded.
Bobby Parks’ wife was planning to throw him a 40th birthday party next week before Jenny Parks was killed at the concert, friend Jessica Maddin said.
Jenny Parks was a kindergarten teacher for the Lancaster School District in California.
Later, Parks would help Maddin who started a group, Jessica’s Hope Project, that provides care packages to troops.
Maddin now is trying to raise funds for her friend, Bobby Parks, on a GoFundMe page. Bobby Parks was shot in the arm and hand and is awaiting surgery, Maddin said.
“It breaks my heart,” Maddin said. “People go to concerts to have a good time, connect with others and escape the tragedies of this world.”
Off-duty Las Vegas police officer and youth football coach Charleston Hartfield was among those killed, two of his friends said.
Hartfield, 34, was known as a selfless, respected leader who brought out the best in his players, said Stan King, whose son played football for Hartfield.
Troy Rhett, another friend of Hartfield’s through football, said he knew from social media that Hartfield was attending the Sunday concert. When he heard about the shooting, he texted him, hoping to learn Hartfield was safe. He never heard back, and Rhett said he learned through another friend Monday morning that Hartfield had died.
Commercial fisherman Adrian Murfitt, 35, of Anchorage, Alaska, was also among the slain, a family member said Monday.
His sister, Shannon Gothard, said the family heard from one of Murfitt’s friends who was with him when he died, though they haven’t received official confirmation about his death.
Asked if the family was holding out hope that he made it after all, she said, “No. No.”
Gothard described her brother as a man with a hearty laugh and a former competitive hockey player who still dabbled in the game.
While the sun was still shining Sunday at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, Denise Burditus posted a photo on Facebook of herself and her husband standing in front of the stage, smiling broadly.
Later, after news of the massacre spread, a friend asked simply: “Are you two ok????”
MetroNews, a West Virginia-based radio network, reported that Tony Burditus wrote on his Facebook page that his wife was among the victims.
“It saddens me to say that I lost my wife of 32 years, a mother of two, soon to be grandmother of five this evening in the Las Vegas shooting,” Tony Burditus wrote. “Denise passed in my arms. I LOVE YOU BABE.”
Danae Gibbs has always been a huge fan of country music concerts, said her friend, Jennifer Draper of Cedar Park, Texas, and she was thrilled to be at the concert.
Draper wrote in an email to The Associated Press that Gibbs, 23, who recently graduated from Texas Tech University of Lubbock, was shot at the concert in Las Vegas and is recovering.
Draper started a GoFundMe page to help Gibbs and her family with the medical expenses. On the page is a photo of Gibbs wearing a graduation cap and red Converse sneakers, jumping in the air with a huge smile in front of her university.
“Danae is a strong young woman and I firmly believe she will make it through this long road to recovery!” Draper wrote. “She is a woman of strong faith and has hundreds of people praying for her! We love Danae and cannot wait to see her!”
The Philippine government, meanwhile, expressed its deepest sympathies to the United States and to the families of the 50 people who were killed in what is now being considered as the deadliest mass shootings in US history.
“We offer our deepest sympathies to the United States over this disturbing act of violence that took the lives of 50 people in Las Vegas last night,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a statement from New York where he is on an official visit. “We mourn with the families of those who perished and hope for the speedy recovery of the more than 400 people who were reported injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with the American people today.”
Secretary Cayetano said the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles has so far not received any report of any Filipino casualties but has dispatched a team to determine whether there were any Filipinos among the victims of the deadly shooting. (With reports from AP and Roy C. Mabasa)