LAS VEGAS — Investigators struggled Tuesday with a chilling but baffling array of clues in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history — including a hotel room arsenal fit for a commando team — yet were still left trying to grasp the chain of events that caused a 64-year-old retiree to turn a concert ground into a killing field.
“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 police closed.
And once again, a stunned nation was left to grapple with enduring issues over gun control and gun violence. The White House and many Republicans insisted it was a time to mourn rather than launch into political battles. But some Democrats renewed calls for gun safety legislation, and late-night comedy hosts turned somber.
Jimmy Kimmel was in tears at the start of his monologue Monday night as he spoke of the “terrible, inexplicable, shocking and painful tragedy” in his hometown Las Vegas.
The massacre was possibly in the planning stages for days.
Police said Paddock arrived on Thursday at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino overlooking the Vegas Strip. He aroused no suspicion from hotel staff as he surrounded himself with stunning firepower in two rooms: 23 guns, some 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.
Authorities said a sweep of law enforcement databases showed Paddock had no known run-ins with police. He was the son of a bank robber who was once on the FBI wanted list. But investigators have turned up no clear links to any underworld gangs or international terrorist groups — despite a claim by the Islamic State that Paddock carried out the carnage in its name.
Among the questions they have: How a former accountant with a penchant for high-stakes gambling obtained a weapon that sounded to those on the ground like it could fire as an automatic, and how he was able to bring it and many other weapons into a Vegas hotel suite undetected.
Investigators believe at least one of the 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.
Gun purchase records indicate Paddock legally bought more than two dozen firearms across a period of years, according to a person close to the investigation. 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 also found at least 19 additional firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and the chemical tannerite, an explosive, at Paddock’s home in Mesquite, Nev. They also found ammonium nitrate, a chemical that can be used in bomb-making, in Paddock’s vehicle, Lombardo said.
More than 22,000 people had been at the Route 91 Harvest festival, a three-day country music concert with grounds across the street from the Mandalay Bay resort, when the shooting began about 10 p.m. Sunday, according to police. As country star Jason Aldean played what was expected to be one of the last sets of the night, 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 death toll in Las Vegas was massive, surpassing the 49 people slain by a gunman in Orlando in June 2016. That shooter, who later said he was inspired by the Islamic State, opened fire inside a crowded nightclub. And Lombardo said the number of dead from Sunday’s concert shooting could rise, as an additional 527 were thought to have been injured.
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.
Syed Saquib, a surgeon on duty Sunday night at University Medical Center, said the hospital treated 104 patients, most of whom had gunshot wounds.
“Those that could be saved, were saved,” Saquib said. “There were a few that came in with devastating, non-survivable injuries.”
Police and hotel security ultimately 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. SWAT officers ultimately stormed the room and some fired shots, though Paddock is believed to have killed himself, Lombardo said. He was not counted in the death toll that authorities reported.
President Trump ordered flags flown at half-staff and said he would visit Las Vegas on Wednesday. He praised the “miraculous” speed with which local law enforcement responded to the shooting — asserting that their actions saved lives — though he noted that hundreds were still mourning the loss of loved ones. Answers for them, he said, would “not come easy.”
“It was an act of pure evil,” Trump said during remarks from the White House.
Steve Sisolak, Clark County Commission Chair from Las Vegas, praised the police for their quick response and commended the outpouring of support from the community; more than 25,000 people have donated to a fundraising effort for victims and people have been waiting eight hours in line to donate blood, he said.
“Las Vegas will never be quite the same as a result of this,” Sisolak said. But, he said, “We’ll be back.”
Eric Paddock, Stephen Paddock’s brother, said he was stunned to learn that his brother could be responsible for such violence.
Stephen Paddock had no history of mental illness nor did he have problems with drugs or alcohol, Eric Paddock said, noting that his brother was a high-stakes gambler, sometimes wagering hundreds of dollars on a single hand of video poker.
When he spoke to the FBI, Eric Paddock said he showed agents three years of text messages from his brother, including one that mentioned winning $250,000 at a casino. A federal law enforcement official said investigators had reviewed reports suggesting Paddock engaged in high-dollar gambling, and they are trying to determine whether he faced financial strains.
Eric Paddock said his brother was “wealthy,” in part because he had no children to support. Stephen Paddock had worked in the past as an accountant, and he had real estate investments in the Orlando area, Eric Paddock said.
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.
Not long after the shooting, the Islamic State claimed responsibility, though law enforcement authorities were quick to reject that assertion. “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 FBI had a previous dealing with the Paddock family, though it did not initially seem to involve Stephen. Eric Paddock said his father was Benjamin Hoskins Paddock, a convicted bank robber and con-man described in a wanted poster as “psychopathic’’ with suicidal tendencies. But Eric Paddock said that his father, who escaped from prison in 1969 and was at one point on the FBI’s list of most-sought-after and dangerous criminals, was not around during their childhood. Benjamin Paddock was apprehended in 1978, according to news reports.
Relatives said Stephen Paddock, a licensed pilot who owned two airplanes, was a quiet man who often went to Las Vegas to gamble and view concerts. In a statement, Lockheed Martin, the defense giant, said that Paddock worked for them for three years in the 1980s.
A former neighbor of Stephen Paddock’s recalled that his home in a 55-and-over community in Florida looked more akin to a college freshman’s dorm, with nothing on the walls and only a few pieces of furniture.
“One of the first times we met him, he told me he lived there, in Vegas,” Don Judy, his next-door neighbor in the community until two years ago, recalled. “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.”
Soon, Judy said, Paddock put up a for-sale sign and was gone, saying that he was moving back to Las Vegas.
Zapotosky and Berman reported from Washington. Tim Craig, Felicia Mello and Heather Long in Las Vegas; Barbara Liston in Orlando; Justin Glawe in Mesquite, Tex.; and Derek Hawkins, Travis M. Andrews, Brian Murphy, Wesley Lowery and Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.