- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2017

A gunman using rapid-fire weapons from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel rained down bullets on an outdoor country music festival, killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 500 before taking his own life in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, officials said Monday.

The sustained hail of bullets from the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino into a crowd of 22,000 people erupted late Sunday night, causing panic as the concert venue was turned into a killing ground. At least 527 people were injured, many by gunfire and others who were trampled while trying to flee as police scrambled to locate the shooter.

Police on Monday identified the gunman as Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, who lived in a retirement community in Mesquite, Nevada. Authorities believe he acted alone, and they did not know his motive.

Federal officials said there was no evidence of a connection to extremist groups, although the Islamic State claimed credit for the attack.

“We have no idea what his belief system was,” Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said of the gunman. “I can’t get into the mind of a psychopath.”

The gunman’s brother, Eric Paddock, told reporters that his family could not fathom why Paddock committed the slaughter.


SEE ALSO: Trump responds to Las Vegas shooting, offers condolences


“We don’t understand,” Eric Paddock said. “We are shocked. We are horrified.”

President Trump, in a televised address from the White House at midday, called the shooting “an act of pure evil” and ordered U.S. flags flown at half-staff. He scheduled a trip to Las Vegas for Wednesday to meet with families of victims, first responders and law enforcement officials.

Although the White House cautioned against politicizing the slaughter, Democrats such as Hillary Clinton quickly issued calls for gun control measures.

“Our grief isn’t enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again,” Mrs. Clinton tweeted.

The deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history began shortly after country music star Jason Aldean took the stage at the end of the three-day Route 91 Harvest Festival. Smartphone video showed Mr. Aldean playing his guitar and singing, but then the scene was punctuated by the rat-tat-tat sound of automatic gunfire.

High above the concertgoers, about 1,700 feet away, Paddock had smashed his hotel window with a hammer or similar tool, police said. He had an arsenal of at least 23 weapons in the room he had checked into Thursday.

Witnesses said some people initially thought the sounds were firecrackers, but then concertgoers were being struck down. People screamed and sought cover or fled. Others tended to the wounded under fire.

Kodiak Yazzie, 36, said the music stopped temporarily when the first shots began, and the tune even started up again before the second round of pops sent the performers ducking for cover and fleeing the stage.

“It was the craziest stuff I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Mr. Yazzie said. “You could hear that the noise was coming from west of us, from Mandalay Bay. You could see a flash…flash…flash…flash.”

Thousands in the crowd fled as the bullets ran rampant. Monique Dumas from British Columbia said she was at the concert, six rows from the front of the stage, when she heard a bottle breaking and then popping sounds that she thought might have been fireworks.

She said as she made her way out, it was “organized chaos” as everyone fled.

“It took four to five minutes, and all that time there was gunfire,” she said.

Video of the attack showed panicked crowds fleeing as sustained rapid gunfire ripped through the area.

“People were just dropping to the ground. It just kept going on,” said Steve Smith, 45, of Phoenix.

“Probably 100 shots at a time,” Mr. Smith said. “It would sound like it was reloading and then it would go again.”

The gunman appeared to fire unhindered for more than 10 minutes as Las Vegas police frantically tried to locate the man in one of the Mandalay Bay hotel towers. Some concertgoers hid behind concession stands, while others crawled under parked cars.

The first calls to emergency authorities were made at 10:08 p.m. Las Vegas time. It took more than an hour for police to locate the hotel room where the shots were coming from, but it’s not clear how long Paddock was shooting.

A police SWAT team broke into Paddock’s room with a flash-bang grenade. Authorities said Paddock had killed himself.

Police found 23 guns in Paddock’s two-room hotel suite, most of them long guns. There were more than 10 suitcases in the suite.

At Paddock’s house in Mesquite, police found another 19 firearms, some explosives and “several thousand rounds of ammo,” along with electronic devices that were still being evaluated, Sheriff Lombardo said. In the gunman’s car, they found ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound that can be used to make explosives.

The guns in the hotel ranged from .308 to .223 caliber, and authorities believe some of the weapons had been modified to shoot larger-caliber ammunition. Two of the guns were on tripods at the windows.

Analysis of the audio of the gunshots led some to believe Paddock was using at least one automatic weapon, perhaps having modified an assault-style rifle, although the sheriff would not comment definitively on that Monday evening.

Fully automatic weapons cannot be obtained in the U.S. as easily as other firearms, and none of the major U.S. mass shootings in recent decades involved one.

Civilian ownership of any automatic weapons made after 1986 is banned under federal law, and ownership of the approximately 200,000 pre-1986 weapons in circulation (all individually registered) is tightly regulated. Owners must have a special BATF permit beforehand and, among many other things, must notify the federal government if they wish to sell the weapon or to carry it across state lines.

Among those killed in the rampage were two off-duty police officers who were attending the concert. Two on-duty officers were wounded, and one was in critical condition, police said.

Authorities issued pleas for blood donations as hospitals in the Las Vegas area were inundated with casualties.

Police shut down the usually busy Las Vegas Boulevard, and authorities across the state and federal ranks converged onto the scene as dozens of ambulances ferried those struck by gunfire.

Nearby Interstate 15 and flights at McCarran International Airport were halted. Hospital emergency rooms were jammed with victims delivered by ambulance. Others loaded the wounded into their cars and drove them to hospitals.

Jose Baggett, 31, of Las Vegas, said he and a friend were in the lobby of the Luxor hotel-casino — directly north of the festival — when people began to run, almost like in a stampede. He said people were crying and, as he and his friend started walking away minutes later, they encountered police checkpoints where officers were carrying shotguns and assault rifles.

“There were armored personnel vehicles, SWAT vehicles, ambulances and at least a half-mile of police cars,” Mr. Baggett said.

Hours after the shooting, Mr. Aldean posted on Instagram that he and his crew were safe and said the shooting was “beyond horrific.”

“It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night,” the singer said.

Before the carnage at the sold-out concert, the worst mass shooting in the nation’s recent history was in June 2016, when 49 people were killed by a self-professed Islamist gunman at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Sunday’s shooting came more than four months after a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, killed 22 people.

Almost 90 people were killed by gunmen inspired by Islamic State at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris during a performance by Eagles of Death Metal in November 2015.

Whatever motivated Paddock to open fire, authorities said, they don’t believe he was inspired by Islamist extremism despite Islamic State’s claims.

“We have determined to this point no connection with an international terrorist group,” Aaron Rouse, FBI special agent in charge, told reporters.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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