At least 50 people were killed and hundreds hurt when a 64-year-old gunman armed with more than 10 rifles opened fire on a Las Vegas country music festival on Sunday night, raining down bullets from a 32nd-floor window for several minutes before killing himself. The death toll, which police emphasized was preliminary, would make the mass shooting the deadliest in US history, eclipsing last year’s massacre of 49 people at an Orlando night club by a gunman who pledged allegiance to Islamic State militants.
About 22,000 people were in the crowd when a man police identified as Stephen Paddock opened fire from a room in the Mandalay Bay hotel, causing concertgoers to panic, some trampling on others as law enforcement officers scrambled to find the gunman. Shocked concertgoers, some with blood on their clothing, wandered the streets afterwards. Police said they had no information about Paddock’s motive, that he had no criminal record and was not believed to be connected to any militant group. Paddock, of Mesquite, Nevada, killed himself before police entered the hotel room he was firing from, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters. “We have no idea what his belief system was,” Lombardo said.
Two senior US government officials told Reuters that Paddock’s name was not on any database of suspected terrorists and that there was no evidence linking him to any international militant group. One of the two US officials discounted a claim of responsibility that was made by Islamic State. There was reason to believe that Paddock had a history of psychological problems, the official said.
In its claim, Islamic State said that the gunman was a recent convert, according to the group’s news agency Amaq. Its claim did not include the gunman’s name and showed no proof. In the past, the group has also claimed responsibility for attacks without providing evidence. Lombardo said there were more than 10 rifles in the room where Paddock killed himself. He had checked into the hotel on Thursday. Police found several weapons when they searched Paddock’s home, in a retirement community in Mesquite, Nevada, about 90 miles (145 km) northeast of Las Vegas, Mesquite police spokesman Quinn Averett told reporters.
The dead included one off-duty police officer, Lombardo said. Two on-duty officers were injured, including one who was in stable condition after surgery and one who sustained minor injuries, Lombardo said. Police warned the death toll may rise. US President Donald Trump offered his condolences to the victims via a post on Twitter. “My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!” said Trump.
‘JUST KEPT GOING ON’
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, a 45-year-old visitor from Phoenix, Arizona, who had flown in for the concert. He said the gunfire went on for an extended period of time.
“Probably 100 shots at a time,” Smith said. “It would sound like it was reloading and then it would go again.” Las Vegas’s casinos, nightclubs and shopping draw some 3.5 million visitors from around the world each year and the area was packed with visitors when the shooting broke out shortly after 10 p.m. local time (0400 GMT).
Shares of US casino operators fell in morning trading on Wall Street, with MGM Resorts International, which owns the Mandalay Bay, down 3.5 percent. Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd, Wynn Resorts Ltd and Las Vegas Sands Corp were little changed. Mike McGarry, a financial adviser from Philadelphia, was at the concert when he heard hundreds of shots ring out. “It was crazy – I laid on top of the kids. They’re 20. I’m 53. I lived a good life,” McGarry said. The back of his shirt bore footmarks, after people ran over him in the panicked crowd.
The shooting broke out on the final night of the three-day Route 91 Harvest festival, a sold-out event featuring top acts such as Eric Church, Sam Hunt and Jason Aldean. “Tonight has been beyond horrific,” Aldean said in a statement on Instagram. “It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone.”
The suspected shooter’s brother, Eric Paddock, said the family was stunned. “We have no idea. We’re horrified. We’re bewildered and our condolences go out to the victims,” Eric Paddock said in a brief telephone interview, his voice trembling. “We have no idea in the world.” As with previous US mass shootings, the incident sparked anger among advocates for gun control. The Second Amendment of the US Constitution protects the right to bear arms, and gun-rights advocates staunchly defend that provision.
“It’s time for Congress to get off its ass and do something,” said US Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, where 26 young children and educators were killed in an attack on a school in 2012. “This must stop. It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren’t public policy responses to this epidemic.”
The rampage was reminiscent of a mass shooting at a Paris rock concert in November 2015 that killed 89 people, part of a wave of coordinated attacks by Islamist militants in which 130 people were killed.