The Las Vegas massacre remains a mystery

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At 10:05 pm on October 1 five years ago, in 2017, a 64-year-old man, Stephen Paddock, started shooting from the windows of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas on the audience attending a country concert on the “Strip”. the main drag in the Nevada city casino area. Over the next eleven minutes Paddock fired more than 1000 shots, killing 58 people and injuring over 400 (two of these died from complications in 2020), while another 400 people were injured in the subsequent chaotic escape. Then Paddock killed himself, leaving no messages or claims. It is the most serious massacre committed by a single person in the history of the United States.

Five years later, with the investigations largely concluded, the reasons that prompted Paddock to plan and carry out the attack remain a mystery. Investigations, both by the media and by the FBI, have failed to find clues to a possible motive in the man’s life.

Paddock acted alone, planning the attack in detail. He was a regular player, with open lines of credit in some Las Vegas casinos, and in the days before the massacre he had requested the suite from which he would shoot, on the 32nd floor but with an open view of the “Strip”. Between 1982 and 2016 he had bought 29 firearms, mainly pistols and rifles, in the year preceding the attack he had added 55, mostly semi-automatic rifles, also referred to as “assault weapons”. He had bought high-capacity magazines and devices (“bump stock”) that make those rifles practically automatic, that is, capable of firing a lot of shots in a short time, simply by holding the trigger.

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Police found 23 rifles and a pistol in the Mandalay Bay Hotel suite.

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On the evening of October 1, 2017, the country music festival “Route 91 Harvest” was underway in Las Vegas Village, along the “Strip” and at the Mandalay hotel, with about 22 thousand spectators. At 10:05 pm Paddock began firing: it began with a few single shots, which survivors later said they had confused with fireworks explosions. Then, when people realized what was happening and started running away, Paddock started using various assault rifles in automatic or semi-automatic mode, firing around 1000 rounds in eleven minutes. Then he committed suicide, shooting himself, well before the police could break into his room.

The next day the Islamic State (or ISIS) tried to claim the attack, claiming that Paddock had converted six months earlier, but this lead soon proved false. The perpetrator of the massacre, the FBI later confirmed, had no religious or political affiliation, nor did he have particular grounds for resentment against the music festival target of the attack. The search for motives immediately appeared a difficult mystery.

The hotel room after the police raid (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department via AP)

Paddock was a retiree, his last job was in the postal service, but in his life he had amassed a good fortune in real estate investments, first in Los Angeles and then in Nevada, Reno and around Las Vegas. He had been married twice, remaining on good terms with his ex-wives, and was engaged to a woman of Filipino descent. He was an assiduous video poker player: he could spend long consecutive hours at the terminals (sometimes repeated nights, sleeping during the day) and considerable sums, which however had never created financial problems or variations in his lifestyle. He was a loner, with minimal relationships with neighbors and few friends.

The point on which the investigations initially focused was his family of origin: Paddock’s father, Benjamin Hoskins Paddock, had been a bank robber, arrested in 1960 and escaped in 1969, when he was also on the FBI’s top ten most wanted men list. One of the theories to explain the massacre was that Stephen Paddock wanted to trace the criminal fame of his father, whom he had last seen when he was seven: but no evidence has ever confirmed it.

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His partner, Marilou Danley, had been invited by Paddock to go on a trip to the Philippines fifteen days before the shooting, with a surprise plane ticket given. During the trip Paddock had transferred $ 150,000 to her: the woman was investigated by the FBI and then deemed unrelated to the whole. She told investigators that Paddock had recently complained of deteriorating health, called an “incurable chemical imbalance.” A Reno car salesman instead informed the police that the perpetrator of the massacre had confessed to him months before going through a phase of depression, but that he had refused anti-depressant pills, preferring those for anxiety. Various witnesses then said that he often “reeked of alcohol”.

One of his younger brothers, Eric, while not understanding what could have happened to him, called him “king of micro-aggressions”, with narcissistic tendencies and an obsessive attention to detail. Even in the habit of gambling he seemed to prefer a “scientific approach”, studying the behavior of video poker machines in depth and refusing to rely solely on luck.

Brother Eric shows an old photo of himself and Stephen Paddock, right (AP Photo / John Raoux)

All these indications have led to a psychological portrait compatible with that of other mass murderers, but not to an explanation of the motives for the gesture. In the investigation’s closing report, the FBI admitted that it had not found a “single or clear motivating factor.” Aaron Rouse, the agent-in-chief of the Las Vegas Bureau of Investigation, concluded, “It seems that it all boiled down to doing maximum damage and getting a certain level of infamy for oneself. If he wanted to leave a message, he would. The bottom line is that he didn’t want people to know. ‘

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On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the massacre, in addition to the annual celebrations in Las Vegas, the documentary “11 Minutes” was presented, made by Ashley Hoff, one of the survivors of the massacre, who tries to shift attention from the author of the massacre to its victims.

In the documentary, which chronicles that night and the long-term effects on survivors and victims’ families, Paddock is never called by name. It is said that the author of the massacre in the previous days had carried out an internet search on “How to become a social media star”. Paddock did not have social profiles and even this detail is far from being an explanation, but Hoff wanted to avoid that his eventual desire for notoriety was granted.