America mourned victims of the worst gun massacre in recent US history Tuesday as investigators probed the motive behind an apparently senseless attack on Las Vegas concertgoers.
President Donald Trump, who was to visit the desert city Wednesday, branded the attacker — who raked a crowd with gunfire from a hotel leaving 58 dead and at least 527 injured — a “demented man.” Authorities first said 59 were confirmed killed but clarified that one body was that of the gunman.
Beyond Trump’s assessment, authorities were at a loss as to why a 64-year-old gambler and retired accountant had hauled a vast arsenal of weapons to the hotel and launched his assault.
Meanwhile, the attack’s victims began to be identified in the media, each new story stirring emotions as America once again grappled with calls for reforms to its permissive firearm control laws.
Trump was not ready to suggest answers.
“What happened in Las Vegas is in many ways a miracle,” he said. “The police department has done such an incredible job, and we’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by.”
US officials have reacted cautiously to a claim by the Islamic State jihadist group that the shooter, Stephen Craig Paddock, had carried out Sunday night’s massacre on its behalf.
Experts cautioned that the group — under pressure in its Syrian and Iraqi heartlands — may be trying to rally its supporters with a false claim.
IS claimed Paddock was one of its “soldiers” but the FBI said it had found no such connection so far.
Authorities said Paddock, who had no criminal record, smashed windows in his hotel room shortly after 10:00 pm on Sunday and rained fire on a crowd of 22,000 attending a country music concert below.
In footage of the massacre, the sustained rattle of gunfire is heard as people scream and bolt for cover with little idea of where the shots were coming from.
Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said Paddock blasted through the door of his hotel room and hit a security guard in the leg.
But when a SWAT team stormed the room where Paddock had been staying since September 28, they found he had killed himself.
Authorities have seized 47 firearms from three locations, they said late Tuesday.
– ‘Mind of a psychopath’ –
So far, investigators have found nothing to explain the actions of a gunman, but were continuing to hunt and trace every possible clue about a gunman they described as a “psychopath.”
“For this individual to take it upon himself to create this chaos and harm is unspeakable,” Sheriff Lombardo told journalists Tuesday, saying the shooter’s degree of preparation made it clear the attack was extensively premeditated.
Details started to emerge Tuesday about some of the victims — a kindergarten teacher from California who had married her childhood sweetheart, a Tennessee nurse, a high school secretary from New Mexico.
Stories of heroism also surfaced. Bruce Ure, deputy police chief of the small Texas city of Seguin, was in the concert’s VIP section when the gunfire broke out.
He sheltered from the bullets between two buses, then tended to three people who had been shot. Ure loaded the bleeding strangers into a passing car and rode with them to a hospital.
“They were all crying, and I was too,” he told AFP. “They were saying that ‘We’re going to die, we’re going to die,’ and I still remember telling them: ‘Not tonight, not tonight. Tonight’s not your night. You’re going to be ok.’ Because I truly believed it.”
Trump will visit Las Vegas Wednesday, but the White House has rebuffed calls to reopen the fraught US debate on gun control in the latest atrocity’s wake.
Congress did however shelve a controversial plan to make it easier to purchase gun silencers and make it more difficult to classify certain ammunition as “armor piercing.”
– ‘Two doors from a lunatic’ –
According to his brother, Paddock was a high-stakes gambler and their bank-robber father was once on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.
But Eric Paddock said his brother had led an otherwise normal life.
“He liked to play video poker. He went on cruises. He sent his mother cookies,” he said.
“We’re lost,” his brother said.
Paddock’s neighbors in Mesquite were similarly dumbfounded to discover the killer lived in their midst.
“This is just a quiet, sleepy little community. It just blew me away,” said Rod Sweningson.
“We’ve never even thought about locking our doors. We didn’t know we lived two doors down from a lunatic.”
Paddock had wired $100,000 to an account in his girlfriend’s native country of the Philippines in the week before the shooting, NBC reported Tuesday, citing multiple senior law enforcement officials.
But it was not known who was the intended recipient. Marilou Danley, 62, who is Australian by nationality, was overseas at the time of the shooting and investigators said she was not believed to have been involved.
The Las Vegas attack is the deadliest shooting in recent US history, exceeding the toll of 49 dead in an attack on a Florida nightclub in June 2016.