LAS VEGAS (AP) — A gunman on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel-casino rained heavy fire down on a crowd of over 22,000 at an outdoor country music festival, turning the expanse into a killing field from which there was little escape. At least 58 people died.
It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. At least 515 people were injured.
The FBI discounted the possibility of international terrorism, even after the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. But beyond that, the motive remained a mystery, with Sheriff Joseph Lombardo saying: “I can’t get into the mind of a psychopath at this point.”
Concertgoers screamed and ran for their lives Sunday night outside the 44-story Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino after hearing what at first sounded like firecrackers but turned out to be dozens of bullets in rapid-fire bursts, perhaps from an automatic weapon.
SWAT teams using explosives stormed the gunman’s hotel room in the gold-colored glass skyscraper and found he had killed himself. The attacker, Stephen Craig Paddock, a 64-year-old retiree from Mesquite, Nevada, had as many as 10 guns with him, including rifles.
Country music star Jason Aldean was performing at the Route 91 Harvest Festival when the gunman apparently used a hammer-like device to smash out windows in his room and opened fire, the muzzle flashes visible in the dark, authorities said.
The crowd, funneled tightly into a wide-open space, had little cover and no easy way to escape. Some victims fell to the ground, while others fled in panic. Some hid behind concession stands. Others crawled under parked cars.
After the first burst of gunfire, the music stopped, Aldean left the stage, and many of those in the crowd looked on in confusion. Then the shooting resumed about half a minute later.
“It was the craziest stuff I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” said Kodiak Yazzie, 36. “You could hear that the noise was coming from west of us, from Mandalay Bay. You could see a flash, flash, flash, flash.”
Monique Dumas, of British Columbia, Canada, said she was six rows from the stage when she heard what she thought was a bottle breaking, then a popping that sounded to her like fireworks.
Couples held hands as they ran through the dirt lot. Faces were etched with shock and confusion, and people wept and screamed. Some were bloodied, and some were carried out by fellow concertgoers. Dozens of ambulances took away the wounded, while some people loaded victims into their cars and drove them to the hospital.
Some of the injured were hit by shrapnel. Others were trampled in the mass panic.
The shooter 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, according to radio traffic. For several minutes, officers could not tell whether the fire was coming from Mandalay Bay or the neighboring Luxor hotel.
Investigators gave few details on the weapons used but reported over the radio that they were faced with fully automatic fire.
In an address to the country, President Donald Trump called the attack “an act of pure evil” and added: “In moments of tragedy and horror, America comes together as one. And it always has.” He ordered flags flown at half-staff.
Hospital emergency rooms were jammed with the wounded. Rep. Ruben Kihuen, a Democrat whose congressional district includes part of Las Vegas, visited a hospital and said: “Literally, every single bed was being used, every single hallway was being used. Every single person there was trying to save a life.”
Las Vegas authorities put out a call for blood donations and set up a hotline to report missing people and speed the identification of the dead and wounded. They also opened a “family reunification center” for people to find loved ones.
The dead included at least three off-duty police officers from various departments who were attending the concert, authorities said. Two on-duty officers were wounded, one critically, police said.
“It’s a devastating time,” the sheriff said.
In its claim of responsibility, the Islamic State group said the gunman was “a soldier” who had converted to Islam months ago. But it provided no evidence.
And FBI agent Aaron Rouse said investigators had seen nothing so far to connect the attack to any international terror organization.
The Islamic State has been known to make unsubstantiated claims of responsibility for attacks around the world.
It previously said it was responsible for a June attack on a Manila casino and shopping complex where 37 died, mostly from smoke inhalation — a claim rejected by authorities, who said the lone attacker was a heavily indebted Filipino gambling addict.
The sheriff said authorities believe the Las Vegas bloodbath was a “lone wolf” attack but want to talk to Paddock’s roommate, a woman Lombardo said was out of the country at the time of the attack.
Lombardo said a check of federal and state databases showed the gunman was not on law enforcement authorities’ radar before the bloodbath.
Paddock lived in a retirement community, owned rental properties, held a private pilot’s license and liked to travel to Las Vegas to play high-stakes video poker.
As for why he went on the murderous rampage, his brother in Florida, Eric Paddock, told reporters: “I can’t even make something up. There’s just nothing.”
While Paddock appeared to have no criminal history, his father was a bank robber who was on the FBI’s most-wanted list after escaping from prison in Texas in the 1960s.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said the Sunday night attack was the work of a “crazed lunatic full of hate.”
Interstate 15 was briefly closed, and flights at McCarran International Airport were suspended for a while.
Nearly every inch of the Las Vegas Strip is under video surveillance, much of it set up by the casinos to monitor their properties. That could yield a wealth of material for investigators.
Hours after the shooting, Aldean posted on Instagram that he and his crew were safe and that 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 country star said.
Before Sunday, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history took place in June 2016, when a gunman who professed support for Muslim extremist groups opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people.
A suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, killed 22 people in May. Almost 90 people were killed in 2015 at a concert in Paris by gunmen inspired by the Islamic State.