Las Vegas mass shooting

The struggle to get inside the killer’s mind: Vegas gunman’s ‘secret life’ thwarts investigators’ search for motive

Where other mass killers have left behind a trail of clues, Steven Paddock had nearly no close friends, no social media presence or other clear connections to the broader world

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 October, 2017, 2:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 October, 2017, 10:29pm

Those seeking to know the motive of Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock have had little more to chase than hints and shadows.

Paddock led such a low-key, private life that no one seemed to know him well and those who did had no sense he was capable of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

Where other mass killers have left behind a trail of clues that help investigators to quickly understand what drove them to violence, Paddock, 64, had nearly no close friends, no social media presence or other clear connections to the broader world.

Even a top official in the Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Wednesday he was surprised investigators had not uncovered more about why a man with no obvious criminal record would cause so much bloodshed.

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“There’s all kinds of things that surprise us in each one of these events. That’s the one in this one, and we are not there yet,” FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Working with what little they know, investigators have zeroed in on Paddock’s weapon-buying binge in the year before he gunned down 58 people on Sunday at a country music festival from a 32nd-floor room at the Mandalay Bay casino resort before killing himself.

They wonder if he had some sort of mental break at the time that drove him to start making plans for mass murder.

They also know he rented a flat in a Las Vegas high-rise over another music festival the weekend before the massacre, though not the reason. They know he was a major gambler, but kept to the very private game of video poker. They know he had a plan to survive the shooting and escape, but would not say how.

“This individual and this attack didn’t leave the sort of immediately accessible thumbprints that you find on some mass casualty attacks,” McCabe said.

“Putting aside the somewhat dubious claims of responsibility that we see in each one of these instances, we look for actual indicators of affiliation, of motive, of intent, and so far we’re not there. We don’t have those sort of indicators.”

Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said on Wednesday night that Paddock must have had some help along the way given his huge arsenal, the explosive materials in his car, and his meticulous plan – but they do not know who that might be.

Some who thought they knew him intimately could provide no help.

“He never said anything to me or took any action that I was aware of that I understood in any way to be a warning that something horrible like this was going to happen,” Marilou Danley, 62, said in a statement read by her lawyer outside FBI headquarters in Los Angeles.

Danley returned on Tuesday from the Philippines, where Paddock had sent her before the attack, and was being interviewed by the FBI.

Analysing Paddock’s computer, mobile phone and other electronic devices, investigators found no obvious ideological motive, no clear connection to extremists or activist groups or outward display of mental illness.

Paddock wired US$100,000 to the Philippines days before the shooting, said a US official who was not authorised to speak publicly because of the continuing investigation. Investigators are trying to trace that money.

Danley, who was overseas for more than two weeks, said she was initially pleased when she was wired money from Paddock to buy a house for her family in the Philippines. But she later feared it was a way to break up with her.

She said she loved Paddock as a “kind, caring, quiet man”, and hoped they would have a future together. She said she was devastated by the carnage and would cooperate with authorities as they struggle to get inside Paddock’s mind.

The previous weekend, Paddock rented a condo in a building that overlooked the Life is Beautiful alternative music festival featuring Chance the Rapper, Muse, Lorde and Blink-182, said Lombardo, who offered no other details about what led Paddock there.

On September 28, he checked into Mandalay Bay and specifically requested an upper-floor room with a view of the Route 91 Harvest music festival, according to a person who had seen hotel records provided to investigators.

Paddock wasn’t able to move into the room until Saturday, said the person, who disclosed the information on condition of anonymity.

The room, which goes for US$590 a night, was given to Paddock for free because he was a good customer who wagered tens of thousands of dollars each time he visited the casino, the person said.

In those details, authorities are searching for clues about his life and the kind of victims and venue he targeted, said David Gomez, a former FBI national security and criminal profiler.

“We may never know to 100 per cent certainty,” he said. “But they will find out.”