Monday, 02 October 2017 14:11
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At least 50 people are dead and more than 200 wounded after a gunman opened fire at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip Oct. 1 At least 50 people are dead and more than 200 wounded after a gunman opened fire at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip Oct. 1 (Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

LAS VEGAS — A gunman in a high-rise hotel overlooking the Las Vegas Strip opened fire on a country music festival late Sunday, killing at least 50 people and injuring hundreds of others in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

The gunman, identified by police as Stephen Paddock, was later found dead by officers on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said during a news briefing.

The shooting marked the latest outbreak of gunfire and bloodshed to erupt in a public place, again transforming a seemingly routine night into one of terror. The carnage in Las Vegas surpassed the death toll of 49 people slain in June 2016 when a gunman in Orlando, who later said he was inspired by the Islamic State, opened fire inside a crowded nightclub.

Lombardo said “over 50” were killed in this latest shooting rampage, though that toll could rise, as he noted that police were still investigating the scene. Police also said an estimated 406 people were taken to area hospitals after the shooting. Authorities did not specify how many of the people were wounded by gunfire or injured in the chaotic frenzy that followed.

Paddock, 64, was found dead in his hotel room by Las Vegas SWAT officers who responded to the call about the shooting, police said. They believe he took his own life.

Under the neon glow and glitz of the Vegas Strip, thousands of concertgoers who had gathered for a three-day music festival dove for cover or raced toward shelter when the gunfire began at about 10 p.m. Sunday. Police said more than 22,000 people were at the concert when Paddock, who had checked into the Mandalay Bay last Thursday, began firing round after round.

Police believe Paddock, a local resident, was a “lone wolf” attacker. Lombardo did not give further details, however, on Paddock’s background or possible motivation.

“We have no idea what his belief system was,” Lombardo said during a briefing. “Right now, we believe he was the sole aggressor and the scene is static.”

Recordings of the attack suggested that Paddock used an automatic weapon in the attack. He was found with more than 10 rifles, Lombardo said.

Paddock’s brother, Eric, told Reuters that the family was stunned by what happened.

“We have no idea,” Eric Paddock told the news agency. “We’re horrified. We’re bewildered and our condolences go out to the victims. We have no idea in the world.”

As the Las Vegas police investigated the horror that had unfolded on the Strip, they also faced a grim tragedy within their own ranks. The dead included an off-duty Las Vegas police officer, the department said Monday morning. Two other officers who were on-duty were injured, police said; one was in stable condition after surgery and the other sustained minor injuries.

“It’s a devastating time,” Lombardo said at a news conference early Monday.

In the initial chaotic aftermath of the shooting, authorities had searched for a woman named Marilou Danley, described only as Paddock’s “traveling companion.” Lombardo said during a news briefing Monday morning that investigators spoke with Danley, who was found outside the country, and do not believe she was involved in the shooting.

Danley’s relationship with Paddock was not immediately known, but they lived at the same address in Mesquite, Nev., according to public records. Lombardo said police in Mesquite were entering Paddock’s home to conduct a search on Monday morning.

The gunman was previously known to local police for past run-ins with law enforcement, according to people familiar with the investigation. However, police in Las Vegas had only minimal interactions with Paddock before the shooting, Lombardo said at a news briefing.

“We have no investigative information or background associated with this individual that is derogatory,” Lombardo said. “The only thing we can tell is he received a citation several years ago, that citation was handled as a matter of normal practice in the court system.”

Federal authorities responded to the shooting scene, assisting local law enforcement officials with the investigation. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it dispatched agents to the scene, while FBI criminal investigators — rather than those in the bureau’s National Security Branch — are aiding local police in the case, according to a person familiar with the matter. That is likely an indication authorities believe there is no nexus to international terrorism.

The gunman was previously known to local police for past run-ins with law enforcement, according to people familiar with the investigation. However, police in Las Vegas had only minimal interactions with Paddock before the shooting, Lombardo said at a news briefing.

“We have no investigative information or background associated with this individual that is derogatory,” Lombardo said. “The only thing we can tell is he received a citation several years ago, that citation was handled as a matter of normal practice in the court system.”

The gunman was previously known to local police for past run-ins with law enforcement, according to people familiar with the investigation. However, police in Las Vegas had only minimal interactions with Paddock before the shooting, Lombardo said at a news briefing.

“We have no investigative information or background associated with this individual that is derogatory,” Lombardo said. “The only thing we can tell is he received a citation several years ago, that citation was handled as a matter of normal practice in the court system.”

The gunman was previously known to local police for past run-ins with law enforcement, according to people familiar with the investigation. However, police in Las Vegas had only minimal interactions with Paddock before the shooting, Lombardo said at a news briefing.

“We have no investigative information or background associated with this individual that is derogatory,” Lombardo said. “The only thing we can tell is he received a citation several years ago, that citation was handled as a matter of normal practice in the court system.”

Federal homeland security officials said there were no specific, credible threats to other public venues around the country.

The shooting occurred at the end of the Route 91 Harvest Festival, a three-day country music concert held over the weekend. The concert grounds are adjacent to Mandalay Bay, a sprawling casino on the southern end of the Strip.

The shots began as Jason Aldean, one of the final performers, was playing. Aldean posted an Instagram message that he and his crew were safe. The scene, he wrote, was “beyond horrific.”

Videos posted from people who said they were at the scene showed people screaming and running for cover amid the sound of gunshots that seemed unending.

[50 years of mass shootings]

“We thought it was fireworks at first or trouble with the speakers,” said Kayla Ritchie, 21, of Simi Valley, Calif. “They had been having technical difficulty all weekend. Then everything went dark.”

Ritchie traveled with Megan Greene, 19, for the concert, and the two were separated when people began fleeing. They found each other hours later.

“Everyone started running for the exit,” said Greene, who hid behind a truck before fleeing into the MGM Grand. “We were in the street and they told us to get down, get down.”

Taylor Benge, a 21-year-old who was at the concert Sunday night, said he heard a round of pops that lasted for 10 seconds, as if someone was holding down the trigger. When a performer ran off the stage and the lights came on, Benge said, he realized that “about five feet to the left of me there was a man with a bullet wound to his chin.”

“He was just lifeless on the ground,” he continued.

Benge and his sister threw themselves on the ground as the gunfire continued and then ran for the exit.

“My jeans are covered in someone’s blood, my T-shirt is covered in someone’s blood, my sister’s whole leg was covered in blood,” Benge said.

At least some people were injured in the frenzied effort to flee the gunfire. Tracy, 55, a California woman who declined to give her last name, said she was “trampled” trying to flee.

“We thought it was fireworks,” she said, a dazed look on her face and a bandage on her injured knee and shin. “I looked up at the Mandalay Bay. I could see the green light every time the gun fired. We ran for our lives.

“We went into Hooters and hid in the bathroom,” she continued. “We felt like sitting ducks there. We went to the second floor conference room and stayed there.”

A friend came with a mini bus, so Tracy and another friend ran outside to the vehicle, terrified to go out on the street again.

“Who thinks people would do something like this in America?” Tracy said.

Vanessa and Philip Dyer came from Lowestoft, England, and got married Sunday in Las Vegas. They were out celebrating after the wedding, waking the Strip, when they first heard gunfire.

“I turned to Philip and said, that sounds like machine gun fire,” Vanessa Dyer said. “Then it went again.”

Phillip Dyer added: “We’ll never forget the night we got married, but for all the wrong reasons.”

Corianne Langdon, 58, a cab driver in Las Vegas for the last six and a half years, said she was about seven cars back in the taxi line at Mandalay Bay when the gunfire began.

She began driving away and saw police officers crouched down in the streets facing the hotel and then, as she turned a corner at Las Vegas Boulevard, saw what she believed were hundreds of people running away from the concert – some jumping the fence on the side of the venue. A young couple jumped in her cab, then another three or four people begged to get in as well.

“I had people hanging out of my windows,” Langdon said. “They were screaming, they were so upset and it just wasn’t getting to me yet the severity of what was going on.”

Those injured in the shooting also included an off-duty officer with the Bakersfield Police Department in Southern California, who was taken to a hospital for non-life-threatening injuries, according to a news statement. Several of the department’s officers were off-duty and attending the concert when the gunfire erupted.

Multiple flights bound for the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas were diverted after the attack, the airport tweeted. All other planes were temporarily grounded, with a few flights resuming Monday morning.

Security measures at many music venues have been boosted in recent years after concerts have been hit by terrorism strikes.

The shooting comes as security measures at many music venues have been boosted in recent years after concerts were targeted in terror attacks. In May in northern England, a bomb exploded at a concert by American singer Ariana Grande in Manchester, killing 22 people; in November 2015, Islamist attackers opened fire at a rock concert in Paris as part of coordinated attacks that left 130 dead. In both of those cases, the Islamic State claimed credit for the attacks.

Gunfire had also erupted at a casino in Manila in June, when a 42-year-old man from the Philippines opened fire and killed 37 people. Police said the attack was motivated by gambling debts and other personal problems facing the gunman, who killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for the attack, but officials repeatedly denied it was terrorism-related.

Berman reported from Washington. Travis M. Andrews, Brian Murphy, Wesley Lowery, Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Julie Tate contributed to this report, which will be updated throughout the day.

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