Investigators probing the Las Vegas massacre continue searching Thursday for what could have motivated the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, even as they have found more evidence suggesting that the gunman meant to inflict even greater damage.
Since the moment Stephen Paddock fired the first round out of his high-rise hotel suite overlooking the Las Vegas Strip, unleashing a hail of gunfire on the concertgoers far below, authorities have pieced together many details about the 64-year-old and his attack.
They know he planned extensively, prepared methodically, secretly assembling an arsenal of guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition in his two-room suite in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Authorities have tracked his gun purchases, tried to piece together his movements in the hours and days before the attack, spoken to his relatives and girlfriend.
What local and federal investigators say still remains elusive, though, is an explanation for why Paddock carried out the rampage — killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more before taking his own life — and whether he had any help.
Paddock, a retired accountant and avid gambler, was “disturbed and dangerous,” Joseph Lombardo, the Las Vegas sheriff, said at a news briefing Wednesday night. The gunman led “a secret life, much of which will never be understood,” Lombardo said, but investigators hope to pin down what could have motivated the attack.
“Anything that would indicate this individual’s trigger point and would cause him to do such harm, we haven’t understood it yet,” Lombardo said.
Laura Rodriguez, left, embraces her daughter, Sara Rivero, as they visit a makeshift memorial in Las Vegas. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
As the sprawling investigation stretched across the country and the world, authorities hoped Marilou Danley, Paddock’s girlfriend, could provide some answers on his mind-set or what could have motivated him. But in a statement released after she was interviewed by the FBI in Los Angeles, Danley said she had no idea about what was about to happen.
“It never occurred to me in any way whatsoever that he was planning violence against anyone,” Danley said in a statement that was read aloud by her attorney. She described Paddock as a “kind, caring, quiet man” and said he never gave any sign “that something horrible like this was going to happen.”
Danley was out of the country when the attack occurred, which she said was by Paddock’s design. Paddock bought her a ticket to visit family in the Philippines, she said, and then wired money over that he explained was meant to buy a home for Danley’s relatives. In her statement, Danley said she thought this meant Paddock was breaking up with her.
“I am devastated by the deaths and injuries that have occurred and my prayers go out to the victims and their families and all those who have been hurt by these awful events,” Danley said. “I am a mother and a grandmother, and my heart breaks for all who have lost loved ones.”
Danley pledged to cooperate with authorities, noting that she “voluntarily flew back to America” to speak with them.
Police have called her a “person of interest,” viewing her as a key part of the investigation, although they have not suggested that she is considered an accomplice or involved in any way. Aaron Rouse, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Las Vegas division, declined to say whether Danley was still considered a person of interest at the briefing Wednesday night, although he said she was not in federal custody.
Rouse said that the investigation will take time, noting that the bureau was chasing leads “all across the United States and all across the world.” The FBI has found no evidence to suggest that the attack was terrorism, Rouse said, adding that the investigation was still ongoing.
“We will get to the bottom of this no matter how long it takes,” Rouse said.
While investigators still do not know what set Paddock off, they have found evidence that he may have intended an even deadlier attack.
When police stormed Paddock’s room, they found 23 guns, some equipped with “bump” stocks that can allow guns to fire at a more rapid clip, along with thousands of rounds of unused ammunition. Police also found a slip of paper in the room, which is visible in photos that have circulated online; while authorities have not said what was on the paper, Lombardo said it was not a suicide note.
In Paddock’s car, investigators also found several cases containing the chemical tannerite, an explosive, along with an additional 1,600 rounds of ammunition. At Paddock’s homes, authorities found dozens of other guns, additional ammunition and more tannerite.
All told, police have recovered 47 guns in the case, most of them bought since October 2016, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Lombardo said police had focused on why Paddock bought 33 rifles between October 2016 and last Thursday, when he checked in to the hotel, and were exploring whether something happened that compelled him to buy so many guns over that time period.
Lombardo said police were still exploring whether anyone else was involved. While authorities have described Paddock as the lone attacker, Lombardo pointed to the sheer amount of preparation involved and gear the gunman brought into his room in questioning whether he truly did everything alone.
“You’ve got to make the assumption he had to have some help at some point,” Lombardo said, adding that investigators had not identified any particular person.
But authorities were also exploring whether Paddock had another target before firing upon the country music festival Sunday night. Before that attack, Paddock had rented a room at the Ogden hotel in Las Vegas during a different music festival in September, Lombardo said, although it was still unclear what his intentions were there and authorities were still reviewing surveillance footage.
Speaking Wednesday night, Lombardo offered the most detailed timeline yet of the incident, describing how officers heard the gunshots, closed in on Paddock’s suite and — 75 minutes later — breached the door to find Paddock dead, a handgun not far from his body.
The timeline offered by Lombardo depicts officers checking room after room, unsure what they would find inside. Gunshots first rang out at 10:05 p.m., and two minutes later, two officers arrived on the floor below Paddock and heard gunfire above them, Lombardo said.
The gunfire ended, Lombardo said, at 10:15 p.m. At 10:17 p.m., Lombardo said, officers arrived on the hotel’s 32nd floor, and just a minute later, a hotel security officer relayed he was shot. By 10:30 p.m., eight more officers were on the floor, clearing room after room.
Lombardo said investigators found evidence Paddock might have intended to escape the attack alive, although he declined to say what that evidence was.
As with the rest of the attack, Paddock appeared merciless and meticulous. He set up cameras in his room and the hallway to monitor police officers as they approached. At 11:20 p.m., SWAT officers breached the door and found Paddock’s body, Lombardo said. Before they arrived, he had put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. It remains unclear when exactly Paddock shot himself.
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