Investigators have spent most of this week piecing together the story of Stephen Paddock, who on Sunday opened fire from his Las Vegas hotel suite, gunning down 58 people at a country music festival and injuring hundreds more.
They have explored a web of clues, delving into Paddock’s gun purchases, computers and travel plans and speaking with his relatives and girlfriend. What they lack, however, are answers.
As the investigation entered its fifth full day Friday, the biggest remaining question about the shooting remained unanswered: Why did Paddock, a 64-year-old avid gambler, meticulously plan and carry out the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history?
Unlike many other mass killers who have unleashed bloodshed in America’s churches, colleges, nightclubs, workplaces, college towns or public spaces, Paddock left no clear sign authorities have identified so far. After previous mass shootings, there were bigoted screeds posted online, confessions to police, videotaped rants, histories of violent behavior or worrisome trails of arrest records and mental health consultations.
Here, instead, there is mystery. People who knew Paddock described him as anti-social, someone who went out of his way to avoid other human beings, but his girlfriend said she saw no indication that he was capable of such horror.
Other questions still surrounded the shooting, as Joseph Lombardo, the Las Vegas sheriff, outlined during a news briefing. Did anyone help Paddock or know of his plans? Did Paddock intend to die in his hotel suite – shooting himself before a SWAT team breached the door on Sunday night – or had he hoped to escape? What, if anything, did it mean that he had intensified his gun buying habits in the year before the shooting?
“Stephen Paddock is a man who spent decades acquiring weapons and ammo and living a secret life, much of which will never be fully understood,” Lombardo told reporters. “Anything that would indicate this individual’s trigger point and would cause him to do such harm, we haven’t understood it yet.”
FBI agents are piecing together Paddock’s life in the weeks and months before the massacre, hoping to unearth an explanation. Aaron Rouse, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Las Vegas division, warned that the probe will “take a while,” but he pledged that authorities “will get to the bottom of this no matter how long it takes.”
Details emerging from the investigation have amounted to pieces of a puzzle that has not yet taken shape. Chief among them was the discovery that before ascending to the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel and opening fire on 22,000 concertgoers far below, Paddock had booked space in two other hotels overlooking popular music festivals – one in Las Vegas last month and the other in Chicago a month earlier.
Investigators were still unsure of the significance of the hotel bookings and are trying to determine if they were ominous signs of the horror to come or the meaningless actions of a man with the financial means to fly around the country.
Even as investigators were unsure of the significance, the Chicago reservation was unnerving to contemplate. Two months before he opened fire from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, targeting a country music festival far below, Paddock had made a reservation at a high-rise hotel overlooking Lollapalooza, a music festival in Chicago’s Grant Park, according to two people familiar with the investigation.
From the Blackstone Hotel, where Paddock had made the reservation, a person with the right room could see clear across Lollapalooza and to Lake Michigan, which runs along the park’s eastern side. Lollapalooza draws an average of about 100,000 people per day, five times the number at the Las Vegas festival Paddock ultimately targeted. In the end, Paddock did not show up.
Instead, Paddock headed toward Las Vegas, home to so many of the casinos where he felt at home. Paddock was known to sit for hours playing video poker and slot machines, gambling with tens of thousands of dollars and earning VIP status.
Paddock arrived at the Mandalay Bay on Sept. 28, three days before the concert shooting, bringing with him 23 guns, a dozen of them equipped with “bump” stocks, which allow for more rapid fire. These bump stocks have become the epicenter of the debate over gun violence after Las Vegas, and the National Rifle Association, which had been silent since the massacre, on Thursday lent its support to the growing effort to restrict the devices.
Paddock also had in his car thousands of rounds of ammunition he never fired, along with explosive material. More guns, ammunition and explosive material were found at his homes, police said.
As Paddock’s background has come into focus, the portrait that emerged was one of a financially well-off man who so disliked being around other people and sought to avoid speaking with them.
Paddock would buy apartments, move into them to keep an eye on his investment, but “still would employ other people to talk to the tenants because he didn’t want to talk to the tenants,” said a real estate broker who helped Paddock sell multiple properties in California more than a decade ago.
Paddock’s aversion to human contact, the real estate broker said, was in part why he preferred playing video poker, a type of gambling that doesn’t require interaction with other players. Paddock’s wardrobe did not bespeak of a man of wealth, said the broker, who asked not to be identified discussing the gunman. When he went to casinos, Paddock often went out unshaven, in sweats and flip flops, even on his thrice-weekly excursions to casinos, where he ate at the buffet.
Paddock had expressed a dislike for taxes and the government, the broker said, even selling off a series of buildings in California to move his money to the low-tax havens of Texas and Nevada. A person familiar with the investigation into the massacre said these anti-government views alone didn’t explain why Paddock targeted a country music concert.
What could have driven Paddock remained central to the investigators who have chased leads around the globe. FBI agents interviewed Marilou Danley, Paddock’s girlfriend, hoping she could provide insight into the shooting, but she has said she knew nothing of his plans or potential for such violence.
Danley was out of the country during the shooting, and she said this was arranged by Paddock, saying that he bought her a plane ticket to the Philippines to visit relatives. Paddock then wired her a substantial sum of money, telling her to use it to buy a home, Danley said in a statement read by her attorney.
“I was grateful, but honestly, I was worried, that first, the unexpected trip home, and then the money, was a way of breaking up with me,” Danley said. “It never occurred to me in any way whatsoever that he was planning violence against anyone.”