Las Vegas attack: At least 58 killed, over 500 injured in deadliest US shooting
The shootout occurred towards the end of a country music festival, while singer Jason Aldean was performing on-stage.Updated: Oct 03, 2017 00:08 IST
Agencies, Las Vegas
A gunman perched on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel rained down a hail of bullets on an outdoor country music festival below, killing at least 58 people in the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.
The barrage into a crowd of 22,000 people lasted several minutes, leaving at least 515 others injured on Sunday night. Some fleeing concertgoers trampled each other as thousands screamed and ran for their lives.
SWAT teams using explosives stormed 64-year-old gunman Stephen Craig Paddock’s hotel room in the sleek, gold-coloured glass skyscraper and found he had killed himself, authorities said. He had more than 10 guns with him, including rifles. Police found several more weapons at Paddock’s home in Mesquite, 145 km northeast of Las Vegas.
There was no word on a motive for the attack. Aaron Rouse, the FBI agent in-charge in Las Vegas, said investigators saw no immediate evidence connecting it to an international terror organisation, despite a claim of responsibility from the Islamic State.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman said the attack was the work of a “crazed lunatic full of hate”. Other US officials expressed skepticism of the Islamic State claim, saying there was reason to believe Paddock had a history of psychological problems.
Country music star Jason Aldean was performing on Sunday night at the end of the three-day Route 91 Harvest Festival in front of a crowd of more than 22,000 when Paddock opened fire from inside the 44-floor Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino across the street.
Authorities said Paddock, who lived in a retirement community in Mesquite, Nevada, had checked into the hotel room on Thursday. Police said he had no criminal record in the county where he lived.
Paddock’s brother, Eric Paddock, who lives in Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel: “We are completely dumbfounded. We can’t understand what happened.”
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.
Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said authorities believed it was a “lone wolf” attack. The homeland security department said there was no “specific credible threat” involving other public venues in the US.
In its claim of responsibility, the Islamic State said the gunman was “a soldier” who had converted to Islam months ago but it provided no evidence.
Attorney general Jeff Sessions offered the support of the FBI and other federal agencies but noted the investigation is being led by the sheriff in Las Vegas. That was seen as another possible sign the shooting was not believed to be an act of international terrorism.
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.
Aldean was in the middle of a song when the shots came rapidly: pop-pop-pop-pop. Video showed Aldean stopping and the crowd going quiet as if it was unsure of what had happened.
The gunman paused and then fired another volley, the muzzle flashes visible from the casino, as victims fell to the ground while others fled in panic. Some hid behind concession stands, others crawled under parked cars.
Kodiak Yazzie, 36, said the music stopped temporarily when the first shots began and then started up again before the second round of pops sent the performers ducking for cover and fleeing the stage.
“It was the craziest stuff I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Yazzie said. “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 thought she heard a bottle breaking, then a burst of pops that sounded liked fireworks.
Las Vegas’s casinos, nightclubs and shopping outlets draw 3.5 million visitors from around the world each year and the area was packed with people when the shooting broke out shortly after 10 pm local time.
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 concertgoers. Dozens of ambulances took away the wounded, while some people loaded victims into their cars and drove them to hospital.
Police shut down the busy Las Vegas Boulevard and flights at McCarran International Airport were suspended.
Hospital emergency rooms were jammed with wounded. Representative Ruben Kihuen, a Democrat whose congressional district includes a portion of Las Vegas, visited a hospital were some of the victims were taken 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.”
The dead included at least three off-duty police officers who were attending the concert. Two on-duty officers were wounded, one critically.
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 as they try to piece together the attack.
Before Sunday, the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history took place in June 2016, when a gunman who professed support for the Islamic State opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people.
Sunday’s shooting came more than four months after a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, UK, that killed 22 people. Almost 90 people were killed by gunmen inspired by Islamic State at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris during a performance by Eagles of Death Metal in 2015.
As with previous US mass shootings, the incident sparked anger among advocates for gun control. The second amendment of the US Constitution protects the right to bear arms, and gun rights advocates staunchly defend that provision.
“It’s time for Congress to get off its ass and do something,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, where 26 young children and educators were killed in an attack on a school in 2012.
First Published: Oct 02, 2017 16:26 IST