A wounded person is carried on a wheelbarrow as police respond during the Las Vegas shooting. PHOTO/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
A gunman perched high on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas Strip casino unleashed a shower of bullets down on an outdoor country music festival below, killing at least 58 people and wounding 515 more as tens of thousands of frantic concertgoers screamed and ran for their lives, officials said Monday. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Country music star Jason Aldean was performing Sunday night at the end of the three-day Route 91 Harvest Festival when the gunman opened fire across the street from inside the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, SWAT teams quickly descended on the concert and the casino, and officers used explosives to storm the gunman’s hotel room, where they found he had killed himself, authorities said. The gunman, identified by Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo as Stephen Paddock, had as many as 10 guns with him, including rifles, they said.
Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, had checked into the hotel room on Thursday, authorities said. “What we are going to try to do as best we can is to get our first responders back on their feet and responding and conducting a proper investigation to ensure that we have the safety of this community at heart,” Las Vegas Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said.
Hours after the shooting, the Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility, releasing two statements on its Aamaq news agency on Monday.
Nevada authorities, however, say Paddock acted alone and had no connection to an international terrorist group.
IS often claims attacks by individuals inspired by its message but with no known links to the group. Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman called the gunman a “crazed lunatic of hate.” No motive was yet known.
Paddock owned a single-family home in Sun City Mesquite, a retirement community along the Nevada-Arizona border, Mesquite Police Chief Troy Tanner said. He lived there with Marilou Danley, 62. Police say they don’t believe she was involved.
Aldean was in the middle of a song when the shots came rapidly: Pop-pop-pop-pop. Video of the shooting then showed Aldean stopping and the crowd getting quiet as if they were unsure of what had just happened.
The gunman paused and then fired another volley of muzzle flashes from the gold glass casino as more victims fell to the ground while others fled in panic. Some said they hid behind concession stands and other crawled under parked cars.
Jason Aldean was among musicians at the outdoor country music festival. PHOTO/ ACM2016
Thousands in the crowd — totaling more than 22,000 — fled as the bullets ran rampant. Monique Dumas from British Columbia, Canada, said she was at the concert, six rows from the stage when she thought she heard a bottle breaking, and then a burst of popping sounds that may have been fireworks. She said as she made her way out, it was “organized chaos” as everyone fled. “It took four to five minutes and all that time there was gunfire.”
Las Vegas Governor Brian Sandoval likened the scene to a “war zone” while delivering a live address on Monday morning, where he thanked the first responders and asked for blood donations.
Lombardo said authorities believe this was a “lone wolf” attack. And the U.S. Homeland Security Department said there was no “specific credible threat” involving other public venues in the U.S.
“It’s a devastating time,” Lombardo said. “There were armored personnel vehicles, SWAT vehicles, ambulances, and at least a half-mile of police cars,” Baggett added.
The dead included at least three off-duty police officers from various departments who were attending the concert, authorities said. Two on-duty officers were wounded, one critically, police said.
A woman is moved outside the Tropicana during the active shooting situation in Las Vegas. PHOTO/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement: “The loss of life in Las Vegas is profoundly horrifying. Innocent people went out for an evening of fun and walked into a nightmare that defies our ability to understand or express sorrow in words.
Our hearts are heavy today — and our thoughts are with the victims of this senseless attack, their loved ones, Mayor Goodman, and all of our friends in that great city. My prayer is that they find healing, recovery, and strength in this moment of indescribable pain.”
President Donald Trump tweeted about the shooting early Monday. “My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting,” he said. “God bless you!”
First Lady Melania Trump also took to Twitter to say her “heart and prayers goes out to victims, families & loved ones!” Vice President Mike Pence also offered his and wife Karen’s condolences and sympathies, adding: “To the courageous first responders, thank you for your acts of bravery.”
Later on Monday morning, Trump, who will travel to Las Vegas on Wednesday, addressed the nation in a somber, stern and spiritual speech from the White House where he credited the speed of the first responders and stressed unity among Americans.
“It was an act of pure evil,” Trump said. “We are joined together today in sadness, shock and grief… Our unity cannot be shattered by evil, our bonds cannot be broken by violence and though we feel such great anger at the senseless murder of fellow citizens, it is our love that defines us today and always will, forever.”
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