LAS VEGAS, Oct 5 — President Donald Trump declared the United States “a nation in mourning” yesterday, as he travelled to Las Vegas to meet survivors of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
Eulogising parents and spouses who “used their own bodies to protect their loved ones,” from a ballistic onslaught that left 58 dead and more than 500 injured, Trump visited with survivors and first responders.
Trump toured the Las Vegas Police Department Command Centre and the city’s University Medical Centre, where he met, among others, officer Tyler Peterson who was injured while responding to the shooting.
“In the months ahead, we will all have to wrestle with the horror that unfolded this week, but we will struggle through it together,” the president said.
Air Force One touched down at McCarran International Airport as the FBI was questioning the girlfriend of gunman Stephen Paddock for clues to what drove him to mass murder.
Marilou Danley, 62, returned to the United States from the Philippines late Tuesday and was met by FBI agents waiting to hear whatever she might know about the motive for the Sunday night massacre.
Although the FBI was eager to talk to her, Danley is not in custody — she is classified as a “person of interest” to investigators — and is free to go wherever she wants, US media reported.
An Australian citizen who moved to the United States 20 years ago to work on the casino strip, Danley was out of the country when Paddock opened fire from a 32nd floor hotel room at a sea of concertgoers below on the Las Vegas Strip.
Investigators are looking into reports that while she was in the Philippines, Paddock wired her US$100,000 (RM422,750).
US authorities have been at a loss as to how a 64-year-old gambler and retired accountant hauled a vast arsenal of weapons to his hotel room and launched his assault.
Investigators say the shooting appeared to be extensively planned: Paddock set up one camera in the peephole of his hotel room door and two in the hallway.
“I anticipate he was looking for anybody coming to take him into custody,” said Sheriff Joe Lombardo.
47 firearms seized
Meanwhile, as the victims’ harrowing stories emerged in the media, America once again grappled with calls for reforms to its permissive firearm control laws.
Trump largely stuck to a talking point repeated by dozens upon dozens of Republican officials: “Well, we’re not going to talk about that today. We won’t talk about that.”
US officials have reacted cautiously to a claim by the Islamic State jihadist group that the shooter had carried out Sunday night’s massacre on its behalf.
Authorities said Paddock, who had no criminal record, smashed windows in his hotel room shortly after 10pm on Sunday and rained fire on a crowd of some 22,000 attending a country music concert below.
When a SWAT team stormed the room where Paddock had been staying since September 28, they found he had killed himself.
Authorities have seized 47 firearms from three locations.
‘Mind of a psychopath’
So far, investigators have found nothing to explain Paddock’s actions, but were continuing to hunt and trace every possible clue about a gunman they described as a “psychopath.”
Trump confirmed that no motive had yet been found. “I can tell you, it’s a very sick man. He was a very demented person,” he said.
Details have gradually emerged about some of the victims — a kindergarten teacher from California who had married her childhood sweetheart, a Tennessee nurse, a high-school secretary from New Mexico.
Stories of heroism also surfaced. Bruce Ure, deputy police chief of the small Texas city of Seguin, was in the concert’s VIP section when the gunfire broke out.
He sheltered from the bullets between two buses, then tended to three strangers who had been shot, loading them into a passing car and riding with them to hospital.
“They were all crying, and I was too,” he told AFP. “They were saying that ‘We’re going to die, we’re going to die,’ and I still remember telling them: ‘Not tonight, not tonight. Tonight’s not your night. You’re going to be ok.’ Because I truly believed it.”
While the White House has rebuffed calls to reopen the fraught US debate on gun control, Congress did shelve a controversial plan to make it easier to purchase gun silencers and make it more difficult to classify certain ammunition as “armour piercing.”
‘Two doors from a lunatic’
According to his brother, Paddock was a high-stakes gambler and their bank-robber father was once on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.
But Eric Paddock said his brother had led an otherwise normal life.
“He liked to play video poker. He went on cruises. He sent his mother cookies,” he said.
Paddock’s neighbours in Mesquite, Nevada, 80 miles (130 kilometres) northeast of Las Vegas, were similarly dumbfounded to discover the killer lived in their midst.
“It just blew me away,” said Rod Sweningson. “We’ve never even thought about locking our doors. We didn’t know we lived two doors down from a lunatic.”
The Las Vegas attack is the deadliest shooting in recent US history, surpassing the toll of 49 dead in an attack on a Florida nightclub in June 2016. — AFP