LAS VEGAS — Some said it sounded like fireworks — a rapid pop-pop, pop-pop-pop that suddenly interrupted country star Jason Aldean during his set at the Route 91 Harvest Festival here along the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip. But near the back of the crowd on Sunday night, Kevin, a veteran police officer from Southern California, recognized the sound almost instantly.
“Someone was shooting,” he recalled. “I couldn’t see who it was or where it was coming from. But I knew that sound.”
Kevin, who declined to give his last name, grabbed his wife’s hand and began to rush her toward a back exit, and as he did, the popping stopped. A few feet away, he heard another concertgoer suggest the sound was just a malfunctioning amp. “I yelled ‘No, it’s not! Run!’ And just as I gotten the words out, you could hear the bullets start to ricochet again,” he said.
As the gunfire continued, Kevin and his wife ran north, joining a stampede of others at the show fleeing for their lives. They ultimately ended up taking cover in a parking lot adjacent to the Hooters Casino, a few blocks away. Aside from a few scratches, the couple was mostly unscathed. But others he knew weren’t so lucky. A fellow cop had been at the show with his brother, who had been hit in the arm by gunfire.
“Right next to him, he’s hit,” Kevin recalled Monday. “He going to be OK, but it was a close call.”
As Kevin spoke, he stood on a ramp outside the Luxor Casino, which offered a prime view of the Mandalay Bay Casino and Resort, where police say accused shooter Stephen Paddock, acting alone, rained bullets down on an estimated 22,000 concertgoers, killing at least 58 and injuring more than 500 in the most deadly shooting in modern U.S. history.
Though he and his wife were staying at another casino down the Strip, Kevin had returned to see for himself the spot where police say Paddock busted out two windows of his 32nd floor suite and began firing on people more than a thousand feet away.
According to the Las Vegas Police Department, Paddock, who was 64, shot and killed himself when law enforcement stormed his room after the shooting. They found an arsenal of 23 weapons in the suite, including high-powered rifles, according to the LVPD, and police recovered another 19 at his home in Mesquite, Nev., about an hour away.
What they didn’t find, so far, is a motive. Aiming his phone toward the shattered windows of Paddock’s Mandalay Bay suite, Kevin took a photo and then stared across the street to the concert venue he had escaped. He shook his head. “We’re OK. Everything’s going to be OK,” he said, his voice wavering a bit. “But you wonder why. Why would someone do it?”
And that was the question for many Monday as they made the journey to the south side of the Las Vegas Strip, which on any other day is busy at all hours. But along Las Vegas Boulevard near Mandalay Bay, it was eerily still and quiet, the street still closed as investigators removed bodies and combed the scene for clues.
Many walked to Mandalay Bay, or within blocks of it, to peer up at the 32nd floor, where as darkness fell, the shadows of investigators could be seen moving around Paddock’s hotel suite. Hundreds of feet below, the curious stood quietly and stared up, some taking photos. One man, after looking up, turned and dropped to his knees on the Mandalay Bay driveway, which was cordoned off by crime scene tape. He kneeled for several minutes before walking away.
But there were aspects of the surreal. On the driveway, where people appeared to have abandoned their cars in the middle of the road and walked away, speakers pumped out the casino’s usual soundtrack of loud, energetic pop music, including Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. The casino had reopened earlier Monday and it grew increasingly busy inside as gamblers slowly returned to the slots and card tables.
Attendees of a technology conference in the hotel’s convention area brushed passed law enforcement wearing FBI hats and shirts on the ground floor to pack the casino’s bars and restaurants, where loud music blared and all the televisions played sports. The scene gave no hint of the historic killing spree that had originated in a hotel room 32 stories above in the same building.
The only indication of something amiss was a large sign that eventually popped up in the casino, pointing guests to where they could receive “counseling services” if they needed them.
Still, small groups continued to gather in the driveway to look up at the northeast corner of the building to stare at the windows where police say Paddock rained down terror on unsuspecting concertgoers. Some quietly debated his motives. One woman whispered that she would never really feel safe again.
“I am scared to death of ISIS and people like that coming here,” she told the group. “But what if it’s someone in your own backyard?
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