LAS VEGAS — The rapid-fire popping sounded like firecrackers at first, and many in the crowd of 22,000 country music fans didn’t understand what was happening when the band stopped playing and singer Jason Aldean hustled off stage.
“That’s gunshots,” a man could be heard saying emphatically on a cellphone video in the nearly half-minute of silence and confusion that followed. A woman pleaded with others: “Get down! Get down! Stay down!”
Then the pop-pop-pop noise resumed. And pure terror set in.
“People start screaming and yelling and we start running,” said Andrew Akiyoshi, who provided the cellphone video to The Associated Press. “You could feel the panic. You could feel like the bullets were flying above us. Everybody’s ducking down, running low to the ground.”
While some concertgoers hit the ground Sunday night, others pushed for the crowded exits, shoving through narrow gates and climbing over fences as 40- to 50-round bursts of fire rained down on them from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino hotel.
By Monday afternoon, 59 victims were dead and 527 injured in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a declaration of emergency and medical disaster for southern Nevada in the wake of the mass shooting Monday.
The medical disaster declaration temporarily suspends all statutes and rules to allow health professionals licensed in other states to practice in Nevada to help with the public health response.
The gunman, identified as Stephen Craig Paddock, a 64-year-old retired accountant from Mesquite, killed himself before officers stormed Room 135 in the gold-colored glass skyscraper.
The brother of Paddock said he’s “completely dumbfounded” by the shooting at a country music concert Sunday night, the deadliest in modern U.S. history. Eric Paddock told the Orlando Sentinel newspaper that he can’t understand what happened.
Paddock had no connection to an international terrorist group, the FBI said Monday. The announcement from Aaron Rouse, special agent in charge in Las Vegas, comes after the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack without providing evidence.
Paddock is listed as the owner of a residential property in the 1700 block of Del Webb Parkway West, according to Washoe County Assessor property data. He had owned the 1,410-square-foot home since June 2013.
Nevada authorities say they believe Paddock acted alone and 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 a 62-year-old woman, police said. Authorities said they don’t believe she was involved and was out of the country at the time of the shooting but they wanted to speak to her when she returned.
The avid gambler who according to his brother made a small fortune investing in real estate had been staying there since Thursday and had busted out windows to create his sniper’s perch roughly 500 yards from the concert grounds.
The motive for the attack remained a mystery, with Sheriff Joseph Lombardo saying: “I can’t get into the mind of a psychopath at this point.”
Paddock had 23 guns — some with scopes — in his hotel room, authorities said. They found two gun stocks that allow the shooter to replicate fully automatic fire, and are investigating whether weapons used in the massacre had those modifications, according to a U.S. official briefed by law enforcement who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still unfolding.
At Paddock’s home, authorities found 19 more guns, explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Also, several pounds of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be turned into explosives such as those used in the 1995 Oklahoma bombing, were in his car, the sheriff said.
The FBI said it found nothing so far to suggest the attack was connected to international terrorism, despite a claim of responsibility from the Islamic State group, which said Paddock was a “soldier” who had recently converted to Islam.
In an address to the country, President Donald Trump called the bloodbath “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.
With hospitals jammed with victims, 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.
More than 12 hours after the massacre, bodies covered in white sheets were still being removed from the festival grounds.
The shooting began at 10:07 p.m., and the gunman appeared to fire unhindered for more than 10 minutes, according to radio traffic. Police frantically tried to locate him and determine whether the gunfire was coming from Mandalay Bay or the neighboring Luxor hotel.
At 10:14 p.m., an officer said on his radio that he was pinned down against a wall on Las Vegas Boulevard with 40 to 50 people.
“We can’t worry about the victims,” an officer said at 10:15 p.m. “We need to stop the shooter before we have more victims. Anybody have eyes on him ... stop the shooter.”
Near the stage, Dylan Schneider, a country singer who performed earlier in the day, huddled with others under the VIP bleachers, where he turned to his manager and asked, “Dude, what do we do?” He said he repeated the question again and again over the next five minutes.
Bodies were lying on the artificial turf installed in front of the stage, and people were screaming and crying. The sound of people running on the bleachers added to the confusion, and Schneider thought the concert was being invaded with multiple shooters.
“No one knew what to do,” Schneider said. “It’s literally running for your life and you don’t know what decision is the right one. But like I said, I knew we had to get out of there.”
He eventually pushed his way out of the crowd and found refuge in the nearby Tropicana hotel-casino, where he kicked in a door to an engineering room and spent hours there with others who followed him.
The shooting started as Aldean closed out the three-day Route 91 Harvest Festival. He had just begun the song “When She Says Baby,” and the first burst of nearly 50 shots crackled as he sang, “It’s tough just getting up.”
Muzzle flashes could be seen in the dark as the gunman fired away.
“It was the craziest stuff I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” said Kodiak Yazzie, 36. “You could hear that the noise was coming from west of us, from Mandalay Bay. You could see a flash, flash, flash, flash.”
Sandoval spoke at a press conference this morning in response to the event.
“My heart and prayers go the victims and their families and friends who were brutally killed and injured by a shocking and cowardly act of senseless violence,” he said. “This tragic and vicious attack on innocent people has claimed the lives of our fellow Americans and devastated hundreds of others who were simply enjoying a country music festival. I will be in Las Vegas this morning to meet with law enforcement, first responders and to console the victims and their families and friends. I ask that everyone take a moment to keep the people affected by this horrific tragedy in their thoughts and prayers.”
A preliminary review of police records don’t indicate that authorities had any contact with him but police are still investigating, Parrish said.
VEGAS A HUGE TARGET
Since 9/11, Nevada’s Division of Emergency Management and southern Nevada law enforcement have known the Las Vegas Strip was a huge target for terrorists and other violent attackers.
The Strip draws millions of visitors every year, many to major entertainment events such as the Route 91 concert. And with Las Vegas’s weather, many of those events are at outdoor venues that are practically impossible to protect.
Frank Siracusa, who headed emergency management after 9/11, repeatedly said the Strip was an extremely vulnerable target.
Caleb Cage, current head of DEM, agreed Monday, saying he’s aware of a Rand Corporation study dating to 2006-2007 that “definitely listed Las Vegas.” He said Vegas was ranked in the top five cities most vulnerable to an attack, “for all the reasons we are well aware of.”
For that reason, state and federal officials have funneled millions of dollars to southern Nevada in hopes of preparing for any attack. But when it happened, the evidence so far says it wasn’t an Islamic radical on a suicide mission. Investigators say it was a 64 year old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, who had no known affiliations with terrorists and no criminal record.
Local law enforcement are sending their support to the city of Las Vegas following the deadly shooting Sunday night.
Officers with the Carson City Sheriff’s Office and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office have confirmed neither has sent resources to the metropolitan area as per request of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department.
“We have extended our offer for resources and Metro said they believed they have it under control with enough resources, but will let us know if that changes,” said Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong. “Metro is trained for this type of activity and they have a great network of support and resources from Henderson, North Las Vegas and Mesquite. While we have offered our assistance I am confident in their abilities.”
Both Furlong and Douglas County Public Information Officer Bernadette Smith have confirmed none of the deceased victims were from either county.
“We mourn with everyone who lost their life down there and stand ready to support with whatever they need,” Furlong said.
And while they don’t anticipate a copy-cat shooter to come to the Nevada Capital, Furlong said they haven’t ruled out the possibility and are ready.
“We have been training for several years with active shooter scenarios and how to respond to them and our training has evolved because we take scenarios that take place around the nation,” Furlong said. “Myself as well as Fire Chief Sean Slamon have supported a rapid joint response in training so that the Fire Department is also equipped and trained for some the scenarios Las Vegas is facing.”
They however said they haven’t been made aware of a local threat in relation to the Vegas shootings.
Story by The Associated Press, Nevada Appeal staff writers Anne Knowles, Geoff Dornan and Molly Moser contributed to this report.