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Las Vegas police end investigation into massacre without ‘definitively’ determining what motivated the gunman

A makeshift memorial erected in October after the Las Vegas massacre. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)
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Nearly a year after a gunman in Las Vegas carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, police say they have concluded their investigation without being able to determine what motivated the massacre.

The Las Vegas police announced this on Friday, just two months before the first anniversary of the Oct. 1, 2017, attack that killed 58 people and injured hundreds more at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. Officials said Stephen Paddock fired from his 32nd-floor suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino for more than 10 minutes before eventually turning one of his guns on himself.

In a 181-page report released Friday, police said that while searching for a possible motivation they scoured the gunman’s financial history, explored his movements and actions leading up to the shooting and spoke with his girlfriend, ex-wife, other relatives and his doctor. After all of that, though, they were still unable to answer the pivotal question that has lingered since the carnage.

“What we have not been able to definitively answer is why Stephen Paddock committed this act,” Sheriff Joe Lombardo said at a news briefing before the report was made public.

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Even in a country periodically scarred by shootings in schools, movie theaters, churches and offices, the scale of what happened in Las Vegas remains staggering. Police said that in addition to those killed that night, another 869 people were physically injured, nearly half of them hurt by gunshots or shrapnel. Scores of other people in the crowd of 22,000 are enduring psychological scars after witnessing such devastation.

The report includes details about the gunman’s financial status, noting that an FBI analysis found that the amounts in his 14 bank accounts dropped before the shooting. In September 2015, he had just shy of $2.1 million in his back accounts, a total that declined to $530,000 in September 2017, the report said.

He had paid considerable amounts to casinos and credit card companies and, while his girlfriend was abroad before and during the massacre, wired $150,000 into her account, investigators found. One of his last checks — for more than $13,000 — was written to the Internal Revenue Service, where the gunman had worked for a time.

Lombardo called the gunman “an unremarkable man” who left behind only enough information for people to make educated guesses as to what drove him. Investigators found that many people described the 64-year-old “as a narcissist [who] only cared about himself,” the report said. One of the gunman’s brothers said he had mental health issues. His girlfriend said the gunman claimed he was told by doctors he had a chemical imbalance and also complained doctors couldn’t cure him. The report quotes the gunman’s doctor as saying he was “odd,” may have had bipolar disorder and accepted prescriptions for anxiety medication but refused anti-depressants.

His girlfriend, who returned to the United States after the attack, was interviewed by investigators upon her return and said the gunman did not talk about gun control or express any racial bias. She also said he did not discuss politics besides saying he was unhappy with the Obama administration “and was happy when President Trump was elected,” believing he would “do something to stop illegal immigration,” the report stated. No other reference to politics is made in the police report.

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While investigators were unable to determine a motive, they did find “certain indicators of intent shown by Paddock,” the report concluded.

Among those were his reservations for a hotel in Chicago overlooking the Lollapalooza music festival and a reservation during another open-air music festival in downtown Las Vegas. His girlfriend also noted that during a September 2017 stay in the Mandalay Bay, he was “constantly looking out the windows of the room” overlooking another concert venue. His Internet search history showed that he had explored open-air concert venues and Las Vegas SWAT tactics. (Officials also said they found “several hundred images of child pornography” on his computer and that the investigation into the source of those is ongoing.)

Lombardo described the report as final, though he later referred to it as a “living document” and said new information could arise. He also reiterated that police believe the gunman acted alone and said that they do not anticipate charging anyone else.

The FBI, which took the lead in collecting evidence and provided other support to the investigation, also plans to issue its own report discussing the gunman’s psychopathology, Lombardo said. A spokeswoman for the bureau said that report is set to be released later this year.

Police have said before they did not know what motivated the gunman, though at those times the investigation was ongoing. Authorities have said the gunman spent considerable time preparing for the attack, amassing weapons and ammunition, and sought “to thwart the eventual law enforcement investigation” that would follow.

While many rampage attackers give some explanations for their violence, the gunman in Las Vegas left behind no manifesto or suicide note, authorities said. This lack of an answer can gnaw at those who survive such violence, said Megan Greene, who survived the Las Vegas attack.

“Not knowing is probably the worst part of all of it,” Greene said in an interview earlier this year. “The big question is just why, and not having that answer just keeps you in this constant loop of questioning all of the actions of that day.”

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Before releasing the report Friday, the Las Vegas police also made public waves of documents, video clips and audio files relating to the shooting in response to a lawsuit filed by media organizations.

These materials have included body camera footage from officers who entered the gunman’s hotel suite to find him dead, shocked accounts from police responding to the shooting and horrified stories from people who survived.

Nearly a year later, the shooting continues to reverberate through the lives of those who survived and many others who were affected. Part of that is playing out in legal proceedings, as MGM Resorts International, which owns the hotel, filed lawsuits against more than 1,000 survivors to argue that it should not face any liability for the attack.

The wounds they carry: The aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre

As part of the lawsuit, the company is arguing that the shooting should be considered a terrorist attack, which could bolster its case that a federal law passed after the 9/11 attacks should limit its liability.

The Las Vegas police report issued on Friday said that investigators found “no evidence of radicalization or ideology to support any theory that Paddock supported or followed any hate group or any domestic or foreign terrorist organization.” Lombardo, the sheriff, said he recognizes that determining whether the shooting was terrorism depends on what definition a person uses. He also added that he had come to his own conclusion.

“I would personally call it a terrorist act,” he said.

This report, first published at 1:15 p.m., has been updated.

Further reading:

Las Vegas gunman methodically sought to ‘thwart’ investigation of massacre, FBI says

‘The club no one wants to join.’ Mass-shooting survivors find solace in one another.

Vegas shooter’s rampage came from a place central to his lifestyle: A casino