On October 1, Stephen Paddock locked himself into a 32nd floor suite at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas and opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival on the fairgrounds below.
In about 10 minutes, he unloaded more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, leaving 51 people dead and 851 others injured and bleeding. It was the worst mass shooting in U.S history and until this week, the motivation behind Paddock’s massacre remained unknown.
But on Wednesday, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department released 1,200 pages of police reports, witness statements, and other evidence, for the first time shedding new light on the man responsible for the shooting.
Just days before the massacre, at least two people told police that a man they believed to be Paddock ranted to them about federal government efforts to impose gun control measures. Another witness recounted how a man thought to be Paddock shared his belief that a “camp” set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was in fact “a dry run for law enforcement and military to start kickin’ down doors and … confiscating guns.”
The widespread seizure of guns by the federal government — specifically through FEMA — is a popular conspiracy theory amongst extremist gun nuts, and one that was heavily promoted by the National Rifle Association.
On the 10th anniversary of Katrina’s landfall in New Orleans, an NRA article published in the Daily Caller vastly overstated the degree to which authorities were disarming gun owners during rescue and evacuation efforts in the city. Even other pro-gun groups criticized the NRA’s portrayal of the situation as inaccurate and overblown.
One of the Las Vegas witnesses recalled Paddock telling him that “somebody has to wake up the American public and get them to arm themselves,” during a conversation less than a month before the shooting. “Sometimes sacrifices have to be made.”
Others shared similarly unnerving encounters with the shooter. A woman overheard a man she later identified as Paddock talking belligerently about past anti-government standoffs in Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, three days before the shooting. A Mandalay Bay housekeeper recalled how Paddock sat at a table and stared at her while she cleaned his room. And a man who rejected an offer from Paddock to modify his semi-automatic weapons to fire automatically said Paddock grew upset and launched into a tirade about gun control.
County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak told the Associated Press however, that law enforcement was able to establish no clear motive for the shooting.
The release of documents was the result of a court order, after the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department lost its fight to keep the documents sealed. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo sought to keep the documents secret because the investigation is still ongoing and he apologized to the public, stating that the release would “further traumatize a wounded community.”