TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - A retiree armed with multiple assault rifles strafed an outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas from a high-rise hotel window on Sunday, slaughtering at least 59 people before killing himself in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
The barrage of gunfire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel into a crowd of 22,000 people came in extended bursts that lasted several minutes, as throngs of terrified music fans cowered desperately on the open ground, hemmed in by fellow concert-goers, while others at the edge tried to flee.
More than 525 people were injured - some by gunfire or shrapnel, some trampled - in the pandemonium adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip as police scrambled to locate the assailant.
Police identified the gunman as Stephen Paddock, 64, who lived in a retirement community in Mesquite, Nevada. Authorities said they believed he acted alone, although his motive was unknown.
The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the massacre, but U.S. officials said there was no evidence to support the claim.
At least a dozen people were in critical condition at University Medical Center in Las Vegas, where the most seriously injured victims were taken, a spokeswoman said.
The preliminary death toll, which officials said could rise, surpassed last year’s record massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, by a gunman who pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
The dead in Las Vegas included a nurse, a government employee and an off-duty police officer.
Shocked survivors, some with blood on their clothing, wandered streets after the shooting, where the flashing lights of the city’s gaudy casinos blended with those of emergency vehicles.
Police said Paddock had no criminal record. The gunman shot and wounded a hotel security officer in the leg through the door of his suite then killed himself before police entered the room, authorities said.
“We have no idea what his belief system was,” Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters. “I can’t get into the mind of a psychopath.”
Federal officials said there was no evidence to link Paddock to militant organizations.
“We have determined to this point no connection with an international terrorist group,” Aaron Rouse, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) field office in Las Vegas, told reporters.
CIA spokesman Jonathan Liu said in a separate email: “We advise caution on jumping to conclusions before the facts are in.”
Police said 23 guns were found in the room where Paddock killed himself, some of them assault-style rifles with scopes and some that appeared to have been modified in an attempt to convert them into machine guns.
Lombardo said the gunman smashed the windows from which he fired in the two-room hotel suite where he had been staying since Thursday. More than 10 suitcases were in the suite.
Lombardo said a search of the suspect’s car turned up a supply of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer compound that can be used in explosives. It was used in the 1995 truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people.
Police found another 19 firearms, some explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition at Paddock’s home in Mesquite, about 90 miles (145 km) northeast of Las Vegas, along with “some electronic devices that we are evaluating at this time,” Lombardo told reporters.
Police obtained a warrant to search a second house connected to Paddock in Reno, Nevada, more than 400 miles (644 km) northwest of Las Vegas, Assistant Sheriff Todd Fasulo later told reporters.
Chris Sullivan, the owner of the Guns & Guitars gun shop in Mesquite, issued a statement confirming that Paddock was a customer who cleared “all necessary background checks and procedures,” and said his business was cooperating with investigators.
“He never gave any indication or reason to believe he was unstable or unfit at any time,” Sullivan said. He did not say how many or the kinds of weapons Paddock purchased there.