Lingering questions surround Las Vegas shooting

2017-10-19-mandalay
Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

It has been nearly three weeks since the horrific Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed more than 50 people and injured hundreds, yet key questions about the incident remain unanswered.

After canceling several interviews and going missing for several days, Jesus Campos, the security guard allegedly shot by alleged lone gunman Stephen Paddock, reappeared Oct. 18 for an interview with, of all people, Ellen DeGeneres, who has close ties to MGM Resorts International, owner of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino where Paddock was staying. It’s since been reported that MGM “warned” Campos about doing interviews and  “pressured” him to appear only on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and not on other more formal news programs “in order to avoid hard hitting questions.” A judge has also reportedly granted an order barring MGM from destroying evidence related to the shooting.

Seemingly putting words in Campos’s mouth, DeGeneres said at one point in the interview that “you’re talking about (the shooting) now, and then you’re not going to talk about it again.” Yet despite the strong implication that we won’t be hearing anything more from Campos, his interview with DeGeneres did little to clear up the public’s confusion about the details of what happened during the Oct. 1 shooting.

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Jesus Campos, left, is interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres.

In his interview with DeGeneres, Campos mentions that in attempting to respond to an open door alarm, and after finding a stairway door blocked at the 32nd floor of the hotel and going around another way to see what was blocking it, he heard what he assumed to be “drilling sounds” of a construction crew working in the area, but which he seems to say were actually gunshots, before he was ever shot, although the exact wording of the exchange is a bit confusing.

“They were gunshots but you thought it was just drilling sounds?” DeGeneres asks Campos for clarification.

“At first I think it was just drilling sounds,” Campos responds.

“Right,” DeGeneres interjects, before switching the subject and asking Campos for more details about how he got shot.

Considering that Paddock reportedly installed at least one metal bracket to keep the stairway door closed, it’s entirely conceivable that at some point shortly before the shooting began he would’ve actually been using an electric drill, although that presumably would’ve had to have happened while Campos was on the other side of the stairway door, unless he perhaps interrupted Paddock screwing the door shut. Earlier reports suggested Campos may have in fact interrupted Paddock’s activities as they were ongoing — but the suggestion was that Campos arrived in the middle of the shooting, not in the middle of Paddock barricading the door.

01
Alleged Las Vegas lone gunman Stephen Paddock.

Campos goes on to describe how, after calling in to maintenance about the barricaded stairway door, he heard “rapid fire” as he began to move down the hallway, seeming to say he believes either his movement or a second door (the open door that triggered the alarm he was responding to) closing behind him (it’s not entirely clear which) was what caught the shooter’s attention, and he then realized he’d been shot in the leg by a bullet that came through the door of Paddock’s hotel suite.

Stephen Schuck, meanwhile, whose name did not become widely associated with the Las Vegas shooting until over a week afterwards, who appeared alongside Campos in the interview and has been described as a maintenance engineer, said he came from a higher floor of the hotel to investigate a call from Campos about a blocked door, before hearing what he first thought was a jackhammer, then realized was gunfire. He credits Campos with saving his life, and the interview concludes with DeGeneres rewarding both Campos and Schuck for their bravery with NFL tickets.

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Stephen Schuck, left, appeared alongside Jesus Campos on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

While the interview has a vaguely coherent appearance, complete with a 3-D diagram of the hotel floor that DeGeneres references with a pointer, in the broader context of what we’ve been told so far it brings up even more questions about the shifting narrative of the shooting.

If the “drilling sounds” Campos heard before he was shot through the hotel room door, and before he’d even realized a shooting was going on or had reason to believe the shooter had noticed him, were in fact gunshots, that means the shooter was already firing — presumably into the crowd below at the Route 91 Harvest music festival — right around the time Campos showed up on the 32nd floor, or at least at some point before he was shot. This contradicts at least one previous timeline we’ve been given, but this may come as no surprise, as the timeline has shifted several times.

Last Friday, it was reported that police believed Paddock shot Campos at “about the same time he began to spray bullets on a country music concert below.” MGM has stated the gunman was firing at the crowd “at the same time as, or within 40 seconds after” shooting Campos, and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo also said Oct. 13 that he agreed with that statement.

While the Campos interview suggests he may have actually interrupted the shooting as it was ongoing, one previous timeline before last week’s shift had indicated that the shooting at the concert began a full six minutes after Campos was shot. Before that, authorities had said that most of the shooting had already occurred prior to Campos getting shot towards the end of it, at approximately 10:14 p.m. There now seems to be general agreement that the shooting into the crowd started at 10:05, continued for about ten minutes and then stopped, and that police arrived outside Paddock’s suite at 10:17, though they didn’t breach the room for over an hour.

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Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, left, speaks at an Oct. 13 press conference alongside Aaron Rouse, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Las Vegas Division. 

In announcing the change to the official timeline Oct. 13, however, Sheriff Lombardo said that he also stood by the original time of 9:59. “It wasn’t inaccurate when I provided it to you,” he said. “The circumstances associated with it is inaccurate.”

In that press conference, Lombardo went on to describe a scenario in which Campos responded to an open door alarm and at 9:59 found the door leading from a stairway to the 32nd floor blocked (but apparently did not call anyone about it), at which point he had to go up to the next floor and around and back down to reach the 32nd floor, and only once he’d arrived there, seen the way the stairway door was blocked, and finally been shot, approximately six minutes after first encountering the blocked door, did he call security at 10:05 to tell them so. Lombardo did not mention Stephen Schuck at all, including when he was called or what he was doing at the time, or when Schuck made his own call to security.

Yet in the Ellen DeGeneres interview, Campos states that after arriving on the 32nd floor, dealing with the open door alarm, and seeing the way the stairway door was blocked and hearing what he thought were “drilling sounds,” apparently just moments before getting shot he was “calling security dispatch to get transferred to engineering,” which then dispatched Schuck to check on the blocked door. Campos then apparently realized the “drilling sounds” were gunfire when he got shot through the hotel room door moments later and made another two calls to security, one on his radio and one on his cellphone.

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Stephen Schuck appears on NBC’s Today Show, Oct. 11, 2017.

“The lack of answers, especially about the timeline, seems all the more curious when, it would appear, many moments in the shooter’s dayslong preparation — and the actual assault — were captured by hotel video surveillance or by cameras the gunman himself installed in his suite and hallway outside,” CNN reporters Ralph Ellis and Nicole Chavez wrote last week. That remains the case today. If Paddock were alive and awaiting trial, withholding evidence of what happened at Mandalay Bay from the public, such as surveillance camera footage, would make much more sense than it does in the current circumstances.

The latest changes to the official narrative of the Las Vegas shooting, based on the Campos interview, further muddy the waters, but are perhaps not even the most troubling developments to emerge so far. On Oct. 6, several days after the shooting, for example, NBC News reported that investigators were “trying to determine whether someone else was in the Las Vegas gunman’s hotel room while he was registered there,” noting that they were “puzzled by two discoveries: First, a phone charger was found that does not match any of the cellphones that belonged to the gunman, Stephen Paddock. And second, garage records show that during a period when Paddock’s car left the hotel garage, one of his key cards was used to get into his room.”

Within just minutes of publication of the original NBC story, however, the Los Angeles Times posted an article disputing it. The L.A. Times story quoted Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Undersheriff Kevin McMahill as saying investigators “do not believe” anyone used Paddock’s key card to access his room while his car was away from the hotel (though McMahill also reportedly said investigators had “looked at everything, literally” — a statement that was obviously untrue given subsequent narrative shifts and the fact that McMahill apparently asked for the public’s help in learning more about Paddock’s activities in essentially the very same breath).

Within a few hours, NBC had updated its story, changing the headline, omitting any reference to a key card or the hotel garage, and writing that the police had matched the mysterious phone charger with one of Paddock’s multiple cellphones. According to an ABC News article published late the following day, however, authorities were “still trying to assess whether the phone charger that doesn’t fit Paddock’s phone found in the hotel room is of significance.”

Adding to the confusion and conspiracy theories surrounding the massacre is the fact that Kymberley Suchomel, a 28-year-old witness and survivor of the shooting who claimed there were multiple shooters at the concert and posted a detailed account that contradicts the official story on Facebook, died unexpectedly just over a week after the shooting.

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An excerpt from Kymberley Suchomel’s Facebook post.

And then there are the lingering questions about the alleged lone gunman himself, Stephen Paddock. Some of the first details to emerge about Paddock in the days after the shooting included that he had previously worked as an agent for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), for an obscure accounting bureau within the military (where accounting is notoriously lax) called the Defense Contract Audit Agency, and for a predecessor company to Lockheed Martin, America’s largest defense contractor, although Lockheed would not tell the New York Times which predecessor.

While Paddock has also been described as a “real estate investor,” for the most part mainstream media seem to be going with the story that he made millions playing video poker, which given the odds of Vegas casino games and Paddock’s unusual background, seems hard to believe. Laundering money in Las Vegas may be harder than it used to be, but it nonetheless still goes on. If anyone potentially had the knowledge of the system and the personal connections needed to successfully pull it off, former IRS agent and government contract auditor Stephen Paddock seems to fit the profile.

Nor has the presence of 23 firearms at the scene of the shooting and 19 more at Paddock’s house, or the fact that he had a pilot’s license and owned two planes, been enough to get the mainstream media to seriously consider the “conspiracy theories” alleging that he may have been involved in trafficking arms or other contraband. Yet a report from Radar Online seems to suggest that Paddock’s federal government employment history, including perhaps some undisclosed work as a pilot, may have contributed to his mysterious motive.

According to that report the jet fuel tanks which, in addition to concertgoers, Paddock not only reportedly fired at, but targeted with incendiary rounds, located at the nearby McCarran International Airport, were adjacent to the terminal for a secretive Air Force-owned airline known as JANET. (“The joke is that the acronym stands for Just Another Non-Existent Terminal,” an anonymous law enforcement source told the publication). “The airline is most commonly used by the U.S. government to ferry military and government VIPs, and contractors between Las Vegas and Area 51, the super secret base where the military is believed to test experimental weapons and aircraft,” according to the report.

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In addition to concertgoers, Stephen Paddock also reportedly targeted nearby jet fuel tanks.

As a clear motive for the shooting remains elusive, meanwhile, one of the most bizarre elements of the case is the claim by the Islamic State extremist group, otherwise known as ISIS, that Paddock carried out the attack on its behalf. While the FBI quickly disputed the claim, the terrorist group nonetheless doubled down on its assertion in subsequent days, saying Paddock, who it called Abu Abdul Barr al-Amriki and who reportedly traveled to the Middle East multiple times, had converted to Islam six months prior to the attack.

Other elements of the Oct. 1 incident that have not been sufficiently explained include the presence of explosives — ammonium nitrate and Tannerite — in Paddock’s vehicle at the casino. It’s also unclear what role these explosives may have played in some broader scheme that didn’t unfold as planned, or why someone planning a massacre, with 23 guns in their hotel room and explosives in their car parked in the garage, would risk making two calls to casino security to make noise complaints the night before their planned shooting, as Paddock reportedly did.

Perhaps, as time goes on, government authorities and the media will provide us with some coherent explanations for the many discrepancies in the official narrative of what happened earlier this month in Las Vegas. If current trends continue, though, as we find out additional details, we may find ourselves left with more questions than answers.

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