Las Vegas shooting: What was Stephen Paddock’s motive?
“Everyone has three lives,” Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez once posited. “A public life, a private life and a secret life.”
It remains unclear whether a secret life led Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old wealthy, retired accountant with a penchant for gambling, to open fire on a Las Vegas music festival crowd and kill 58 people and injure 500 others before turning the gun on himself.
Police are continuing to search for clues on what would trigger him to commit the deadliest US shooting in recent history.
“My hunch is there is a secret life here that will eventually be uncovered,” said J Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist at the University of California at San Diego who researches mass shootings.
Though the suspect appeared to show no red flags about his intentions, Paddock had been quietly stockpiling 33 high-powered weapons – which included assault rifles and explosives – over the past 13 months. He spent decades acquiring guns and ammunition, police said.
Paddock’s family and friends appeared puzzled by the attack, with his girlfriend, Marilou Danley, describing him as “a kind, caring, quiet man”, while his brother, Eric Paddock, told reporters that he was stunned.
- What do we know about Marilou Danley?
But Mr Meloy said there are several warning behaviours that signal whether an individual might be capable of committing such a crime.
One such behaviour pattern Paddock demonstrated is pathway, or engaging in research, planning and preparation for an act of violence.
At least 23 guns – 12 of which were equipped with bump-stocks, or rapid fire devices – were found inside Paddock’s Mandalay Bay hotel room while he also set up cameras both inside and outside the suite.
Paddock also wired $100,000 (£75,400) to his girlfriend while she was in the Philippines and instructed her to buy a house with the cash, removing her from the final stages of his plan.
- Paddock: A high-roller and ‘psychopath’
- Who are the victims?
But Paddock did not appear to show other behavioural patterns typical of perpetrators, Mr Meloy said, including fixation on a person or issue, identification with a previous attacker or as a soldier for a particular cause, or acting out in novel aggression, testing his ability to become violent.
However, that may change as the investigation unfolds, he said.
The retiree’s age also appears to stand out among previous active shooters, which typically range from 15-19 years old and the 35-44 age group, according to a New York Police Department Active Shooter report released last year.
Adam Lankford, a University of Alabama criminologist and researcher who tracks global mass shootings, said individuals who carry out such crimes tend to have suicidal motives or appear indifferent to life or death, perceive themselves as victims or seek attention and fame.
Mr Lankford warned that without explicit statements from Paddock about his reasons for the attack, determining a motive is mostly speculation.
But he pointed out Paddock filed a negligence lawsuit against the owner of The Cosmopolitan resort and casino in Las Vegas in 2012, alleging he “slipped and fell on an obstruction on the floor” that cost him $30,600 in medical expenses. The casino’s owner disputed the claims and the lawsuit was dropped in 2014, court records show.
That could have been an incident of perceived victimisation, Mr Lankford suggested.