Surreal silence descends on Las Vegas strip after ‘act of pure evil’

White House says now is not time for political debate on contentious gun control issue

At least 58 people were killed and more than 500 injured when a 64-year-old gunman opened fire at a Las Vegas country music festival. Video: Reuters

 

An eerie silence enveloped the central strip that runs through Las Vegas as a dazed city came to terms with the worst mass shooting in American history.

The four-mile thoroughfare – usually ablaze with fun and decadence – was deathly quiet, its neon signs and palm trees adding a surreal quality to the scene.

Just hours earlier, the brash city was transformed into a war zone, after a 64-year-old American smashed through a window on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and began shooting into a crowd attending the final day of an outdoor country music festival.

Shortly after 10pm on Sunday night, Stephen Paddock began his killing spree, pausing at one point to change weapons. But the reprieve was of little relief to his victims who ducked for cover or fled screaming into nearby buildings. At least 59 people were killed and 527 injured as casinos and hotels became makeshift hospitals, and some ran to the airport nearby, desperate to escape.

As the identities of some of the dozens killed began to emerge, the mayor of Las Vegas, Carolyn Goodman, made an appeal for blood donations, as hospitals around the city tended to the wounded.

Smashed window

Outside the Mandalay Bay hotel, police had cordoned off the vicinity, but the smashed window on the 32nd floor from where Paddock launched his attack was plainly visible across the city. Across the road, the wide expanse of land where 22,000 people had been enjoying the Route 91 Harvest Festival, was now a crime scene.

Spencer and Charlotte, friends from London, were in their room in the Luxor Hotel just north of the Mandalay when the shooting erupted.

“I heard the shots clearly, but I wasn’t sure what was happening. The next thing there was a roar of people heading towards our hotel and away from the grounds. We were put on lockdown.”

A request for blood donations sign and a condolences sign on various hotels near the scene of a mass shooting at the Route 91 Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters
A request for blood donations sign and a condolences sign on various hotels near the scene of a mass shooting at the Route 91 Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

They arrived in Las Vegas on Saturday and are due to leave tomorrow for Mexico. Although Virgin Airline contacted them offering a change in flight, they’ve decided to stay. “It’s surreal; it’s literally silent everywhere, most people have left.”

Earlier in the day, US president Donald Trump addressed the nation from the White House, describing the attack as “an act of pure evil.” He will visit here tomorrow.

“We cannot fathom their pain. We cannot imagine their loss. To the families of the victims: We are praying for you and we are here for you,” he said.

Politically-charged issue

But as families mourned and desperately searched for loved ones, almost immediately a wider debate began, as the politically-charged issue of gun control once again moved centre-stage.

Paddock, who shot himself dead before Swat teams beat down his hotel room door, was found with at least nineteen weapons by his side.

Cowboy boots on the street outside the concert venue. Photograph: Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun/Reuters
Cowboy boots on the street outside the concert venue. Photograph: Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun/Reuters

The state of Nevada has some of the most relaxed gun control laws in the country – there are no limits to the number of guns individuals are permitted to possess, including machine guns.

But with Republicans controlling Congress there was little hope of advancing gun control measures. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said now was not the time to debate gun control.

“There is a time and place for a political debate but this is a time to unite as a country,” she said.

Sunday’s attack was the biggest mass shooting in American history, and the first major attack since a gunman opened fire in the Pulse nightclub in Florida last year, killing 49 people. As police raided Paddock’s home in Nevada, they began piecing together a picture of the man who brought carnage to the heart of Las Vegas.

Paddock, was a high-stake gambler, regularly visiting the city. An accountant, who also had real estate interests, his father was a bank robber who was once on the FBI’s most wanted list.

Mr Paddock’s brother Eric expressed shock at the news. “He’s just a guy who played video poker and took cruises and ate burritos at Taco Bell. There’s no political affiliation that we know of. There’s no religious affiliation that we know of.”