• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Mandalay Massacre

October 2017


Seldom, it seems, is evil the act of a deliberate nature. Hannah Arendt thought it was mostly the consequence of an equivocal bent; of a person who never actually make up his mind to be good or evil. Rather, she proposed that it was through man’s tendency to act by circumstance, and not by natural inclination, that evil comes to be.


Unlike her famous essay, “The Banality of Evil”, in whose early passages the above idea is given life, there appears to be nothing banal about what transpired in Las Vegas on Sunday night. There and then, above the Strip at eight minutes past ten, a sole gunman opened fire from his thirty-second-story hotel suite on a mass of concert-goers below. Within the span of eleven minutes, five hundred and twenty-seven people were injured, fifty-nine were killed, and one nation was, once again, forever changed. We’ll never know for sure, but Stephen Paddock—the now deceased domestic terrorist responsible for the carnage—appears to have burst a hole through Arendt’s conception, and simultaneously, through America’s soul.

We’ll never know beyond a suspicion if Paddock deliberately turned his mind toward evil when he checked into the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino with twenty-three guns this weekend past; his story falls silent with his suicide. After killing and maiming so many others, he turned his weapon upon himself and emptied its entrails with the pull of a finger. No motivation for his crime is known—nor a testament for his evil.

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Over twenty thousand people gathered Saturday evening on Las Vegas Boulevard for the Route 91 Harvest Festival’s final night. Sin City has hosted the three-day country jamboree for the past three years. This year’s weekend-long event was set to close with a finale fronted by Jason Aldean, country music’s headliner best known for his “Dirt Road Anthem” hit years ago. He was crooning toward his set piece’s coda and the night’s happy end when a rapid chorus of muffled shots rang out from above. In the moment, so harrowing to watch, it was impossible to distinguish the music from the bullets; it was a cacophony of equal parts ballistics and acoustics filling the arid sky.


Because of the volume of the music and the pyrotechnics, few reacted to the shots. The first burst was a short-lived, and it’s unclear how many in that first instance Paddock struck. When questioned later, many survivors who were in the crowd thought initially the sound was the innocuous crackle of the fireworks which were scheduled to mark the finale of the night.

All the better for Paddock; in the mind of a man hoping for as many casualties as possible, a victim’s ignorance is the assailant’s advantage. The fewer the concert-goers who knew what was happening, the more he might kill. Each moment the former remained unsuspecting provided Paddock another sitting target. The longer the crowd remained serried—standing as all do at such concerts elbow to elbow with little room to move—the greater the opportunity for “kill” shots on a massive scale. And scale, above all, was that which Paddock sought.


The music cut abruptly. Aldean and his bandmates, obviously alerted to the peril, quickly darted from the stage instruments in hand. Watching the first-hand accounts reveals people searching vertiginously where the shots were coming from. As is a slow and harrowing revelation, in unison the cameras began turning toward the Mandalay Bay hotel, a forty-three-story luxury resort abutting the concert venue. The following seconds were strikingly silent before the second wave began. At this point, there was no doubt about what was happening.


Paddock let loose a second fusillade, this one more sustained than the first, at the desperately vulnerable people below. The crowd, recognizing its now grave vulnerability, began to panic. A desperate push to find cover ensued. People crawled on hands and knees and snaked on their stomachs to escape. They behind shattered barricades and tucked and curled themselves into fetal positions as if to make themselves sparse. Those nearest the periphery were able to jump and flip over make-shift wire-fences to flee what was becoming of the carnage. During this frightful stampede to escape, many were injured.


In less than ten minutes, at a quarter past ten o’clock, Paddock had fired his final shots. The only moment interrupting his aerial assault was when he was forced to swap guns. The options available to him, we soon learned, were many. Along with his panoptic view of the ground below, whose convenience he was able to obtain by breaking out two windows in his suite, Paddock had at his disposal a full arsenal. In his possession, he had twenty-three guns—some with scopes, others with “bump-stocks”, which, as all layman have now come to understand, are simple spring-mechanisms affixed to the gun’s rear. By its application, the bump-stock transforms a semi-automatic rifle in function but not name into an automatic one.


Along with this multitude of machine guns, Paddock had ammunition rounds by the thousands and ammonium nitrate stocked in the trunk of his car. Generally, we know something of guns and of rounds, but this last item is less familiar. Ammonium nitrate is—as is implied by its name—a nitrogenous compound one finds both in fertilizers and homemade bombs. Timothy McVeigh, the man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing in 1994, was able to quietly purchase enough of the fodder not only to be spread across thirteen acres, but to eviscerate the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma and murder in the process one hundred and sixty-eight people.


What Paddock intended to do with this own accumulation of the compound in his vehicle-turned-tinderbox is anyone’s guess. He had fifty-pounds of the ammonium nitrate though, and still more awaiting him at his home (to which he hoped safely to retreat). Investigators have since discovered an undisclosed amount of ammonium nitrate (and more guns to boot) in Paddock’s Mesquite, Nevada home, which was located eighty miles away from the Las Vegas Strip.


It’s obvious he was an arms enthusiast. More obvious still is that he was a quiet sadist. What’s unclear is whether or not the latter preceded the former. From all accounts, Paddock was a deliberately understated and inconspicuous man. It appears that of the things he cherished most, gambling, itinerancy, and anonymity were chief. During his professional career, he held jobs as an accountant, a property manager, and a Lockheed Martin employee—a quite eclectic mix. In his retirement, after having allegedly accumulated over $2 million through sundry financial pursuits—all of which appear to have been legally won, Paddock invested his time and wealth in real estate and the vice of many a profligate man—gambling.


He and his girlfriend, Marilou Danley, lived between homes in Florida, Texas, California, and Nevada. Not one to settle down, neighbors assumed his unfurnished homes were only a transitory thing. They would sit vacant for months on end, while the peripatetic Paddock went from one town to adopted town hoping to scratch a traveler’s and a gambler’s itch. He would wear khaki pants and collared shirts—certainly not the accoutrements of a high-rolling man of means—and would drive unassuming rental cars to get around town. Records reveal he owned two planes and that he owed no debts.


Much of this essential information has come by way of his obliging brother Eric, who in recent days has shed light on what appeared to be Stephen’s mundane, if not in some odd way enviable life. The two shared a father, Benjamin Hoskins Paddock, who in 1969 found himself sufficiently infamous to feature on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list. Paddock the patriarch was a recidivist bank robber known to authorities for his multiple heists in Arizona. The FBI described him as a “psychopath with suicidal tendencies”. An interesting aside, psychopathy, as the astute coroners know, can in fact be a heritable trait. This mental pathology can cause an aggressive inclination, but it can also be the basis for antisocial behavior and an absence of remorse or empathy. If it proves at all salvageable, a post-mortem examination through Paddock’s brain could reveal signs of this disease passed from father to son.


But a father’s misdeeds don’t incriminate a son. The same father’s genes won’t exculpate this most heinous of a murderer. Aside from his being aloof and reclusive, there are no indications leading investigators to believe Paddock acted through an oppressed mental disease. And while his intentions remain inscrutable to law enforcement officials, his plan was systematic and well-conceived (so much so, that he intended to escape and possibly replicate his act elsewhere). On this point, it’s apropos to pick back up on the final minutes of Paddock’s life.


At 10:18 p.m., officers arrived on the thirty-second floor where Paddock was to be finally found. In order to alert himself to the meddling metropolitan police, Paddock set up cameras to watch for their tactical moves. He strategically situated three cameras to capture footage of the goings on outside his room. He placed one camera in his door’s peephole and two others on a dinner cart sitting idly near his door.


With eyes not only fixed to the ground below but on the halls behind him, Paddock fired through the door when a security guard eventually approached. The guard was wounded, but not fatally so, and not before he could inform police officers of Paddock’s position. The police regiment rallied and arrived to Paddock’s floor. The guard guided them, and the unit cautiously observed that the volley of bullets had stalled.


Within twenty minutes, the SWAT team arrived. Along with the police officers, they too took note of the nascent silence. The lack of any sort of clamor from the room was foreboding; Paddock could very well have been hunkering down for a last stand. The next few moments were the height of the long night’s unease. Unable to gain entry, a SWAT team member spoke through the radio that he would breach the door. After a quickened count-down, the team detonated a small explosive and entered the room. There, sprawled on the ground, Paddock laid limp. He was the last and only deserving recipient of his rounds.


No sooner did the carnage cease than the questions began. And sadly, it seems, these many questions are to remain suspended in air. Within the air, which is now heavy from his murderous miasma, is the question, why?. It’s all anyone can ask. Why did he do it? His brother and girlfriend are incredulous; they haven’t an inkling. His prior associates and neighbors (I hesitate to say friends) are racking their brains for moments when they suspected something diabolical. Few such moments seem to exist. Our thirst to know won’t soon be slaked. Our hunger won’t soon be sated. It could just be as simple, and as nauseating, as evil in its purest form.

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