Preventing the Next American Gun Tragedy: One Mother’s Story

Often missing in the gun control debate is the perspective of those who worry that a loved one might catalyze the next American tragedy. In the aftermath of Las Vegas, one of our regular columnists provides a poignant example.

The attack in Las Vegas earlier this month was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, with 58 dead and hundreds of people injured. While the families of the victims and Americans around the country grieve the catastrophic loss of life, legislators and lobbyists are already strategizing how to use this shooting as a catalyst for pushing their gun policies.

Whether it is a pro-gun stance to endow schools and businesses with weapons of their own, an anti-gun position to reduce gun ownership, or a multidimensional intervention to further regulate gun distributors and invest in smart-gun research, Americans have already heard a variety of politicized reactions to the Las Vegas tragedy.

But what’s often missing in the debate is the perspective of those who worry that a loved one might catalyze the next American gun tragedy. Their anxieties make clear how helpless they feel in the absence of any framework to regulate who obtains deadly weapons in our society.

For example, a few years ago, I met a woman I’ll call “Jane Doe” during a visit to the psychiatric unit of INOVA Fairfax Hospital in Northern Virginia. I was visiting a human trafficking survivor whom I had recently rescued, and “Jane” was visiting her 27-year-old son, who was also a patient in the same psychiatric unit.

As we waited for the private security-controlled elevator to descend, I couldn’t help noticing that she was upset. Her son, she confided as we began to talk, was mad at her because she “took his gun away.”

She told me more as we walked together to the parking garage. During a conversation that lasted nearly an hour, I learned that her son suffered from bipolar disorder and paranoia.

“He thinks ‘they’ are after him and helicopters are following him,” she said.

“Jane” was trained as a clinical social worker and clearly loved her son, but she expressed a real fear that he was capable of hurting someone—potentially lots of people.

mehlman-orozco

Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco

Just as disturbing to her was the fact that her son was able to buy a firearm at all while he was under psychiatric treatment.

With barely disguised incredulity, she recounted how he had bought his gun in a transaction that took less than 20 minutes. Like many Americans, she was under the misconception that the background check to purchase a firearm took three days and that persons who suffered from serious mental illness were precluded from buying one.

Unfortunately, screening for mental health history at federally licensed firearm dealers is cursory at best, and background checks can be circumvented in most states through private sales.

For example, in Virginia, where “Jane Doe” and her son reside, purchasing a firearm is as simple as presenting the licensed distributer with two proofs of identification, paying a small fee, and waiting a few minutes while the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) checks for any criminal history.

The gun distributor was not required to ask her son any questions about mental illness, so the fact that he had been voluntarily committed to mental institutions on countless occasions, across three different states, was inconsequential to his weapon procurement.

“Jane Doe’s” frustration was palpable.

In addition to finding the weapon, she recovered a concealed-weapons permit from her son’s apartment. She immediately called the local police and courts and warned the agents to deny his application if he were to reapply for a weapon.

“They didn’t know how to answer my questions,” she recalled. “It was like I was the first parent to call with a concern about a gun in the hands of a loved one with mental illness. They told me the records were sealed.”

I never saw “Jane Doe” again. As far as I know, her son remains in psychiatric treatment, and I am not aware of any gun-related incident involving him.

But how many tragedies-in-waiting are going unremarked around our country?

Why do we—and the thousands of “Jane Does”—have to keep waiting for measures that can eliminate such threats before they materialize?

Helplessness should not be our fallback emotion.

Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco holds a PhD in Criminology, Law and Society from George Mason University. She is the author of “Hidden in Plain Sight: America’s Slaves of the New Millennium,” which will be published by Praeger/ABC-Clio this month. She welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Was Vegas Shooter Shielded by ‘Do Not Disturb’ Sign?

After the Las Vegas concert gunman assembled an arsenal in his hotel room over several days, security experts are asking how long hotels should wait before checking on guests who post “do not disturb” signs for long periods.

When a “Do Not Disturb” sign hangs outside a hotel room for a while, staff will usually call or knock to make sure everything’s OK. After the Las Vegas massacre, hotel operators may be asking themselves: How long should we wait before contacting guests who want to be left alone? The gunman who killed 58 people and left nearly 500 injured at an Oct. 1 concert may have been able to prepare for the attack because housekeeping staff didn’t enter the room for some time, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Casino owner Steve Wynn told Fox News that the shooter “didn’t let anyone in the room for two or three days … That would have triggered a whole bunch of alarms here.”

It’s unclear whether a check by hotel staff could have prevented the massacre. Guests with Do Not Disturb signs can tell hotel workers that everything is fine, prompting staff to leave them be, says Kevin Murphy of the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management. There is no industrywide standard for how long hotels wait before trying to make contact with guests, said Dick Hudak of Florida-based Resort Security Consulting. He said 12 hours is “too soon” but agreed that policies can vary based on the owner, the hotel and the guest. Typically, hotels require that rooms with a Do Not Disturb request should be entered for routine cleaning after three days.  Illegal activity can happen in any hotel. But it’s far more common to worry about a guest’s health than to worry he’s stockpiling weapons, according to Central Florida’s Murphy. “When’s the last time you heard someone had 23 assault rifles in their hotel room,” he said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Las Vegas Issue: What to Do With the Crime Scene

At other crime scenes, some [ep[;e decided to tear down buildings where the killing was done; others remodeled and reopened them, or moved right back in. Las Vegas poses unique issues. There is nothing permanent about the concert venue, and the killer was not in the same place as the victims. 

What should be done with a crime scene like the place where 58 people were shot to death in Las Vegas last week? The scene of carnage was a flat 15-acre parcel of land without any permanent structures. It is a rectangle of blacktop surrounded by busy streets, including the famous Las Vegas Strip, the New York Times reports. From Columbine to Sandy Hook to the Pulse nightclub, those left behind have had to grapple with the murder scene, and the difficult balance between looking back and moving on. Some decided to tear down buildings where the killing was done; others remodeled and reopened them, or moved right back in. Las Vegas poses unique issues. There is nothing permanent about the concert venue, and the killer was not in the same place as the victims. The sites on opposite ends of the massacre are  owned by MGM Resorts International, which must decide what to do with them.

For Barbara Poma, owner of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where 49 people died in a shooting last year, the decision will not be easy. “There are so many feelings and emotions involved, and those feelings change over time,” she said. “No rash decision should be made at all.” In Las Vegas, “where the victims were, that is relatively easy to deal with, in that what happened there was a tragedy, with independent acts of heroism and solidarity,” said sociologist James Hawdon of the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention at Virginia Tech. “It would be easy to transform, because there is nothing there. It’s basically a vacant lot.” Trickier is the gunman’s perch in the hotel. “The hotel rooms, it’s hard to think of anything socially positive from the space,” Hawdon said. “That space was purely evil, the actions in that space. To me, you somehow try to make it unrecognizable. You want to try to make it devoid of meaning related to the tragedy.”

 

from https://thecrimereport.org

Police Give New Timeline for Las Vegas Mass Killing

Stephen Paddock shot a security guard six minutes before he started killing concert goers, raising new questions about why it took an hour for officers to enter the gunman’s hotel suite.

Las Vegas police released new details about the timeline of the mass shooting on the Strip, raising new questions about why it took an hour for officers to enter the gunman’s hotel suite, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Six minutes before shooter Stephen Paddock sprayed gunfire onto the Route 91 Harvest festival grounds on Oct. 1, he shot hotel security guard Jesus Campos, Sheriff Joe Lombardo said Monday. Last week, Lombardo said Campos was injured well after 58 people had been fatally shot and nearly 500 others were hurt. Lombardo offered little explanation for the discrepancy. He also said that Paddock checked in to the Mandalay Bay resort on Sept. 25, three days earlier than previously reported.

The motive behind the shooting continues to perplex authorities. “We have no evidence or intelligence that the suspect was linked (to) or had affiliations with any known terrorist groups or ideologies,” Lombardo said. Before to the mass shooting, Paddock had traveled throughout Las Vegas more than 200 times, the sheriff added. His mental health remains a large question. Based on the investigation so far, the sheriff said no single event in Paddock’s life seemed to contribute to a motive. Lombardo bluntly shut down conspiracy theories about multiple suspects.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Still No Motive Apparent in Las Vegas Shooting

Clark County, Nv., Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said investigators had “looked at literally everything” and still do not have a clear motive. Investigators have chased 1,000 leads and examined gunman Stephen Paddock’s politics, finances, any possible radicalization and his social behavior. Authorities have put up billboards asking anyone with information to contact the FBI.

Investigators remain stumped about what drove gunman Stephen Paddock, a reclusive 64-year-old high-stakes gambler, to begin shooting at the crowd at a country music festival from his 32nd-floor hotel suite, killing 58 and wounding hundreds before taking his own life, the Associated Press reports. Clark County, Nv., Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said investigators had “looked at literally everything” and still do not have a clear motive. Investigators have chased 1,000 leads and examined Paddock’s politics, finances, any possible radicalization and his social behavior. Authorities have put up billboards asking anyone with information to contact the FBI. Investigators reviewed voluminous video from the casino and don’t think Paddock had an accomplice in the shooting, McMahill said. They want to know if anyone knew about his plot beforehand.

In their effort to find any hint of his motive, investigators were looking into whether he was with a prostitute days before the shooting, scrutinizing cruises he took and trying to make sense of a cryptic note with numbers jotted on it found in his hotel room. An official said investigators were interviewing call girls for information and looking into at least a dozen cruises Paddock took in the last few years, including one to the Middle East. It is unusual to have so few clues five days after a mass shooting. McMahill noted that in past mass killings or terrorist attacks, killers left notes, social media postings and information on a computer, or even phoned police.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How First Responders Worked to Save More Lives in Vegas

Police and fire agencies in Nevada have been working together since 2010 to develop concerted responses to critical incidents. Sunday was the first time their years of training and drills deploying “rescue task forces” played out in real life.

Relationships between police and fire departments can range from friendly rivalries to downright acrimony. In Las Vegas, officials are confident that an innovative effort requiring both agencies to train together to respond to active-shooter incidents saved countless lives in the massacre that left 58 dead, the Washington Post reports. Fire departments traditionally have waited on the sidelines of shooting scenes until police declare it safe for medics to go in and treat victims. In some cases, including mass shootings, that resulted in wounded patients bleeding to death even though medics could have saved them with immediate aid.

Learning lessons from the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and at a movie theater in Aurora, Co., in 2012, Nevada’s first responders decided they should work while under fire. “We saw from the reports of how these people died and the lack of interaction with the police departments and we knew we had to fix that,” Clark County, Nv., Fire Chief Greg Cassell said Thursday. Police and fire agencies in Nevada have been working together since 2010 to develop concerted responses to critical incidents, but Sunday was the first time their years of training and drills deploying “rescue task forces” played out in real life. Sixteen task forces raced into the concert venue the night gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Each task force included four to six armed police officers, who created a perimeter around three paramedics, said Roy Session of Clark County fire operations. The medics treated and transported the wounded to ambulances under the blanket of safety those officers provided, moving in unison with police from patient to patient. “What we discovered in Columbine and Aurora is that people were laying and dying waiting for help,” Session said. “This team was trying to avoid that.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Paddock May ‘Never Be Fully Understood,’ Sheriff Says

Stephen Paddock, the gunman who rained bullets on a Las Vegas festival on Sunday night, spent decades stockpiling weapons and ammunition, and “meticulously” planned the night he sprayed gunfire from his room on a crowd of concertgoers, says Clark County, Nv., Sheriff Joe Lombardo. Authorities still aren’t clear on why Paddock did what he did or who he was.

Stephen Paddock, the gunman who rained bullets on the Route 91 Harvest festival on Sunday night, spent decades stockpiling weapons and ammunition, and “meticulously” planned the night he sprayed gunfire from his room at the Mandalay Bay on a crowd of concertgoers, says Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo. Authorities still aren’t clear on why Paddock did what he did or who he was. “Anything that would indicate this individual’s trigger point, that would cause him to do such harm, we haven’t understood it yet,” Lombardo said, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Police said 58 people were killed and 489 were injured in the rampage. Paddock, 64, led a secret life, Lombardo said, “much of which will never be fully understood.” Lombardo mentioned a 10-year span of Paddock’s life that police have struggled to grasp. Police knew he was retired and had real estate investments, Lombardo said, but haven’t got information from an ex-wife or a brother. The number of gunshots Paddock fired remained unclear. Police found 50 pounds of the explosive Tannerite and about 1,600 rounds of ammunition in Paddock’s car at Mandalay Bay. Paddock left 18 30-round magazines of .308 ammunition and 15 40-round magazines of .223 ammunition and police assume it was for additional violence if he escaped the hotel room. There were 13 suitcases that he brought up a few at a time, a source said. Paddock knew hotel workers were on eight-hour shifts and spread the bag transports among shifts to avoid attracting attention.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Vegas Shooter’s Valium May Have Caused Aggression

Stephen Paddock, who killed at least 59 people and wounded hundreds more in Las Vegas on Sunday with high-powered rifles, was prescribed an anti-anxiety drug in June that can lead to aggressive behavior. He also sent $100,000 to the Philippines before the shooting.

Stephen Paddock, who killed at least 59 people and wounded hundreds more in Las Vegas on Sunday with high-powered rifles, was prescribed an anti-anxiety drug in June that can lead to aggressive behavior, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Paddock also transferred $100,000 to the Philippines in the days before the shooting, a U.S. official told The Associated Press. Investigators are still trying to trace that money and are looking into at least a dozen reports that said Paddock gambled more than $10,000 per day.

Paddock purchased the drug — its brand name is Valium — without insurance at a Walgreens store in Reno. It is a sedative-hypnotic drug that can trigger aggressive behavior. Chronic use or abuse of sedatives such as diazepam can also trigger psychotic experiences, according to drugabuse.com. “If somebody has an underlying aggression problem and you sedate them with that drug, they can become aggressive,” said Dr. Mel Pohl of the Las Vegas Recovery Center. “It can disinhibit an underlying emotional state. … It is much like what happens when you give alcohol to some people … they become aggressive instead of going to sleep.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Experts Say Another Vegas Shooting Can’t Be Stopped

Describing the concert shooter as a lone wolf, Las Vegas Sheriff Joseph Lombado said, “I don’t know how it could have been prevented if we didn’t have any prior knowledge of this individual.” Law enforcement officials, politicians and hotel and concert managers offered the same sad lament: There’s very little that can be done. Banning outdoor events won’t stop this type of mass violence.

After a 64-year-old man smashed open his hotel room window and opened fire on an outdoor music festival below, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said there was no way anyone could have stopped the nation’s deadliest mass shooting from taking place, McClatchy Newspapers reports. “This is an individual described as a ‘lone wolf,’” he said. “I don’t know how it could have been prevented if we didn’t have any prior knowledge of this individual.” Law enforcement officials, politicians and hotel and concert managers offered the same sad lament: There’s very little that can be done. Banning outdoor events won’t stop this type of mass violence. Many rejected suggestions of tighter security at sporting events and concerts, citing high costs and difficult logistics. “This country has so many public venues and it’s built on the premise of free assembly for whatever purpose — for political purposes, for religious purposes or even just for amusement, as was the case here,” said Jim Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police. “It’s hard to say what more could be done that hasn’t been done short of curtailing the American way of life, which I don’t think is a particularly good idea.”

Major league sports already requires patrons to go through metal detectors. Security personnel are omnipresent at concerts. Big hotels have sophisticated security systems and well-trained staffs looking out for trouble. The Las Vegas music festival was fully staffed with security personnel. Law enforcement was well aware of the potential for such incidents after the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub last year. Matt Puckett of the Florida Police Benevolent Association said, “I don’t think shutting down outdoor venues would be something that would work. Florida is a tourist-based, outdoor-based economy.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Calls Las Vegas Shooting ‘Act of Pure Evil’

The president announced he would visit Las Vegas Wednesday, after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Alleged gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire late Sunday on an outdoor country music concert near the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, killing at least 50 people and injuring more than 400. Paddock took his own life as officers stormed his hotel room.

A gunman opened fire on an outdoor country music concert near Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino late Sunday, killing at least 50 people, injuring more than 400 and sending the Las Vegas Strip into chaos, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The massacre is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. An off-duty Las Vegas police officer attending the concert was among the victims. Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said officers determined the gunshots were coming from a room on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay complex.

As officers stormed the room, Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nv., shot and killed himself. Officers found 10 firearms in the room. Police believed that Marilou Danley, 62, described as Paddock’s “companion,” was not involved in the shooting. Paddock’s brother, Eric, who lives near Orlando, Fl., told the Orlando Sentinel, “We are completely dumbfounded. We can’t understand what happened.” Paddock told the Review-Journal that his brother lived a quiet life in retirement in Las Vegas, frequently playing slot machines and video poker on the Strip. “It’s like an asteroid just fell on top of our family,” he said.

The attack came during the last performances on the final night of the three-day Route 91 country music festival, which has been held for the past four years on a 15-acre lot across from Mandalay Bay. Gunfire from an automatic weapon rang out while Jason Aldean was onstage. Concertgoer Ivetta Saldana, who was there with a friend, said the shots sounded like fireworks. She hid in a sewer. “It was a horror show,” she said. “People were standing around, then they hit the floor.” One responding officer was critically injured, and another had minor injuries, police said. At one point police were investigating reports of active shooters at other Strip properties. Those reports turned out to be false.

President Trump called the shooting an “act of pure evil” and praised the first responders, the Associated Press reports. The president will visit Las Vegas on Wednesday to meet with first responders and families of victims.

Randy Sutton, a former Las Vegas police officer, told CBS that, “The shooting went on for somewhere in the area of 15, 20 minutes, so that interfered with getting the first responders into the area.” He said the gunman planned the “horrific shooting immaculately,” adding that, “When you look at what his field of fire was, the way that he prepared himself by having multiple firearms, by having the ability to have enough ammunition to rain down hell on those poor innocent people that were doing nothing except enjoying themselves,” The Hill reports.

from https://thecrimereport.org