LAS VEGAS (Agencies) – At least 50 people died and more than 400 more hurt when a 64-year-old gunman with an arsenal of at least 10 rifles fired on a Las Vegas country music festival on Sunday (midday yesterday, Phnom Penh time), raining down bullets from a 32nd-floor window for minutes before killing himself.
The death toll, which police emphasised was preliminary, would make the massacre the deadliest mass shooting in US history.
Some 22,000 people were in the crowd when a man police identified as Stephen Paddock opened fire, sparking a panic in which some people trampled on others, as law enforcement officers scrambled to locate the gunman.
Shocked concertgoers, some with blood on their clothes, wandered the streets afterwards.
Police said they had no information about Paddock’s motive, and that he had no criminal record and was not believed to be connected to any militant group. Paddock killed himself before police entered the hotel room he was firing from, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters. “We have no idea what his belief system was,” Mr Lombardo said.
However, the Islamic State group claimed yesterday the massacre was carried out by one of its “soldiers” who had “converted to Islam several months ago”.
“The executor of the Las Vegas attack is a soldier of the Islamic State and he carried out the operation as a response” to calls to target countries engaged in military action against the jihadists, IS’ propaganda outlet Amaq said in online statements.
It provided no evidence to back this up and a senior US official discounted the claim, saying there was reason to believe that the shooter had a history of psychological problems.
Mr Lombardo said there were more than 10 rifles in the room where Paddock killed himself after checking into the hotel last Thursday. Paddock was not known to law enforcement, Mr Lombardo said.
Police found several weapons when they searched Paddock’s home in Mesquite, about 145km from Las Vegas, Mesquite police spokesman Quinn Averett said.
The dead included one off-duty police officer, Mr Lombardo said. Two on-duty officers were injured, including one who was in stable condition after surgery and one who sustained minor injuries, he said.
Police warned the death toll may rise. Mr Lombardo said police were last night still finding people who had taken cover during the attack.
Video of the attack showed panicked crowds fleeing sustained gunfire.
“It sounded like fireworks. People were just dropping to the ground. It just kept going on,” said Steve Smith, a 45-year-old visitor from Phoenix, Arizona, who had flown in for the concert. He said the gunfire went on for an extended period of time.
“Probably 100 shots at a time. It would sound like it was reloading and then it would go again,” Mr Smith said. “People were shot and trying to get out. A lot of people were shot.”
Robert Hayes, a firefighter from Los Angeles, joined the first responders, donning one of their vests.
“Honestly I probably pronounced 15-20 people” dead, he told Fox News. “It was pretty much like a war scene inside.”
The emergency crews used anything to hand as makeshift stretchers, including tables and metal railings normally used to control the crowds, said Mr Hayes.
Asked if he thought it was an inexperienced gunman, he responded: “With 30,000 people in the arena area, it was kind of like shooting goldfish … He didn’t have to be good.”
Las Vegas’ casinos, nightclubs and shopping draw some 3.5 million visitors from around the world each year and the area was packed with visitors when the shooting broke out shortly after 10pm.
Mike McGarry, a 53-year-old financial adviser from Philadelphia, was at the concert when he heard hundreds of shots ring out.
“It was crazy – I laid on top of the kids. They’re 20. I’m 53. I lived a good life,” Mr McGarry said. The back of his shirt bore footmarks, after people ran over him in the panicked crowd.
The suspected shooter’s brother, Eric Paddock, said the family was stunned by the news. “We have no idea. We’re horrified. We’re bewildered and our condolences go out to the victims,” Eric Paddock said, his voice trembling. “We have no idea in the world.”
US President Donald Trump called the shooting an “act of pure evil” and said he would travel to Las Vegas tomorrow.