Las Vegas Grapples With Mass Shooting Of Concertgoers

Oct 2, 2017
Originally published on October 2, 2017 11:44 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are focused on the situation in Las Vegas this morning. Last night a gunman in a hotel opened fire on concert-goers below. This was near the Vegas Strip. At this point, police are saying that at least 50 people were killed and over 200 are injured. This is believed to be the worst mass shooting in modern United States history. The gunman, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, is dead, we're told by the authorities. Sheriff Joseph Lombardo says they are still working to figure out a motive.

JOSEPH LOMBARDO: Well, we have to establish what his motivation is first. And there's motivating factors associated with terrorism other than a distraught person just intending to cause mass casualty. Before we label with that, it'll be a matter of process.

GREENE: OK. So the authorities still working through a lot this morning. And let's talk through the latest, what we know at this point, with NPR's Leila Fadel, who is on the line from - Leila, where are you? Just outside the Las Vegas police station?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: That's right. I'm outside the Metro Police Department headquarters where they've been briefing reporters pretty consistently on what's been going on here. The latest that we know is that apparently Stephen Paddock shot himself and police found him dead after he shot into a crowd and killed all those people.

GREENE: OK. So - so they got to the hotel room. They found him. And - and they've also been talking through what else they have found in that hotel room, or what they're looking at as part of this investigation now.

FADEL: That's right. Inside that hotel room, there were several firearms found. Sheriff Lombardo described them as rifles. We don't know that much more about what they were exactly. They searched that hotel room. They searched his residence. The Undersheriff Kevin McMahill actually described this incident as an incident of domestic terrorism. He said that if you shoot into a crowd and kill 50 people and wound hundreds of others then he would call that domestic terrorism all day long.

GREENE: OK. So the sheriff is saying labeling is - is - they're being careful with that right now, but at least someone in - in the authorities there are describing it as domestic terrorism. Can I just ask you, Leila, there was this person of interest, too, the authorities were also trying to hunt down, making clear that they didn't believe that she was an imminent risk to people in Las Vegas. But what - what - why were they interested in her?

FADEL: Well, she's a companion of his, apparently a roommate of his. They're describing her as an associate. When I asked just now if she's a person of interest, they said she's not a person of interest but somebody they'd like to talk to. They've identified that she's actually outside of the country but still have not been able to make contact. She is not a suspect but somebody they've been wanting to talk to, an associate of the shooter.

GREENE: I think many of us know Las Vegas and have been there and have been to the Strip and have been to the area where this took place, but I - I just - what does it feel like in the city this morning?

FADEL: It's - I mean, it's scary. There are police everywhere. I went to the hospital. Police blocking off the roads there. Police blocking off the roads in parts of the Strip. And if they're not blocking off the roads, you see the - the lights all over the city. This is a place that's usually - the glitz and glamour and the lights are coming from the casinos and from the shows, but this concert happened, and people are dead and this is one of the most horrific tragedies that the U.S. has faced. I was at a concert myself yesterday, and so I woke up this morning realizing another, a different concert, a different type of music was targeted on Sunday night. So it's - it's a really terrifying moment, and I think people are just grappling with what's happened here.

GREENE: NPR's Leila Fadel reporting in Las Vegas this morning. Leila, thanks for the update. We really appreciate it.

FADEL: Thank you.

GREENE: OK. I want to bring in another voice here. It's Professor Jeffrey Swanson, a social scientist and medical sociologist who studies mass shootings at Duke. Professor, good morning to you.

JEFFREY SWANSON: Good morning.

GREENE: What - how are you reacting to this news from Las Vegas? What - what is on your mind, since this is the type of event that you spend a lot of time studying?

SWANSON: Well, it's just absolutely horrifying. I'm - it's just a - it's a - it's a deeply irrational event. And, you know, it's just it's - it's horrifying. I've - of course, I, from a population kind of public-health point of view, try to put it in some kind of context and - and think about, you know, mass shootings. People often ask, are mass shooters mentally ill? And you don't have to be a psychiatry professor to know that when someone goes out and deliberately massacres dozens of people, this is not the act of a healthy-minded person. It feels like it's, you know, happening too frequently, but from a population point of view, it's still a rare event. And from what we know about these kinds of things, the risk factors for this are many. It's not one thing. They tend to be nonspecific. They interact in complicated ways. Mass shootings are all different from each other. But, you know, if you think about motivation, I don't know. They tend to be young men who are isolated and alienated and angry and emotionally imbalanced, and they have access to guns. Some of them have drug-abuse problems. But that matches the description of tens of thousands of people who are never going to do something like this.

GREENE: Sure.

SWANSON: Very few of them have a documented psychiatric history.

GREENE: But I just - I mean, we all wake up this morning and it sounds like one man has for some reason carried out what's being described as the worst mass shooting in the modern history of our country. I - I mean, you say it's rare and you say, you know, there are certain profiles of people who do this, and it's someone as you describe as is not healthy. Could anything have been done to prevent this last night?

SWANSON: Well, you know, that's always the thing we - we ask ourselves, you know? And through the retrospective scope, it seems like we should've been able to do this. The problem is it's very difficult to predict this in event - in - in advance for the reasons I've just mentioned. This is, you know, this person might have been mentally ill. I don't know. But if he was, he's highly atypical of people with serious mental illnesses, the vast majority of whom are not violent and never will be. He's also really atypical of the perpetrators of gun crimes, most of whom aren't mentally ill. I mean, keep in mind, you know, we're focusing on this event, but let me just take this chance to say...

GREENE: Yeah.

SWANSON: ...On this same day, we probably will have 95 or a hundred other people all around this country who will die as a result of a gunshot. Two-thirds of them probably will be suicides. These are, you know, gang shootings and domestic violence incidents. And, you know, so there is this drip, drip, drip of gun violence. We're not going to live in a world where we don't have people inclined to harm others or themselves. You know, I - I think it's really unfortunate that today we're living in a society where people like that have too-easy access to such an efficient killing technology as a semiautomatic firearm.

GREENE: Well, there - I mean, and - and we should say we don't know what kind of weapon was used in this event yet. I mean, there will obviously be a conversation about guns going forward. Opponents of tightening gun laws argue that the laws are tight enough and that the issue is actually about keeping guns out of the hands of those with mental illness. There will be some saying that tighter gun laws are absolutely what's needed right now. Is there - is there something that we're not thinking about? Is there something maybe politically unpopular but - but, you know, some solution that we could look for as a country to prevent something like this, or is it a matter of just enduring these moments?

SWANSON: Well, it is difficult in our country 'cause we have so many guns and they are constitutionally protected, the private right to own a gun. I think we need better criteria for identifying people who shouldn't be able to buy a gun at the point of purchase. The criteria we have now that we've inherited from the 1968 Gun Control Act are too broad and too narrow at the same time. So we need to focus more on actual risks - so people who have a history of violent behavior, people like, you know, who have a, say, a misdemeanor, violent-crime conviction, maybe problems with alcohol. But the other thing we need to do is put a - put a tool, a legal tool, in the hands of law enforcement and family members as a number of states have done to actually remove firearms from people who are known to be at risk. Sometimes people around an individual will have very specific information about them that even, you know, clinicians or - or police or others don't have that somebody should know about. We had an incident here in Chapel Hill, my hometown, where a very angry man shot three Muslim young people in the head. People knew he was angry. He had all these guns. He had them legally. But there is a way, a preemptive risk-based temporary gun-removal tool that's not criminalizing which could actually save lives, and we have some evidence that this works - actually to prevent suicide, as well.

So that's - that's another thing. And then of course we need something to - to try to do something about the illegal gun markets and the fact that we have so many transfers of firearms that happen outside the background checks...

GREENE: A lot of...

SWANSON: ...The secondary market.

GREENE: A lot of ideas and different things that - that will surely be debated and talked about going forward. Dr. Jeffrey Swanson is a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a specialist in mass shootings at the Duke University School of Medicine. Professor, thanks for your time this morning.

SWANSON: Thank you.

GREENE: And I - I'm joined by NPR's Scott Detrow, who's been here in the studios all morning. Worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history and - but not the first mass shooting that you and I have been sitting here talking about.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: No. It's - it's a year and some months past the last time that - that we were talking about the deadliest modern American mass shooting. That was the Orlando Pulse nightclub.

GREENE: Yeah.

DETROW: We have just learned that President Trump is expected to speak shortly and respond to this shooting. We know he's been briefed. He issued one tweet around 7 o'clock this morning saying he was sending his warmest condolences and sympathies to victims of the shooting. Also got a brief statement from the Department of Homeland Security, a key line here. At this time they have no information to indicate a specific credible threat involving other public venues in the country, but they did say expect to see increased security because of this.

GREENE: OK. That is an important statement from - from the federal government here in Washington. Scott Detrow, thanks a lot.

DETROW: Thank you.

GREENE: And we'll be covering this story, obviously, throughout the morning. Again, authorities saying more than 50 people killed last night in a mass shooting near the Las Vegas Strip. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.