By Devika Krishna Kumar, Reuters–
A gunman killed at least 20 people and wounded more than 100 at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday, raining down rapid fire from the 32nd floor of a hotel for several minutes before he was shot dead by police.
Thousands of panicked people fled the scene, in some cases trampling one another as law enforcement officers scrambled to locate and kill the gunman. Shocked concert goers, some with blood on their clothes, wandered the streets after the attack.
The suspect was a local Las Vegas man who acted alone and was not believed to be connected to any militant group, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters.
The attack was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States since a gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub in June 2016.
“We have no idea what his belief system was,” Lombardo said. “Right now, we believe he was the sole aggressor and the scene is static.”
Authorities were seeking a woman they named as Marilou Danley, the suspected gunman’s roommate. Lombardo described her as Asian, 4 foot 11 inches (1.5 m) tall, 111 pounds (50 kg). He gave no details of whether she was suspected of involvement in the attack but described her as an “associate”.
Police were also searching for two cars that belonged to the suspect.
Lombardo said rumors of other shootings or explosives such as car bombs in the area were false. Video taken of the attack showed panicked crowds fleeing as sustained rapid gunfire ripped through the area.
Las Vegas’s 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 10 p.m. (0400 GMT).
Mike McGarry, a 53-year-old financial adviser from Philadelphia, said he 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,” McGarry said. The back of his shirt bore footmarks, after people ran over him in the panicked crowd.
TOLL MAY RISE
Police warned the death toll may rise.
“I don’t want to give you an accurate number because I don’t have it yet,” Lombardo said.
At least one police officer was hospitalized with critical injuries, Lombardo said.
The shooting broke out on the last night of the three-day Route 91 Harvest festival, a sold-out event attended by thousands and featuring top acts such as Eric Church, Sam Hunt and Jason Aldean.
U.S. media, including Fox News, reported that Aldean was performing when the rampage began but that he had been bundled safely off stage at the event outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in the Nevada gambling resort. CNN reported all the performers were safe.
“Tonight has been beyond horrific,” Aldean said in a statement on Instagram. “It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night.”
Lombardo said the gunfire came from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, where the gunman was killed.
Police have disclosed no information that would suggest a motive for the shooting. They did not identify the suspect.
Even so, the rampage was reminiscent of a mass shooting at a Paris rock concert in November 2015 that killed 89 people, part of a coordinated attack by Islamist militants that left 130 dead.
The concert venue was in an outdoor area known as Las Vegas Village, across the Strip from the Mandalay Bay and the Luxor hotels.
“Our thoughts & prayers are with the victims of last night’s tragic events,” the Mandalay Bay said on Twitter. “We’re grateful for the immediate actions of our first responders.”
The United States has seen a series of deadly mass shootings in recent years. Prior to Orlando, the deadliest occurred in April 2007 when a gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech university and in December 2012 a man killed 26 young children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Additional reporting by Chris Michaud and Frank McGurty in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Alison Williams and Scott Malone; Editing by Alison Williams