We still know very little about Las Vegas mass murderer Stephen Paddock, and that’s probably the way he wanted it to be. So it seems apropos that the photo of him most widely circulated after the killings shows him with his eyes closed.

So far, it seems he left no obvious note or manifesto to explain himself, either, unlike so many other mass murderers with political or ideological motivations. Neither family members nor his girlfriend say they can shed any light whatsoever on what might have caused him to murder 59 people and injure over 500 others.

But nature abhors a vacuum, and conspiracy theories have abounded as to Paddock’s true motives and possible confederates. Perhaps one of these conspiracy theories will even turn out to be true; as Clark Country Sheriff Joseph Lombardo speculated yesterday, the scope of his preparations certainly make it possible that Paddock had assistance from someone.

But with Paddock, big holes in our knowledge of the reasons for his crime may always remain. In fact, I have come to conceptualize Paddock as the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 of mass murderers. That’s the flight whose demise was recently, three years after the plane went down, declared by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau report to have been “almost inconceivable” in its mystery.

Mysterious though his motives may be, many people—including me—have attempted to guess at how he might have conceived them. Much of the speculation centers on ideological reasons Paddock may have chosen this particular music festival, for example. And it seems clear that his actions seem to have been premeditated.

My own speculations are just that—speculations—and could change as new facts emerge. But so far it seems to me that, although Paddock planned his attack meticulously, the details of exactly which venue and what crowd he would end up attacking may have been decided somewhat late in the game, and politics or ideology or even considerations of who his victims were may not have been much of a factor at all.

Paddock frequently stayed in Vegas hotels and hotels in general, and therefore it is very likely he would have known a lot about the Mandalay and the view from different rooms both at that hotel and others. He also is likely to have known when and where open-air concerts were scheduled (advertisements would have taken care of that), as well as the best vantage points from which to kill people at several venues.

But there is evidence that strongly indicates that this particular venue was decided on rather late in the game:

Police are investigating the possibility that Las Vegas mass murderer Stephen Paddock may have originally targeted another music festival in the city.

Paddock had apparently attempted to book rooms at the Ogden, a luxury condo tower that overlooked the Life is Beautiful open-air festival, which ran across 15 Las Vegas blocks from September 22-24.

He requested specific suites at the Ogden and another unidentified hotel, but moved on when he discovered they were booked, an inside source told CBS.

That raises the grim possibility that he’d intended to turn either location into sniper nests, like the one he built in the Mandalay Bay hotel on Sunday, prior to his horrific killing spree.

And now we’ve been informed that Paddock apparently made a similar effort back in August in Chicago, booking rooms at a Chicago hotel facing the Lollapalooza music festival, although it is not reported that he actually went there. He also may have contemplated an attack on Fenway Park in Boston from a hotel there.

Therefore it may be that any music festival, or even any gathering, that was slated to take place under the high windows of any hotel with good sightlines would have suited Paddock’s needs. But what were those needs? Why did Paddock become a mass murderer in the first place? Here we are again in the realm of almost complete speculation, but one thing that received a lot of publicity at first but has dropped a bit off the radar since then is the fact that Paddock’s father was a psychopath of the con man variety. In other words, his son Stephen may have inherited the mysterious trait of psychopathy (see this for a discussion of whether the trait might run in families).

Not all psychopaths are violent, of course. But something—and for all we know, it may have been something organic, either biological (illness) or chemical (drugs)—may have made the previously non-violent psychopath Paddock begin to contemplate violence on a large scale. His basic motive may have been as simple as this: to kill a lot of people, a larger number than any other single shooter in America had ever murdered at one time. And, as strange as it may seem, it may not have mattered to Paddock who his victims would be, as long as there were a lot of them.

If that was the case, then it makes sense that Paddock would realize that a good way to maximize his kill number would be to use high-powered and rapid-firing firearms (and lots of them, in case they jammed or otherwise malfunctioned), have an enormous amount of ammunition handy, and fire from a difficult-to-detect and protected perch from high up into a very dense crowd so that accuracy didn’t much matter. He probably also thought he’d have more time before the authorities got to him, and his idea that there was a chance of escaping (perhaps by blasting his way though an army of cops?) may have dictated the enormity of the firepower he amassed in that room.

I’ve heard people opining that no one commits a crime like this for no reason except the urge to kill as many people as possible. And admittedly, that’s an unusual motive, even for mass murderers, although it’s often at least a secondary motive. But I submit that at least two very famous mass murderers prior to this had exactly that main motive, although that fact isn’t generally known. I’m referring to the Columbine killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Initial reports were that they were taking revenge on fellow students for past bullying, a more conventional motive. But it turns out that, as investigators gained more knowledge of their plans—at least as lengthy and elaborate as Paddock’s, by the way—authorities revised their opinion of the motives involved. Kleibold and Harris both left voluminous records, and here are the concluions investigators came to, based on a much more detailed study of those records [emphasis mine]:

…Harris and Klebold planned for a year and dreamed much bigger. The school served as means to a grander end, to terrorize the entire nation by attacking a symbol of American life. Their slaughter was aimed at students and teachers, but it was not motivated by resentment of them in particular…

The killers, in fact, laughed at petty school shooters. They bragged about dwarfing the carnage of the Oklahoma City bombing and originally scheduled their bloody performance for its anniversary. Klebold boasted on video about inflicting “the most deaths in U.S. history.” Columbine was intended not primarily as a shooting at all, but as a bombing on a massive scale. If they hadn’t been so bad at wiring the timers, the propane bombs they set in the cafeteria would have wiped out 600 people. After those bombs went off, they planned to gun down fleeing survivors. An explosive third act would follow, when their cars, packed with still more bombs, would rip through still more crowds, presumably of survivors, rescue workers, and reporters. The climax would be captured on live television. It wasn’t just “fame” they were after—Agent Fuselier bristles at that trivializing term—they were gunning for devastating infamy on the historical scale of an Attila the Hun. Their vision was to create a nightmare so devastating and apocalyptic that the entire world would shudder at their power.

Was Paddock acting on a similar impulse with similar goals? The fact that bomb-making material was found in Paddock’s car and that he apparently targeted some fuel tanks during the shooting, as well as the sheer amount of firepower he had, indicates the possibility that his goals were originally as grandiosely evil as those of the Columbine shooters before him.

As more evidence emerges and we learn more about Paddock’s motives, perhaps what I’ve written here will end up being incorrect. But it is also possible that we may never know the answers so many people seek.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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