Las Vegas police had trained to stop shooters in casinos and hotel rooftops.
They’d trained to look for foreign and domestic terrorists and “lone wolves.”
But a 64-year-old local man with no criminal record spraying gunfire into a crowd of people from a hotel room on the Strip was a new scenario that has former police puzzled.
Two people who used to lead the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s counter-terrorism division have been wondering how police could have caught shooter Stephen Paddock before he killed 48 people and wounded nearly 500.
Former Assistant Sheriff Greg McCurdy, who retired in 2013 to take a job as the head of security for the SLS Las Vegas hotel-casino on the Strip, said the department had not planned for such an attack.
The department had trained for shooters on rooftops and other high places, he said.
But a shooter from a hotel room was not seriously considered, he said. Very few of the thousands of rooms on the Strip have balconies, and the rest almost never have windows that can be opened. Instead, most of the newer hotels have what McCurdy described as “fall-proof” glass windows that are difficult to break.
“We always felt some sense of security” from those windows, he said.
“I can’t say it was on our radar in that sense,” McCurdy said. “He’s changed the way we all have to look at securing events and securing communities.”
Las Vegas, a blue-collar town in a state where anti-government feelings run high, has been no stranger to “lone wolves” and domestic terrorists.
And a man and a woman who described the government as their enemy ambushed and killed two Las Vegas officers in 2014. The couple had been lured to Nevada to attend the anti-government rally earlier that year at the Bundy Ranch, about 80 miles away from Las Vegas.
“We talked a lot about lone wolves,” McCurdy said. “We talked about domestic terrorism. We talked about subversive groups.”
But neither he nor former Deputy Chief Kathy O’Connor, who helped coordinate the Las Vegas department’s counter-terrorism efforts after 9/11, have seen anything that would have put Paddock on the department’s radar.
“They’re (investigators) not finding anything that would have given you that ‘aha’ moment,” O’Connor said.
Although 9/11 forced the department to deal with a potential threat by organized radical Islamic groups, over the years a greater focus turned toward single attackers operating on their own.
“The difficult part of that is, ‘How can you find them?’” she said. “It’s not like we can sniff around on the Internet and listen to people’s phone conversations. We just don’t do that.”
After the 2008 Mumbai attacks, in which 10 Pakistanis with assault rifles and grenades killed 166 people and wounded more than 600, Las Vegas police launched a “see something, say something” campaign to encourage people to send in tips about potential threats, no matter how remote.
That led to hundreds of tips and interviews with potential suspects.
“We don’t even know what we’ve stopped by maybe interviewing someone and spooking them,” O’Connor said.
Paddock’s motive is perhaps the biggest mystery surrounding the mass shooting. Although he spent more than a year amassing an arsenal of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition, apparently he kept his motives secret. His girlfriend, who is cooperating with FBI agents, has said she did not know of the attack.
Regardless, both McCurdy and former Clark County, Nev., Sheriff Bill Young described the attack as “terrorism.”
“I understand the definition of terrorism,” McCurdy said. “I’m not sure if he would be tried for terrorism charges if he lived. … (but) he invoked terror.”
O’Connor said that from what she’s seen, the shooting reveals a terrible reality.
“Things like this, unfortunately, are going to happen.”
Palm Beach Post investigative reporter Lawrence Mower worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for seven years and was in Vegas in the days after the massacre to cover it for The Post.