Investigation Of Shooter Leads Police To Caches Of Firearms, Ammunition

Oct 2, 2017
Originally published on October 2, 2017 11:58 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

More than 20,000 people were at an outdoor country music festival Sunday night. Singer Jason Aldean was up onstage. He was just about a half an hour into his set when the gunfire started. We've heard throughout the day that people didn't realize it was gunfire at first. A lot of people thought they were hearing fireworks. As we are going to hear in this disturbing tape uploaded by an eyewitness, it even took the band a while to stop playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JASON ALDEAN: (Singing, unintelligible).

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

ALDEAN: (Singing) ...That don't.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Screaming).

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's incredibly hard to listen to that. But as we've been talking about this hour, the sound of the gunfire was one of the first clues of what kind of weapons the gunman may've had. I'm joined now by NPR's Tom Gjelten. And first of all, the rapidity of that gunfire implied automatic weapon. Not...

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Right - the rate of fire.

SIEGEL: The rate of fire - also, we've been talking about the country music festival. The victims, the targets of this attack were out of doors at a big concert, but the shooter was inside a hotel. So one of the big questions is, how did he get, the police say, at least 16 guns into a hotel room in the Mandalay Bay Resort? Do we know?

GJELTEN: Well, the police say he had more than 10 suitcases in his room. Now think about that. You got one guy. How often does one guy need 10 suitcases? But apparently - and apparently, he brought the rifles in in those suitcases. That's what those suitcases were for. Now, he checked in three days before the shooting took place. So, you know, he may have brought in a couple suit - two or three suitcases a day. But we do suspect - we do assume that that's how he got the rifles in there.

SIEGEL: I want you to listen to a conversation that I had earlier today with John Choate. He was, until last month, the executive director of security at Wynn and Encore. Those are the Las Vegas resorts, the casinos owned by Steve Wynn's company. After the shootings at San Bernardino in California, Mr. Wynn hired Choate as a former Navy SEAL, who'd been doing a counterterrorism security work here in the country, to upgrade Wynn's casino security. And I asked Choate about a meeting of Las Vegas hotel executives earlier this year in which he - Choate, the security man - praised security at Vegas hotels but also said that the decision of Disney resorts to install metal detectors was proof that security can improve your profits, not just increase your costs. I asked him, did that mean that metal detectors hadn't been installed at the casinos?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JOHN CHOATE: There are metal detectors and other detection items that exist. And that is a necessary component really no different, Mr. Siegel, than going to the airport. Because Las Vegas' success is predicated on the hospitality industry here, if you don't put in place those measures, I'm not entirely sure what the runway looks like for...

SIEGEL: But do you mean - do I have you right though saying that at least either the Wynn or the Encore, the places that you consulted with - that if a man were to bring 10 weapons into the hotel to his room, those would all pass through a metal detector at some point?

CHOATE: I'm really not at liberty to discuss this particular (laughter) issue. But I can tell you, at least for the properties that I've consulted at, that their ability to be able to detect anomalies such as somebody bringing 10 firearms into a location is quite robust.

SIEGEL: So as you've heard the news today, were you thinking, boy, I hope from what we've done, that this shouldn't have happened at a Wynn resort? If this happened at one of ours, we would have detected this.

CHOATE: As awful as it is to say that, yes, I'm happy that - obviously very happy it did not happen.

SIEGEL: Yeah.

CHOATE: I would also be shocked if it happened at the Wynn.

SIEGEL: I've read on the website of a Las Vegas law firm that while patrons of Las Vegas hotels are free to carry concealed or open-carry weapons on the strip, legally you cannot carry a gun into a Las Vegas casino if that casino has rules forbidding concealed weapons.

CHOATE: I don't believe that there's any property, at least not in Las Vegas, that allows for either open or concealed carry. All properties in Las Vegas resorts are private property. So while this is a concealed-carry state, the hotels themselves, by being private property, do not - specifically do not allow for the carrying of firearms on the property.

SIEGEL: But if somebody comes in a big roller bag and takes it up to their room or even has a staff help them with it, that you wouldn't necessarily look inside. Would you, at these hotels?

CHOATE: It depends on the hotel. The issue is - is that the person is not going to walk in tactical gear through the front entrance.

SIEGEL: If I check into the hotel the first time through the front door at the front desk and I put bags in my room, thereafter, might I arrive from the garage and bypass all that and just go straight up from my car to - by elevator up to my floor?

CHOATE: Yes, yes.

SIEGEL: So the future gunman may have entered the hotel without anything that would arouse any suspicion or violate any rule but, thereafter, might have been able to move things up to his room covertly.

CHOATE: That is correct.

SIEGEL: And in fact, Tom Gjelten, that's what security expert John Choate who used to head security for Steve Wynn's resorts in Vegas thinks happened. What do you think of that as a working theory? - the gunman gets into the room at first and then has a couple of days to bring in any number of these, as you say, 10 bags that he had in the hotel room.

GJELTEN: Yeah. That makes great sense. I mean, I think it would probably have aroused some suspicion if a single guy shows up with 10 big rolling bags.

SIEGEL: And there for three days also - yeah.

GJELTEN: And he's got a reservation for three days. There's a couple of other points to make here. We know from the sheriff - the sheriff's comments that there are hours and hours and hours of surveillance tape to review. So they don't just rely on inspections. They have extensive - at all these hotels - extensive surveillance. And one final point, Robert - we know that there were police stationed at the resort, at the nightclub in the resort, as well as a very extensive security guard unit. And when the first shots were fired, it was - those were the people that went up to the room. They got complaints from guests that there was this noise coming from up there. They went up. They actually attempted to get in, and the gunman fired out. They then withdrew. So we actually know that there was a fairly quick response. It wasn't adequate apparently.

SIEGEL: And as for the behavior before all this of Paddock...

GJELTEN: Yeah.

SIEGEL: ...Of the gunman, which aroused no suspicion for anyone, he did acquire a large number of guns - over 35 guns if we add up what was at home and in the hotel room. When you're buying guns - I realize the gun dealers say there was nothing at all suspicious or no red flags raised by his behavior. At any point, does the high volume of purchases - does that add up? Do gun dealers see that the same person is buying lots of weapons in a short time?

GJELTEN: Well, gun dealers, especially in Nevada, are not known for being extremely rigorous in their, you know, evaluation of their customers. We did hear from one gun dealer who admits to having sold a lot of those weapons. But we know that he didn't - that Paddock didn't get all of his weapons from that gun dealer. Apparently, he was also dealing with some, we might suspect, unscrupulous gun dealers who sold him other ones.

SIEGEL: OK, that's NPR's Tom Gjelten. Thanks.

GJELTEN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.