The FBI has released new documents relating to Stephen Paddock, who killed 61 people (including himself) at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas in 2017. Paddock left no letter or manifesto to indicate a motive, and the FBI’s heavily redacted files provide no additional insight. However, they provide some new details, like his anger over reduced casino VIP rewards and professed respect for Adolf Hitler.
On Oct 1, 2017, Paddock began shooting from a hotel room at Mandalay Bay, targeting the large crowd at the music festival below. In addition to the fatalities, over 400 people were struck by his bullets. An even larger number sustained injuries in the ensuing stampede.
Because the shooting took place on the Las Vegas Strip and Paddock was a frequent casino patron, a lot of attention gets paid to the gambling connection. Paddock’s preferred game was video poker, which he played for high stakes. According to the new files, one associate said he had a bankroll in the millions. At the time, however, local authorities said his bank accounts had dwindled in the two years leading up to the shooting.
But he wasn’t broke. Before committing the atrocity, Paddock paid off all his gambling debts and sent $100,000 to his girlfriend.
Anger at the casino industry was one factor in a veritable forest of red flags surrounding Paddock. According to the newly-released documents, a fellow gambler told the FBI that Paddock’s most recent grievance was a reduction in VIP rewards. He’d become accustomed to receiving perks like cruises and penthouse suites for his high-rolling patronage, but these had been scaled back.
Ironically, the room from which he conducted his shooting had been a comp from Mandalay Bay.
A Forest of Red Flags
The trouble with assigning a motive to Paddock isn’t that it’s hard to find one. Rather, there are too many, and the connections between them aren’t obvious.
Here are some of the facts that came out about Paddock soon after the shooting:
- His younger brother described him as a narcissist, bored with life, and “the king of microaggression.”
- His doctor suspected he suffered from bipolar disorder, but Paddock refused to accept the diagnosis or take medication.
- He was a germophobe but also mistrustful of medicine.
- His father had been a bank robber, and there were indications that he may have been seeking similar notoriety.
- Police found his laptop filled with child pornography and a “disturbing” search history.
- He’d been having relationship troubles and grown distant from his live-in girlfriend over the year before the shooting.
- Before settling on the Route 91 Harvest festival, he had researched many alternative targets. His apparent goal had been maximizing the death toll without much regard for who the victims would be.
Add to that pile the details we now know due to the newly-released FBI documents:
- He was angry and frustrated that, despite increasing losses, the casinos he frequented were cutting back the perks to which he’d become accustomed.
- Well before the shooting, he had begun stockpiling cash and firearms.
- A former acquaintance said he was “mad at the system,” fascinated by Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and expressed the belief that Hitler was “a good man.”
Despite all of that, he still had plenty of money in the bank. Moreover, the FBI failed to find a connection between Paddock and any known hate group or terrorist organization.
As a gambling journalist, news of the shooting struck close to home for me in 2017. Although living far from Las Vegas, I had many connections there, including my employer at the time.
But as a Nova Scotian, Paddock’s case now reminds me strongly of another that happened close to home in the literal sense. In April 2020, with the province in COVID-19 lockdown, local denturist Gabriel Wortman murdered 22 people before being shot and killed by police.
Like Paddock, Wortman was in good financial shape, had no terrorist affiliations, and left no clear indication of why he had gone on his rampage. However, a former FBI profiler described him as a “grievance collector.”
That is, his anger didn’t have one particular target. His narcissism led him to go through life accumulating a list of reasons why every instance of unhappiness was someone else’s fault. Wortman’s first victims were people with whom he had a specific grudge. But ultimately, like Paddock, he was simply trying to maximize the number of fatalities before the police stopped him.
“Grievance collector” doesn’t have a formal definition; it’s not a psychiatric diagnosis. As far as I can tell, no one has used it to describe Paddock. But both men quite obviously had anger issues. And neither seemed to be able to settle on any one target for that anger.
The newly-released FBI files provide details, but they don’t have answers. That’s because there are no answers, at least not in the sense of a singular motivation. Solving the riddle of men like Paddock and Wortman would require advances in psychology. We need to understand how such seething, directionless rage comes about in the first place.
Opinions in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of Bonus or Catena Media.