The Corner

Law & the Courts

The Las Vegas Shooter’s Motive — Is the Simplest Explanation the Best Explanation?

On the day after the Las Vegas massacre, I wrote a post calling the shooting “one of the most chilling and mysterious events I’ve ever seen.” A man expended an immense amount of time and money to kill dozens of his fellow citizens, and he left no manifesto, had no known radical affiliations, and and had no record of mental illness. We knew what he did. We had no idea why.

It turns out that we still don’t. Late last week the Las Vegas police department released an 81-page report detailing the results of the investigation so far — an investigation that involved a comprehensive examination of the shooter’s life and health right up until the moment of his suicide. The conclusions?

Paddock acted alone. Thousands of hours of digital media were reviewed and after all the interviews conducted, no evidence exists to indicate Paddock conspired with or acted in collusion with anybody else. This includes video surveillance, recovered DNA19and analysis of cellular phones and computers belonging to Paddock.

No suicide note or manifesto was found. Of all the evidence collected from rooms 32-135 and 32-134, there was no note or manifesto stating Paddock’s intentions. The only handwritten documentation found in either room was the small note indicating measurements and distances related to the use of rifles.

There was no evidence of radicalization or ideology to support any theory that Paddock supported or followed any hate groups or any domestic or foreign terrorist organizations. Despite numerous interviews with Paddock’s family, acquaintances and gambling contacts, investigators could not link Paddock to any specific ideology.


Reference the 1,965 investigated leads, 21,560 hours of video, 251,099 images obtained and 746 legal notices filed or sent, nothing was found to indicate motive on the part of Paddock or that he acted with anyone else.

The more I think about this case, the more I think the “motive” could be the simplest and most chilling of all. He killed just to kill. The classic reasons for spree killings — vengeance, insanity, radicalization, etc. — are horrific, but their explanation suggests a solution. We can focus on better mental health. We can watch for warning signs. We can counter radical propaganda.

Can we do anything to stop a man who simply decides to kill? He had no criminal record. He bought his guns legally. There isn’t an easy, enforceable gun control solution. While there’s some thought that a bump-stock ban could have made his spree less deadly (if he complied), in a way we’re fortunate that he chose to use rifles to carry out his plan. Police found explosive precursors in his vehicle, and a bomb attack — especially one delivered via vehicle — could have been far more deadly.

The investigation continues, and perhaps law enforcement will one day uncover the evidence that makes more sense of one of the worst days in recent American history. But for now it seems that we’re no closer to discovering the truth of the motive than we were during the sad and terrible hours immediately following the attack.

Why did the shooter kill so many? Perhaps it boils down to one thing. Perhaps he was just evil, and that’s all we’ll ever know.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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