It has been over a year since Stephen Paddock opened fire on a Las Vegas concert and killed 58 people in what was the deadliest mass shooting in history. However, unlike many acts of targeted violence, Paddock’s motives remain unclear.
In a press briefing following the attack, Sheriff Joe Lombardo stated, “What we have been able to answer are the questions of who, what, when, where and how. What we have not been able to definitively answer is the ‘why’ Stephen Paddock committed this act.”
We are still in this state of limbo, and while knowing the now-dead mass murderer’s motives won’t change what happened a year ago, the answer is actually of great significance to threat assessment professionals like myself. It matters even more to our full Threat and Violence Risk Management team here at Hillard Heintze.
This is because a motive is essential for preventing violence in the future.
Stephen Paddock: What We Know and What We Don’t
In October, a Wall Street Journal article asked experts what could have possibly been Paddock’s intent behind the mass shooting. The responses varied from massive gambling losses; yearning for infamy prior to death; mental health struggles; and even his father, a notable robber from the 1960s with sociopathic tendencies.
Otherwise, Paddock was described as “clandestine.” A 10-month investigation revealed little other than he acted alone. He did not leave a manifesto or relics of a radicalized ideology, nor did interviews with those close to him reveal anything significant. Over 180 pages and not an answer in sight.
Why This Matters to Threat Assessments Going Forward
Why is it so important to know a person’s motive when carrying out an act of targeted violence? Threat assessment professionals, in order to prevent acts of targeted violence, employ a process of gathering and assessing information about individuals who may have the interest, motive, intention and capability of mounting attacks. Gauging the potential threat to and vulnerability of a targeted individual — or in this case a concert event — is key to preventing violence.
The ultimate outcome of a threat investigation is to determine whether an individual has the motive and means to develop or act on an opportunity to attack so that we can employ preventive measures, such as court-ordered mental health treatment, surveillance and liaison with family members and police.
By using a combination of investigative skill, corroboration and common sense, our firm gathers the information and evidence to make a thoughtful assessment of the threat an individual may pose to a target. Once an assessment is made, we develop a plan to monitor the individual and to intervene, as appropriate, to prevent an attack.
But when a motive cannot be found, it can be confounding and concerning, because the best practice system described above would not be able to catch it. Perhaps Paddock did exhibit behaviors that indicated his plans for targeted violence, but these were not documented, leaving the ad hoc search for his goals unfruitful.
The Search Isn’t Over
I note that the search for a motive in the Las Vegas shooting is far from over. Over the summer, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) promised its own report on the matter, to be released after the massacre’s anniversary. The anniversary has come and gone, and now I anxiously await — alongside many of my colleagues — to see if we can glean any insights that could be helpful for threat assessments.
The more we understand Paddock, the better we can be at preventing targeted violence