The recent attack in Las Vegas left everyone — from law enforcement officials to media pundits to members of the general public — with one question on their mind: Why?
Why did Stephen Paddock choose to murder 58 innocent concertgoers and injure hundreds more? Why did he purchase an astounding arsenal of weapons? Why did he arrive at the Mandalay Bay Resort four days before the attack? Why did he select that concert, when reports suggest he also booked rooms at Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel, overlooking the city’s annual Lollapalooza music festival this past August?
Without a doubt, these attacks leave the rest of us scared, confused and speechless — especially when the attacker has no immediately obvious record of past criminal activity or problematic behavior.
Different City, Different Crime, Same Absence of a Clear Motive
This issue is mirrored by a recent — though less destructive — incident that occurred just blocks from the Hillard Heintze office in Chicago. On August 1, Chad Estep, 34, allegedly pushed Ben Benedict, 46, onto the subway tracks at a Blue Line station in the Loop. Benedict fell perilously close to the electrified third rail, and Estep allegedly tried to block Benedict from climbing back onto the platform. In addition, Estep allegedly repeatedly tried to stop others at the station from helping pull Benedict to safety. Fortunately, Benedict was able to jump back onto the platform, missing an oncoming train by mere seconds. Estep was held on bond Tuesday, October 10, while awaiting trial on charges of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery. He was bailed out of jail hours later.
A graduate of Northwestern University’s doctoral neuroscience program, Estep is married, works as a data scientist and, according to media reports, does not appear to have a criminal history in Cook County. He also did not know Benedict before this attack. Although the case is still unfolding, law enforcement officials have yet to determine a motive for this potentially life-threatening assault.
These two attacks vary in size and scope, but both emphasize how a criminal history is not the only indicator to consider when assessing an individual’s mental stability and propensity for violence. While the presence of criminal history can be a red flag in any investigation, the lack of a criminal record does not necessarily indicate an individual is in a positive state of mind or incapable of harm.
The Importance of Starting the Search for Risk Factors before an Incident Occurs
At Hillard Heintze, we conduct extensive background investigations to help companies and individuals make informed decisions, mitigate security risks or learn more about a person of interest. Our wide-ranging due diligence research covers a variety of factors beyond a basic criminal history search, and can reveal many other warning signs for our clients to consider.
For example, targeted search strategies to uncover social media profiles could shed light on an individual’s interest in guns or violence, or reveal troubling behaviors that could indicate poor mental health. Or the identification of multiple bankruptcy or tax lien filings — or lawsuits filed by creditors — could indicate a pattern of irresponsible decision-making regarding finances, making a potential business partner think twice before engaging or doing business with that individual.
Our violence prevention and risk mitigation plan can help companies determine whether intervention may be necessary for an employee displaying troubling behavior, and our Threat and Violence Risk Management experts can help to further assess and address potential security risks faced by businesses, families and individuals alike.
Paddock only left us a note with some numbers before he shot himself on the night of the Las Vegas attack – to date, no insight into his motives has been uncovered. However, as investigators continue to dig deeper into his background, we may come to learn more about this elusive killer. In the meantime, we remember there are many early warning signs to mitigate risk and hopefully prevent attacks — of whatever size or scale — from occurring.