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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Las Vegas attack: 59 killed and more than 500 injured in deadliest mass shooting in modern US history

President Donald Trump condemns the  shooting as an 'act of pure evil' and said the nation was 'joined together in sadness, shock and grief'

LAS VEGAS // A gunman committed the deadliest shooting in US history killing 59 people and injuring 527 by spraying a crowd with machine gun fire at a music festival in Las Vegas.

The massacre - condemned by Donald Trump as an "act of pure evil" - was carried out by Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, a white man from Mesquite, Nevada.

The gunman killed himself inside the room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, from where he had carried out his killing spree.

The shooting started as a crowd of more than 22,000 people watched country music star Jason Aldean perform on Sunday night at the end of the three-day Route 91 Harvest Festival.

The crowd screamed and fled in panic as victims dropped to the ground while others hid and crawled under parked cars. Muzzle flashes could be seen from the hotel across Las Vegas Boulevard from the festival site as the sound of automatic gunfire took over from the music.

Swat teams using explosives stormed the gunman's hotel room in the gold-coloured glass skyscraper and found him dead.

Paddock had 16 rifles and a handgun in his hotel room with two of them modified to make them fully automatic, officials said.

At Paddock's home, authorities found 18 more guns, explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Also, several pounds of ammonium nitrate, a fertiliser that can be turned into explosives such as those used in the 1995 Oklahoma bombing, were in his car, the sheriff said.

The motive of the attack remained unclear. Aaron Rouse, the FBI agent in charge in Las Vegas, said investigators saw no immediate evidence connecting it to an international terror organisation, despite a claim of responsibility from ISIL.

Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman said the attack was the work of a "crazed lunatic full of hate."

The shooter’s brother expressed his disbelief in an interview from his home in Orlando, Florida.

“We have no idea how this happened,” said Eric Paddock, 55. “It’s like an asteroid just fell on top of our family.

"He's just a guy who played video poker and took cruises and ate burritos at Taco Bell. There's no political affiliation that we know of. There's no religious affiliation that we know of.

“He might have had a gun or two, but he didn’t have a huge stock of guns,” he said. “As far as we knew, he had enough money to live the rest of his life in comfort.”

While Stephen Paddock appeared to have no criminal history, his father was a notorious bank robber, Eric Paddock confirmed to The Orlando Sentinel. Benjamin Paddock was on an FBI most wanted list in the 1960s after escaping from prision while his son was a teenager.

Survivors recounted the terrifying moments when they realised an evening of entertainment was descending into a bloodbath.

Kodiak Yazzie, 36, said the music stopped temporarily when the first shots began and then started up again before the second round of pops sent the performers ducking for cover and fleeing the stage.

"It was the craziest stuff I've ever seen in my entire life," she said. "You could hear that the noise was coming from west of us, from Mandalay Bay. You could see a flash, flash, flash, flash."

Read more: 'He saved my life and lost his' - stories of horror and bravery from Las Vegas

Monique Dumas, of British Columbia, Canada, said she was at the concert, six rows from the stage, when she thought she heard a bottle breaking, then a burst of pops that sounded liked fireworks.

Images and videos showed hundreds of people soaked in blood and being dragged away by rescuers. Couples held hands as they ran through the dirt car park. Faces were etched with shock and confusion, and people wept and screamed.

Dozens of ambulances took away the wounded, while some people loaded victims into their cars and drove them to the hospital.

The attack was condemned by leaders around the world including the in the UAE and the UK.

Across the United States, messages of unity called for action against gun violence.

Mr Trump stopped short at calling the shooting an act of terrorism and urged to wait for the investigation to conclude. The president said he would travel to Las Vegas on Wednesday, and ordered flags to be flown at half mast.

"Our unity cannot be shattered by evil, our bonds cannot be broken by violence," Mr Trump said. "We call upon the bonds that unite us: our faith, our family, and our shared values. We call upon the bonds of citizenship, the ties of community, and the comfort of our common humanity."

Mr Trump praised the emergency services “for their courageous efforts” in helping to save lives and offered condolences to the families of those killed.

"We cannot fathom their pain. We cannot imagine their loss,” he said.

The attack was the latest in a relentless string of mass shootings in the US and immediately reignited calls for tougher gun controls

Democrat figures pointed to loose gun control measures and the administration’s policies as part of their condemnation of the shooting.

“The thoughts and prayers of politicians are cruelly hollow if they are paired with continued legislative indifference. It's time for Congress to get off its ass and do something,” senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said.

The Gun Violence Archive tweeted after the attack, that just in 2017, gun violence had killed 11,572 people, injured 23,365 and that 271 mass shootings had taken place.

The Las Vegas shooting came as Congress debates this week two major laws to loosen gun restrictions on silencers and carrying concealed weapons across state lines.

Hillary Clinton urged Americans to stand up to the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby in the US.

Two broken windows are seen at The Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino following the mass shooting at the Route 91 Festival in Las Vegas. Mike Blake / Reuters
Two broken windows are seen at The Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino following the mass shooting at the Route 91 Festival in Las Vegas. Mike Blake / Reuters

“Our grief isn't enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again,” she said.

Asked about the motive for the attack, Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said: "I can't get into the mind of a psychopath at this point."

He was not on law enforcement authorities' radar before the bloodbath.

Police found several more weapons at Paddock's home about 145 kilometres from Las Vegas.

Nevada has some of the most permissive gun laws in the United States. It does not require firearm owners to obtain licenses or register their guns.

Authorities said last night they were no longer looking for the woman who police believe was a companion to the gunman. Police initially said that the 62-year-old woman was Paddock's roommate, but later said she had been outside the country and was not involved in the shooting.

Hospital emergency rooms were jammed with the wounded.

"Every single bed was being used, every single hallway was being used. Every single person there was trying to save a life," said Ruben Kihuen, a Democrat senator who visited one of the hospitals.

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Las Vegas shooting: The key facts

The deadliest shooting rampages in the US since 2012

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The dead included at least three off-duty police officers from various departments who were attending the concert.

Sonny Melton, a 29-year-old registered nurse at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, was killed as he tried to save his wife, she told WCYB Radio.

"He saved my life," Melton’s wife, Heather Gulish Melton, said. "He grabbed me from behind and started running when I felt him get shot in the back.

“At this point, I’m in complete disbelief and despair. I don’t know what to say. Sonny was the most kind-hearted, loving man I have ever met. He saved my life and lost his,” Melton’s wife, Heather Gulish Melton, said in a statement.

Las Vegas authorities put out a call for blood donations and set up a hotline to report missing people and speed the identification of the dead and wounded. They also opened a "family reunification centre" for people to find loved ones.

The attack brought the city famed for its casinos and entertainment to a standstill.

Part of the Las Vegas Strip and a major highway were shut and McCarran International Airport temporarily halted

"It's a devastating time," the sheriff said.

Hours after the shooting, Aldean posted on Instagram that he and his crew were safe and that the shooting was "beyond horrific."

"It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night," the country star said.

Before Sunday, the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history took place in June 2016, when a gunman who professed support for Muslim extremist groups opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people.