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Viral Claims and Rumors in the Las Vegas Shooting

Posted: October 2, 2017 at 9:50 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Rumors and conspiracies have proliferated in the aftermath of the Sunday night shooting at a Las Vegas music festival that left at least 58 dead. Viral falsehoods include: false allegations about the shooter, a person of interest and Nevada’s gun control laws. More below.

Social media users falsely identify the gunman

Before police named Stephen Paddock as the shooter, some bloggers and social media users incorrectly pointed to a man named Geary Danley as the “murderer.” In a now deleted post, the right-wing blog, the Gateway Pundit, called Mr. Danley “a far left loon” and noted that he had followed several pages dedicated to liberal politics on Facebook.

All of these claims are untrue. The unfounded rumors appear to have originated on the anonymous messaging board 4chan.

Incorrect information about an alleged accomplice

Facebook and Twitter users have connected Marilou Danley, a woman whom law enforcement officials initially described as a “companion” of the gunman, with a viral video to suggest that she knew in advance the shooting would happenand was perhaps complicit in it. In the video, an unnamed concertgoer recounted her experience with two people who she said told a group “you’re all going to die” before being escorted out of the concert.

There is no evidence in the video that Ms. Danley had been identified by the witness, and police have since said Ms. Danley was out of the country at the time of the shooting, and is no longer a person of interest.


Las Vegas’ gun control laws cause confusion

Some inaccurate claims have popped up in post-shooting debates over gun control. Someare claiming that automatic weapons are “already illegal” in Las Vegas.

That’s not exactly true. To start, we do not yet know what kind of weapons Mr. Paddock used. Police reports suggest at least 10. The rapid pace at which he fired has led to informed speculation that at least one weapon may have been fully automatic, like a machine gun. But nothing confirmed by the time these messages were posted to social media.

Also, while it’s true that a provision of the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 banned civilian purchases of machine guns across the country, the provision also grandfathered in weapons that were made and registered before May 19, 1986. In response to a recent Freedom of Information Act request, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, counted some 175,000 transferable machine guns in the national registry as of December 2015.

Several states, like Iowa and Hawaii, have restrictions on the possession of machine guns in addition to the 1986 law. But there are none in Nevada, according to the National Rifle Association, where “it is lawful to possess, purchase or sell a machine gun or silencer that is legally registered and possessed in compliance with all federal laws and regulations.”

The man who checked into a Las Vegas hotel and massacred dozens of concertgoers with a vicious deluge of bullets late Sunday lived in a quiet retirement community in Mesquite, Nev., about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, the police said. Relatives and neighbors said he and his companion drew little attention.

The gunman, identified by the police as Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, was described as a retiree who loved to gamble and who lived with his girlfriend, Marilou Danley, 62.

Relatives said Mr. Paddock had not displayed strong political or ideological beliefs in their interactions with him.

That modest portrait of Mr. Paddock was upended shortly after 10 p.m. Sunday when, according to the police, he opened fire on fans attending an outdoor country music concert near the Mandalay Bay Resort on the Las Vegas Strip, killing nearly 60 people and injuring at least 500 others.

Mr. Paddock was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot in his room on the 32nd floor of the hotel, said Sheriff Joseph Lombardo of Clark County, which includes Las Vegas.

More than 19 rifles were found in the hotel room, a law enforcement official confirmed, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Two rifles with scopes were mounted on tripods and positioned in front of the two windows in the hotel room.

Sheriff Lombardo described Mr. Paddock as “lone wolf” who had smashed the window of the hotel with a hammer-like device before starting to fire on the crowd.

A motive for the horrific attack remained unclear. “I can’t get into the mind of a psychopath at this point,” Sheriff Lombardo said.

“It wasn’t evident that he had weapons in his room,” the sheriff said. “It has been determined that he had employees going to and fro from his room, and nothing nefarious was noticed.”

His brother, Eric Paddock, who lives in Orlando, said he and his family were “shocked, horrified” by the news, saying he was “not an avid gun guy.” The brother told CBS News that he knew Mr. Paddock had handguns, but that as far as he knew, Mr. Paddock did not own “machine guns.”

“Where the hell did he get automatic weapons? He has no military background or anything like that,” the brother said. “When you find out about him, like I said, he’s a guy who lived in a house in Mesquite and drove down and gambled in Las Vegas.”

He said he last communicated with his brother when Stephen inquired about how the family had fared during Hurricane Irma, which struck Florida in September.

“He texted me to ask about my mom after the hurricane,” Eric Paddock told reporters. “He sent her a walker.”

Christopher Sullivan, general manager of Guns & Guitars, a gun store in Mesquite, confirmed that Mr. Paddock bought three guns at his shop within the last year — a handgun and two rifles. All the purchases were legal and cleared routine federal screening, Mr. Sullivan said.

“The man does not have a criminal history,” he said of Mr. Paddock.

Mr. Sullivan, who said he had been contacted by the F.B.I. and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, declined to provide detailed descriptions of the guns Mr. Paddock bought. “We have cooperated with local and federal authorities,” he said.


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