The massacre at a country music festival in Las Vegas Sunday was especially deadly because the shooter positioned himself high above the crowd he was targeting, according to an NBC News law enforcement expert.
The gunman’s spot on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino gave him an unobstructed and protected view of thousands at the Route 91 Harvest festival at the Las Vegas Village, and was effectively a sniper’s perch, according to MSBNC law enforcement analyst Jim Cavanaugh.
“Shooting from such an elevated position into such a dense crowd, one would expect this carnage,” he said.
At least 50 people were killed when Stephen Paddock, 64, opened fire into a crowd of approximately 22,000 at the outdoor festival, police said. More than 406 people had been transported to hospitals, they added.
Authorities believe Paddock killed himself before police entered his room.
In the aftermath of the mass shooting, local police told reporters the suspect shot multiple rounds virtually uninterrupted.
Witnesses said they heard shots that appeared to be firecrackers, followed by what sounded like a machine gun. The intense gunfire caused many people to drop to the ground and scramble for cover amid chaos and confusion about where the shots were coming from.
“It sounded like it was coming from the sky above,” Megan Kearney, who managed to escape the scene with her two sisters, told MSNBC.
While still isn’t known what kind of weapon Paddock used, officials said more than 10 rifles were recovered from his hotel room.
Cavanaugh said that it was likely a sub-machine gun fired from a position very high up in the hotel, which allowed the attacker to “reign down death,” he said.
A sub-machine gun is a handheld, magazine-fed weapon that fires more than one bullet with a single pull of the trigger.
Cavanaugh said no training is necessary to fire with a gun like that, adding it appeared that the suspect just held the trigger, instead of firing in short bursts as a trained shooter would.
“It doesn’t take any great level of sophistication to accomplish this,” he said.
Sub-machine guns previously had to be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), but since 1986, a federal law prohibits their sale or transfer to civilians. They are available on the black market, however.
On the state level, Nevada has fairly lax gun laws. No state permit is required to purchase or possess a rifle, shotgun or handgun. There is no gun registration, and state law doesn’t prohibit the open carrying of a firearm.
As to the people running for their lives on the ground, there was not much they could do to protect themselves in an open field.
“They did what they could and ran to any cover or concealment,” said Cavanaugh.
Bill Bratton, former New York City Police Commissioner, told MSNBC the fact that the gunman fired his rounds from the hotel indicates a degree of planning.
“Getting a room that would be facing the venue, if that in fact was to be his target; the weaponry quite obviously was capable of traversing the distance of what has been described as about 300 yards, which would indicate a military-style weapon,” he said.