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Mandalay Bay gunman spent two weeks in Las Vegas before killings; researched outdoor concerts in other large cities

The gunman who fired on a country music festival in Las Vegas also researched outdoor performance areas in Boston and other large cities in recent months, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation said Thursday.

But Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nev., doesn’t appear to have traveled to most of those locations, said the source, who was not authorized to talk about the inquiry into Sunday’s mass shooting, which killed 58 people and injured nearly 500.

Paddock also appears to have spent much of September in Las Vegas, where he was seen gambling in the weeks before the attack, according to casino representatives.

Officials have struggled to find a motive for why Paddock, a retired real estate investor who liked to gamble, took at least 10 suitcases worth of firearms and ammunition to the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers gathered below.

But new details about Paddock’s activities in recent months suggest that he may have had other targets in mind.

In the first week of August, Paddock reserved rooms at an upscale hotel overlooking Chicago’s Grant Park during Lollapalooza, one of the nation’s largest outdoor music festivals, a law enforcement source said.

The event was headlined by major acts including Chance the Rapper, the Killers and Muse, and attendees included Sasha and Malia Obama, the daughters of President Obama. It would have been a target similar to the one in Las Vegas — huge crowds packed into an outdoor space beneath tall buildings — but with far more people.

Paddock was ultimately a no-show for his reservations in Chicago. “We can confirm that there was no guest under that name who stayed at our hotel in August during the Lollapalooza music festival,” said Blackstone hotel spokeswoman Emmy Carragher.

After paying for his girlfriend’s trip to visit family in the Philippines, Paddock appears to have been in downtown Las Vegas from Sept. 14 to 28, according to records reviewed by representatives of the El Cortez Hotel and Casino, who spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity.

The representatives said Paddock did not spend the night there or make a reservation. But he was seen in the El Cortez on Sept. 16, and he obtained a player's card and played slots and blackjack on Sept. 17, buying in on the latter with $40. Representatives said Paddock won about $300.

"He only played one time," one of the representatives said. "Enough to get a meal."

The next week, Paddock returned to El Cortez on Sept. 21 and 24. At some point, he ate two meals with his winnings. He cashed out his ticket on Sept. 24, his sole use of the casino's ATM machines.

The timeline overlaps with the three-day outdoor Life Is Beautiful concert, which ran from Sept. 22 to 24 and which featured similarly high-profile acts as Lollapalooza.

Paddock booked an Airbnb in a condo building overlooking the Life Is Beautiful music festival, leading investigators to gather video footage from the building to learn more.

“Was he doing pre-surveillance? We don’t know yet,” Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said Wednesday.

El Cortez representatives disputed reports that Paddock was kicked out of the property or that the hotel was sold out around the time of Life Is Beautiful. Casino representatives said he was not on the radar of management because he did not win or lose a substantial sum.

After Paddock was identified, a compliance officer for El Cortez entered his name into their system and determined he had a brief, limited interaction there, representatives said. The hotel leaders then contacted police to share their findings.

"We never knew he was here until after this murder," one of the representatives said.

During Sunday’s attack on the Route 91 Harvest country music festival, Paddock apparently also shot at a pair of jet-fuel storage tanks at McCarran International Airport, which sits next to both the concert fairgrounds and the Mandalay Bay hotel.

Two rifle rounds struck a 1.8 million-gallon tank on the western edge of the airport. One round penetrated the tank, which was partially filled at the time, and the other round got stuck in the tank’s outer steel shell, airport officials said.

Neither of the shots appeared to have started a fire. “Jet fuel is treated kerosene and is not classified as a flammable liquid, but as a combustible liquid,” Clark County Dept. of Aviation spokesman Chris Jones said in an email. “Contrary to speculation, there is almost zero likelihood gunfire damage could trigger a fire or explosion at a commercial fuel storage facility.”

Officials are still trying to understand what happened during Sunday’s attack. Clark County Fire Chief Greg Cassell said Thursday that the fire alarms in Mandalay Bay were triggered during the shooting, but he did not know whether this was caused by gun smoke, a person pulling the alarm or some other aspect of the police response.

Firefighters on the ground saw flashing lights above and only later determined that the alarm had not been set off by flames.

Cassell said more than 32 other calls of gunshot victims at locations on or near the Strip, including Caesars Palace and South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa, came in after Sunday night’s shootings. The scattered locations of the calls contributed to the sense that other shooters may have been active and complicated the response.

“What is going on in our town? Is this a single event, or are we now under a Mumbai-style attack where we’ve got multiple things going on at multiple properties?” Cassell said he wondered.

The chief said 108 Clark County firefighters and 14 chief officers responded. More than 50 firefighters from neighboring departments also assisted.

Paramedic crews took more than 200 patients to the hospital, the chief said.

After the attack, many bodies were clustered by the music festival stage, said firefighter-paramedic Bob Stout, who was with a team of firefighters and police who went inside the concert venue to search for anyone left behind.

It was an eerie scene, strewn with bullet-pocked bodies, abandoned bottles, camping chairs, sunglasses and cell phones, he said. The cell phones kept ringing and ringing.

One of the tour buses was riddled with bullet holes. Stout and others followed trails of blood out of the venue; one trail went 200 yards to a parking lot, where presumably the victim who’d been bleeding was picked up.

Meanwhile, as lawmakers in Washington again took up the issue of gun regulation, the National Rifle Assn. on Thursday called for a government review on the legality of “bump stock” accessories that modify semiautomatic weapons to fire at nearly fully automatic speed. Investigators have said the Las Vegas gunman had 12 such devices outfitted on the weapons he amassed to mount the recent attack.

“The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations,” the gun-advocacy powerhouse said in its statement, which asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to evaluate whether such devices are legal under federal law.

The NRA’s announcement came as some Republican lawmakers signaled that they would be open to a ban on such devices.

Hamilton reported from Las Vegas, and Pearce and Winton from Los Angeles. The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.

matt.pearce@latimes.com

Matt Pearce is a national reporter for The Times. Follow him on Twitter at @mattdpearce.

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UPDATES:

6:05 p.m.: This article was updated with information about the gunman’s movements at the El Cortez Hotel and Casino.

4:10 p.m.: This article was updated with information on other locations the gunman may have researched.

1:10 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information on a possible hotel reservation made by the gunman in Chicago and with information about the National Rifle Assn.’s position on bump stocks.

This article was originally published at 10:15 a.m.

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