In Mesquite, the in­vis­i­ble man

City’s mem­o­ries of him all but blank

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Henry Brean, Wade Tyler Mill­ward and Sandy Lopez

MESQUITE — Stephen Pad­dock owned a home here, but no one seems to re­mem­ber him as a true mem­ber of the com­mu­nity.

Mayor Al­lan Lit­man said that since the 64-year-old was iden­ti­fied as the gun­man in the Oct. 1 mass shoot­ing in Las Ve­gas, he hasn’t talked to a sin­gle lo­cal res­i­dent who re­ally knew Pad­dock.

“They say he was a res­i­dent. That’s a pretty loose term,” Lit­man said Fri­day in his first in­ter­view since the at­tack. “He was a nonen­tity as far as any­body knows in Mesquite. I’m not sure even his neigh­bors knew him.”

Lit­man is not alone in think­ing that.

Since Mon­day, the Las Ve­gas Re­view-Jour­nal has spo­ken to dozens of peo­ple in this desert city with about 18,000 res­i­dents 80 miles north­east of Las Ve­gas. Pad­dock left lit­tle im­pres­sion on any of them.

A few lo­cals re­called see­ing him around town. Most said they never laid eyes on him be­fore his face showed up on TV. Some said they were tired of re­porters ask­ing about the guy.

The sec­ond Connie Shaw heard the name, she checked.

Rif­fling through her signin sheets, she skimmed: “Stephen Pad­dock, Stephen Pad­dock, Stephen Pad­dock.”

Shaw’s fam­ily owns The

Smokin’ Gun Club, Mesquite’s only gun range. It’s a pis­tol range, not a place Pad­dock could have used those ri­fles found lit­tered across his Man­dalay Bay suite. But she was so trou­bled that she had to make sure. Nothing.

“None of us rec­og­nized him,” Shaw said.

Even her reg­u­lars, who’ve been com­ing in through­out the week, keep talk­ing about it, won­der­ing whether they ever shared a room with him or saw him in pass­ing.

“He was ei­ther not here or kept to him­self,” she said.

Or maybe he did his shoot­ing out in the desert, like a lot of peo­ple do.

“If any­body was go­ing to try to fire some­thing like he had, well, he wouldn’t most likely go to a ri­fle range any­way,” Shaw said.

Mesquite is a rel­a­tively small town and fairly tight-knit, she said. Although no one in the gun com­mu­nity knew him, most peo­ple she’s en­coun­tered are bro­ken up.

“There had to be some­thing ex­tremely wrong with the per­son,” she said, re­fus­ing to say his name. “No nor­mal per­son would do some­thing like that to some­one else.”

En­coun­ters with a killer

After a photo of the shooter ap­peared on the news, Fer­nando Arias said he choked up. The Mesquite res­i­dent swore he saw Pad­dock’s face at least twice in one night about a month ago.

First, he saw him play­ing video poker at Casablanca casino while Pad­dock’s girl­friend, Mar­ilou Dan­ley, min­gled with cus­tomers. Then, Arias went to the State­line Casino to play darts and saw the cou­ple there, too.

She seemed joy­ful, but Pad­dock just sat there with his beer, star­ing in Arias’ di­rec­tion as if he had some­thing on his mind.

“I’ve been to jail be­fore, and this was the first time I ever felt afraid of some­body,” the 27-year-old said as he worked his land­scap­ing job Fri­day morn­ing just out­side the sub­di­vi­sion where Pad­dock bought a house in 2015. “I can’t stop think­ing that I should’ve said some­thing to him.”

Oth­ers of­fered sim­i­lar sto­ries, ones al­most cer­tainly tinged by the news and based off mem­o­ries from months ago of a man who by all ac­counts didn’t say much.

At Taco Bell, em­ployee Scotty Prescott re­called serv­ing Pad­dock a few times. He said he kept a low pro­file.

“He seemed nor­mal when he came in by him­self,” Prescott said. “He didn’t stand out much.”

An em­ployee at Domino’s Pizza on Sand­hill Boule­vard said Pad­dock was a reg­u­lar at the pizza joint. But he re­frained from talk­ing fur­ther; he said a co-worker was re­cently sus­pended for a week for talk­ing to the me­dia.

Kris Zur­bas’ Pad­dock story hap­pened ear­lier this year, when Zur­bas was fly­ing his drone over the orange mesas that sur­round Mesquite.

He said he was star­tled by a man in a blue shirt and jeans who in­tro­duced him­self as a pi­lot and said he wanted to buy a drone.

The man asked nor­mal ques­tions: How far can it fly? How high? Is it hard to ma­neu­ver? How long does the bat­tery last?

“There is al­most no traf­fic on that road, and I had never en­coun­tered any­one around there while fly­ing,” Zur­bas said. “He watched me fly for a few min­utes and left.”

Zur­bas is now con­vinced the man he spoke with was Pad­dock.

“It was numb­ing,” he said. “Just to think that I was out there alone with no­body around with who would be­come the fu­ture largest mass mur­derer in U.S. his­tory shook me up.”

Wor­ried for their rights

Mesquite res­i­dents Ryan and Ja­son don’t have a Pad­dock story, but they had plenty to say about the at­tack when they met in a wash south of Mesquite on Fri­day morn­ing for some tar­get shoot­ing with pis­tols and a pair of AR-15 ri­fles.

The two friends from Mesquite de­clined to give their sur­names and didn’t want their pic­ture taken.

“I don’t want the drama,” Ja­son said, though he ac­knowl­edged that peo­ple in town would know who they are any­way based on their guns and Ryan’s dis­tinc­tive tat­too of the Sec­ond Amend­ment.

Nei­ther man knew Pad­dock, though Ja­son thought he might have seen him around a few times. They never crossed paths with him at any of the makeshift shoot­ing ranges lo­cals like to use in the desert out­side the com­mu­nity.

“Al­most all of the avid shoot­ers know each other,” Ryan said, and no one seemed to know Pad­dock.

The men said they’re wor­ried that politi­cians from both par­ties will try to use the at­tack in Las Ve­gas as an ex­cuse to chip away at gun rights.

”There is no ‘but’ in the Sec­ond Amend­ment,” Ryan said.

He even op­poses ef­forts to ban so­called “bump stocks” like the ones Pad­dock used to make his semi-au­to­matic ri­fles fire like fully au­to­matic ones. Out­law­ing bump stocks won’t keep peo­ple from mod­i­fy­ing their guns, Ryan said, and it could trig­ger a “snow­ball ef­fect” of wrong­headed re­stric­tions.

“Guns aren’t evil. Peo­ple are evil,” Ja­son said.

“You can’t law peo­ple out of evil,” Ryan said.

At the gun store

Since the shoot­ing in Las Ve­gas, Mesquite gun store em­ployee Skip­per Speece said he has got­ten an­gry calls and at least one un­in­vited vis­i­tor to his house. Some­one wrote the word “die” on his car.

But the week hadn’t been all bad at Guns and Gui­tars. Speece said he was happy to see loyal cus­tomers stand up for the store and yell at re­porters who de­scended on the place from across the na­tion.

“The com­mu­nity is look­ing out for each other,” he said.

On Fri­day, a steady stream of cus-

Henry Brean Las Ve­gas Re­view-Jour­nal

An AR-15 ri­fle be­long­ing to a Mesquite res­i­dent sits on the ground Fri­day in a spot for tar­get shoot­ing just out­side Bunkerville.

Michael Quine Las Ve­gas Re­view-Jour­nal

The Clark County res­i­dence of Stephen Pad­dock, sec­ond from left, sits on a par­tially de­vel­oped cul-de-sac in Sun City Mesquite.

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