In Mesquite, the invisible man
City’s memories of him all but blank
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-
An AR-15 rifle belonging to a Mesquite resident sits on the ground Friday in a spot for target shooting just outside Bunkerville.
The Clark County residence of Stephen Paddock, second from left, sits on a partially developed cul-de-sac in Sun City Mesquite.