LAS VEGAS – Hours before a gunman unleashed a hail of bullets Sunday night on an outdoor country music festival on the Las Vegas strip, News4Jax anchors Melanie Lawson and Tarik Minor arrived in the city to celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary.
Monday afternoon, the couple went out on the strip for the first time since the deadly shooting, and Melanie said it was unlike anything she'd seen in her previous four trips to Las Vegas.
“You can hear a pin drop out here,” she said.
Both Melanie and Tarik are OK and were no where near the strip when Stephen Craig Paddock, a 64-year-old retiree from Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire from his perch on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. Nearly 60 people were killed and more than 500 others were injured in the attack on the Route 91 Harvest Festival, which had a crowd of more than 22,000.
Paddock appeared to fire unhindered for more than 10 minutes as Las Vegas police frantically tried to locate the man in one of the Mandalay Bay hotel towers, according to radio traffic. For several minutes, officers could not tell whether the automatic fire was coming from Mandalay Bay or the neighboring Luxor hotel.
Hours earlier, Melanie and Tarik had enjoyed sightseeing on the strip before retiring to the peace and quiet of their hotel, which is about an eighth of a mile away.
They fell asleep early and awoke in the middle of the night after the attack to a barrage of phone calls and text messages from family and friends, some of whom were offering a place to stay if the couple wanted to leave Las Vegas.
Melanie said that's not something they really considered.
“We're not the kind of people that are going to run from this. We're not going to let somebody with hateful intentions keep us stuck,” she said.
Aaron Rouse, the FBI agent in charge in Las Vegas, said investigators saw no immediate evidence connecting the mass shooting to an international terror organization, despite a claim of responsibility from the Islamic State group.
Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said a check of federal and state databases showed Paddock was not on law enforcement authorities' radar before the bloodbath.
Melanie said she went downstairs Monday morning to see what her hotel was doing after the attack. She said extra security measures had been put in place.
She was able to speak with a hotel clerk about the changes and learned he was from the Las Vegas area.
He told her he had long felt the well-known tourist destination was a “soft target” and that it was only a matter of time before something truly horrible happened there. He said other concerts and festivals on the strip draw even more than the 22,000 at Sunday night's event, so “it could have been even worse.”
Melanie said the mood in the city is mixed after the tragedy.
“We're all saddened by it,” she said, “but these are people who are here to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and other events.”
She said they saw people carrying balloons and flowers Monday afternoon toward the Mandalay Bay hotel.