Jacksonville experts weigh in on Las Vegas deadly mass shooting

Questions raised about weapons, security for events, concerts

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, questions have been raised about the types of weapons that could unleash that amount of death and injury, as well as whether there can be enough security for events such as concerts.

On Sunday night, a gunman on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel-casino rained heavy fire down on a crowd of over 22,000 at an outdoor country music festival, turning the expanse into a killing field from which there was little escape. At least 59 people died and more than 500 people were injured.

A former SWAT team sniper with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, James Brown, told News4Jax on Monday that in a case in which there's a large group gathered and then there's someone from much higher ground unloading rounds is a worst-case scenario from a security perspective. The bullets flew hundreds of yards from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

"You're talking about a range of 400 to 500 yards (for) any of the high-powered rounds," Brown said. 

Not only could the rifles used by the attacker, who authorities identified as Stephen Paddock, hit targets five football fields away,  Brown said, reloading could be done very quickly.

"A magazine can be switched out in a second and a half," he said.

Brown used the analogy of the president speaking in Hemming Park in downtown Jacksonville. He said the Secret Service would already know layouts of the tall buildings in the area and whether they would present the threat of a sniper attack.

But Brown said with something as low-profile as a music concert, he's not aware of that much security pre-planning. 

Investigators in Las Vegas gave few details on the weapons used but reported over the radio that they were faced with fully automatic fire. Brown said automatic weapons are extremely difficult to buy legally, but some criminals know how to bypass that. 

"There are a number of people that have technical skills that he can come out and take the sear part of the trigger and modify it so there’s not that safety. So every time he pulls that trigger and it’s held, it keeps firing," Brown said. 

The big question moving forward is how to secure against this type of shooting happening again, Brown said. 

He added it wouldn't take long to determine what window the gunman was firing from, but it's extremely difficult to fire back successfully because, first, authorities don't know if he's alone and, secondly, they're just firing, hoping to hit him from lower ground. 

Typically, Brown said, a SWAT team would enter a building to access a shooter, which the SWAT teams did in Las Vegas. 

Could what happened in Las Vegas happen in Jacksonville area?

After the mass shooting in Las Vegas, News4Jax brought an international terrorism expert to Jacksonville Beach to take a look at the Seawalk Pavilion, which is next to a six-story hotel.

"I'm looking for cameras," said Leticia Monteagudo, who works on a task force with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and specializes in public safety and counterterrorism. "Look at these barriers to keep cars out. But the spacing, you can still fit a minivan through there." 

About 2,000 to 3,000 people will pack the Seawalk Pavilion for entertainment events and some family fun.

"If you were here with your family, you make sure that you find a position where you and your family can get out fast," Monteagudo said. "So that would be the beach or the street." 

The general manager of the adjacent Four Points by Sheraton hotel, Sonny Bhikha, said there's a fine line between providing security for guests while not invading their privacy.

Bhikha, who is originally from India, said hotel security is much different there.

"In India, there are metal detectors at every hotel," Bhikha said. "I don't know that that will ever happen here. But because of what happened in Vegas, we are reviewing our policies and making sure our guests are safe."

Concert venues ramp up security 

Many concert venues around the nation are taking security even more seriously following the tragedy in Las Vegas. 

On Monday and Tuesday nights, the St. Augustine Amphitheatre will host Jack Johnson, and concertgoers will go through metal detectors and security screeners as a part of the venue’s way of keeping everyone safe. 

An officer with the St. Augustine Police Department told News4Jax that the department will have extra officers at the amphitheater following the Las Vegas mass shooting. 

The officer said the Police Department usually has seven  police officers at the amphitheater for sold-out events, such as Monday night's concert. So there will be at least seven police officers at the amphitheater, and on top of that, the venue has its own security officers. 

According to the officer, St. Johns County Sheriff's Office deputies help with traffic and officers from the Sheriff's Office and the St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach police departments all have officers on standby who can be at the venue in less than two minutes if something were to happen.

The officer said people won't be able to get in without going through metal detectors and getting their bags checked. The officer said the Police Department was told by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security that there aren't any threats at any music venues. But most importantly, the officer said, there will be more officers on hand Monday night so people attending the concert will feel safe. 

Former FBI assistant special agent-in-charge: Preparation can save lives

A local woman who spent more than 20 years in the FBI explained what people should do in large public events, such as the concert in Las Vegas, and how preparation can save lives. 

Toni Chrabot, former FBI assistant special agent-in-charge in Jacksonville, said it makes a difference when people train themselves to plan an escape before they need.

"As an individual going to a concert, you really do have to have that extra layer of thought as you go to a main event like this ... where there is a large group of people. 'Where are my exits? What is my plan if something went wrong?' And then enjoy the concert," said Chrabot, who's now a risk management consultant with Risk Confidence Group. "But in today's environment, I don't think you know. If you look at it from a risk perspective, sure, you're taking control of your own individual risks and by taking that one step, you can save precious seconds that could save your life or somebody else's."

Chrabot believes there will be signs on why the shooter opened fire, whether they come from social media or items found in the course of the investigation.

The shooter’s profile surprises many. Paddock did not have a criminal past, and may have been wealthy.

"I think what we're seeing today is what everybody always feared and that is the lone wolf," Chrabot said. "It shows that somebody planned this alone, that executed this alone -- in really an execution-style manner. I mean, these people were ambushed from behind." 

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Following the 9/11 attacks, Chrabot was part of the FBI effort to create threat assessments, which included looking at large-scale events such as the concert in Las Vegas.

"The one thing that was always in there was that lone wolf," Chrabot said. "We have no information, no credible threats to the event, but the biggest threat probably is the lone wolf shooter and here we have it today and it's sad and it's a shame."

Chrabot said a person’s life experiences can't tell when they may come off the rails.

"I can't understand it. I don't think anybody can understand it. And I don't like profiles and stereotypes, because they can lead you down the wrong path," she said. "I think what you're going to see here is law enforcement follow the investigation with a very open mind and step by step, piece of evidence to piece of evidence, put this thing together."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About the Authors:

Specializes in Clay County issues, general assignment reporting and stories off the beaten path and anchors weekend evening newscasts.

Joy Purdy co-anchors the 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. newscasts with Tarik Minor and the 11 p.m. weeknight newscasts with Kent Justice.