It has been a year since the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, and a woman set to talk at a sunrise ceremony commemorating the lives lost says that although hearts are still healing, she hopes people can move forward from the enormous tragedy with “love and light.” Among survivors, victims’ family members, first-responders and elected officials offering prayers, songs and speeches on Monday (Oct. 1), Mynda Smith will remember her sister.
Nyesa Davis Tonks was killed by a gunman in a high-rise hotel raining gunfire into a crowd of 22,000 at an outdoor country music concert on the Las Vegas Strip. Nyesa pronounced her name “Neesha.” She was a 46-year-old single mother originally from the Salt Lake City area who was raising three boys in Las Vegas. Smith said she was energetic, adventurous, a fan of all kinds of music.
“I want to bring the message about living life to the fullest,” Smith told The Associated Press. “About how grateful we are for our community, the love and support that we got, and being ‘Vegas Strong.’” Smith started a scholarship fund for victims’ children and says she reached loved ones of almost all the dead. Thirty-three were from California, six others from Nevada, four from Canada and 12 from other U.S. states.
“It was a heartbreak every time,” Smith said. “This was a tragedy of grand scale. We have a long way to go. But we have to move forward with love and light.” Many who were cheering Jason Aldean’s headline set on the Las Vegas Strip late Oct. 1, 2017, said later they thought the rapid crack-crack-crack they heard was fireworks — until people fell dead, wounded, bleeding.
From across neon-lit Las Vegas Boulevard, a gambler-turned-gunman with what police later called a meticulous plan but an unknown reason fired assault-style rifles for 11 minutes from 32nd-floor windows of the Mandalay Bay hotel into the concert crowd below. Police said he then put a pistol in his mouth and killed himself. Medical examiners later determined that all 58 deaths were from gunshots. Another 413 people were wounded, and police said at least 456 were injured fleeing the carnage.
A flock of 58 doves will be released at the daybreak memorial, and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo also are due to speak. They won’t provide answers to what made Stephen Craig Paddock unleash his hail of gunfire. Lombardo declared the police investigation ended in August. He issued a report that said hundreds of interviews and thousands of hours of investigative work found no motive, no conspiracy and no other shooters.
A final FBI report, including a behavioral analysis of Paddock, is expected by year-end. Another report last month involving the Federal Emergency Management Agency found communications were snarled and police, fire and medical responders were overwhelmed by 911 calls, false reports of other shootings and the number of victims.
Las Vegas police continue to make weekly releases of material collected following the attack under court order in a media public records lawsuit. Included have been investigative documents, 911 audio recordings, police reports, witness statements and many hours of officer body-worn video. Unanswered in the 21 batches posted to date: What made a 64-year-old former accountant, real estate investor, small plane pilot and high-limit video poker player assemble an arsenal and attack a concert crowd?
Paddock was characterized by police as a loner with no religious or political affiliations who became obsessed with guns, spent more than $1.5 million in the two years before the shooting and distanced himself from his girlfriend and family. A forensic accountant recently put the value of Paddock’s estate at just under $1.4 million. Paddock’s mother said the money should go to victims. A disbursal plan has not yet been established.
Paddock’s gambling habits made him a sought-after casino patron. Over several days, Mandalay Bay employees readily let him use a service elevator to take suitcases to the $590-per-night suite he had been provided for free. The room had a commanding view of the Strip and the Route 91 Harvest Festival concert grounds across the street. After breaking out windows, Paddock fired 1,057 shots in 11 minutes, police say.
Incendiary shots hit airport fuel tanks but didn’t ignite. He sprayed gunfire through his suite door, wounding a hotel security guard in the leg. Paddock may have seen the guard coming with a camera set up on a service cart in the hall, police said. On Las Vegas Boulevard, uniformed police officers crouched near patrol vehicles being pocked by gunshots. Windows broke. One officer was struck in the arm. Another was hit in the neck. Both survived.
Officer Charleston Hartfield, who was off-duty attending the concert, was killed. Sixty-four minutes after shooting stopped, a SWAT officer with explosives blasted through Paddock’s hotel room door. Officers found him dead on the floor with guns and ammunition clips strewn about. Drapes fluttered next to broken windows.
Sirens wailed. Strangers carried wounded concert-goers to pickup trucks driven by volunteers that snaked through jammed traffic to hospitals. Paddock left survival gear and thousands of rounds of ammunition in the room and bomb-making materials in his car parked in the Mandalay Bay valet area. Police said he left no suicide note or manifesto.