It’s been nearly a month since Stephen Paddock opened fire on an unsuspecting crowd of 22,000 country music fans gathered on the Las Vegas strip for the Route 91 Harvest Festival, killing 58 and injuring more than 500 in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The motive behind the heinous act remains a frustrating mystery to the police investigating it, with little in the way of clues or rationale emerging despite a relentless dive into Paddock’s personal life and dozens of interviews of his friends and family.
Neuropathologist Hannes Vogel hopes he might be able to discover some sliver of an explanation, though. The director of the neuropathology lab at Stanford University Medical Center told The New York Times that he is awaiting receipt early next week of what remains of Paddock’s brain after the inveterate gambler committed suicide with an apparent self-inflicted bullet wound to his head following his rampage.
“The magnitude of this tragedy has so many people wondering how it could have evolved,” Dr. Vogel told the paper of his search for any evidence of the more than half-dozen neurological diseases proposed to the Las Vegas coroner’s office that might have played a role in Paddock’s actions. The chances of finding definitive answers in Paddock’s brain are admittedly slim, but Vogel said, “all these speculations out there will be put to rest, I think.”
Vogel, one of the few academic neuropaths to focus on this kind of forensic investigation, receives several brains a month for similar probes, which are not unheard of in the case of mass killers. He’ll he looking for and photographing any abnormalities he sees — tumors or malformations — and dissecting the grey matter even thinner than the Las Vegas coroner who did the initial assessment, creating paper-thin slices that he and his colleagues will examine down to the cellular level. “I think for a lot of things people are speculating about, it’s still quite usable, pending viewing it,” Vogel said of his expectations for the remains whose injury may compromise his ability to make an overall assessment of Paddock’s brain tissue.
One expert who spoke to the Times said making correlations between the brain structure and behavior is “very difficult,” often raising more questions than they answer. In the absence of a suicide note, manifesto, social media trail or any obvious motivation — the Times reported earlier this week that Paddock removed the hard drive from a computer found in his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel room — speculation has fallen on the possibility that the shooter suffered from fronto-temporal lobar degeneration, a disease process that affects the “executive-function” areas of the brain that are vital to decision-making and social interaction; it often strikes patients in their 50s or 60s and can cause noticeable personality changes.
“These people are notoriously prone to errors in judgment and unrestrained behavior,” Vogel said, adding that in Paddock’s case “people will say in the same breath that this guy was so meticulous in planning and so forth, that that would seem unlikely.” Vogel will also look for other standard neurological issues, from strokes and blood vessel disease to tumors, epilepsy, MS, degenerative disorders, physical trauma and infection.
“I think everybody is pretty doubtful that we’re going to come up with something,” Vogel said. “The possibilities, neuropathologically, for explaining this kind of behavior are very few.”
Click here to read the full Times report.