Without a Motive, the Las Vegas Shooting Remains a Mystery


Aug 9, 2018 | 08:45 GMT

4 mins read

Broken windows at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Oct. 2, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada mark the gunman's perch.

(DAVID BECKER/Getty Images)

​Editor’s Note: This security-focused assessment is one of many such analyses found at Stratfor Threat Lens, a unique protective intelligence product designed with corporate security leaders in mind. Threat Lens enables industry professionals and organizations to anticipate, identify, measure and mitigate emerging threats to people, assets, and intellectual property the world over. Threat Lens is the only unified solution that analyzes and forecasts security risk from a holistic perspective, bringing all the most relevant global insights into a single, interactive threat dashboard.


  • While the shooter clearly wanted to kill as many people as possible, why he wanted to do so remains a mystery.
  • Absent a statement, a link to a radical cause or group, or a live suspect to tell us his motive, we are left to speculate.
  • Media attention aside, workplace violence and customer grievances remain a far more pervasive threat to corporate America and the general public.

The Las Vegas Police Department released a detailed report Aug. 3 on the Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas mass shooting. The 187-page report provides extensive details on the shooting, including lists of the firearms used, witnesses interviewed and investigative leads pursued. But most noteworthy is that after 10 months and countless hours of investigative effort, the authorities have failed to determine a motive for the shooter.

By contrast, his intent was clear: to kill as many people as he could. The large number of guns and ammunition he brought into his hotel room, many of which were not fired, expose this. His internet search history also reveals this intent. Forensic examination of his computer showed that on May 18, 2017, he entered queries such as:

  • “summer concerts 2017”
  • “grant park functions”
  • “La Jolla Beach”
  • “open air concert venues”
  • “biggest open air concert venues in USA”
  • “how crowded does Santa Monica Beach get”

That same day, he also used Google Maps to study Venice Beach and Fenway Park. His search history justifies the assumption that he chose to attack the Route 91 Music Festival, not because of a specific grudge against it, but because it offered him a large crowd of people he could shoot down into. Not only did the Mandalay Bay casino offer him an elevated shooting position into a densely packed crowd, it was familiar turf given his status as a professional gambler.

It is important to recall that not all mass homicides are terrorism, and without a motive, we cannot categorize this shooting as a terrorist attack.

Intent aside, why he wanted to kill as many people as possible remains a mystery. Based on comments before the shooting, some suggest anti-government sentiments or Second Amendment concerns motivated him. But in stark contrast to other anti-government attacks, an exhaustive investigation could not establish this.

Alternatively, some have suggested that declining financial fortunes motivated him. Indeed, before the shooting, his savings had dwindled from over $2.1 million to $530,000 — $95,000 of which was spent on guns and ammunition. But again, no clear evidence suggests finances — rather than, say, deteriorating mental health — was the primary factor.

While it can take time before claims or manifestos surface — the Unabomber case comes to mind — we are at a loss to think of another such significant attack where the perpetrator was known but where the motive remained unknown. Absent a statement, a link to a radical cause or group, or a live suspect to tell us his motive, we are left to speculate.

The Mandalay Hotel is the gold building on the left. South Las Vegas Boulevard runs from the bottom left corner of the picture, from south to north. The gunman fired northeast at the Las Vegas Village concert venue. 


Not Terrorism

Without a motive, we cannot categorize this shooting as a terrorist attack. Certainly, it generated terror via carnage. But by definition, terrorism is a violent form of political or ideological communication, or propaganda of the deed. When no such message or statement is conveyed through a violent attack, it cannot be categorized as terrorism. The distinction matters. If we are to study and understand terrorism, we must carefully guard how we define it. If everything that causes terror becomes terrorism, then the term has little value.

It is important to recall that not all mass homicides are terrorism. In fact, the majority are not terror-related. As we have previously noted, just 25 percent of all the mass public attacks in 2017 were politically or ideologically motivated. Indeed, neither of the two deadliest attacks in 2017 — the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people and the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting that killed 26 — was terrorism.

Workplace violence and customer grievances, like the one that resulted in the April 4, 2018, YouTube shooting, remain a far more pervasive threat to corporate America and the general public. While terrorism continues to punch above its weight when it comes to garnering media attention, these other threats must not be overlooked.

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