The girlfriend of the gunman who killed 58 people in Las Vegas over the weekend says she was not aware that he was planning violence of any kind – instead fearing that a trip to the Philippines he sent her on was a way to break up with her.
Marilou Danley released a statement having returned from her trip and spending much of the day being questioned by FBI agents in Los Angeles – with authorities searching for any clues that might point to a motive behind the mass shooting by Stephen Paddock.
Authorities had previously labelled Ms Danley, 62, a “person of interest”. The statement, read by her lawyer, indicated that she plans on fully co-operating with the FBI.
“I knew Stephen as a kind, caring, quiet man,” the statement read. “I loved him and hoped for a quiet future together. He never said anything to me, or took any action that I was aware of that I understood in any way to be a warning that something horrible like this was going to happen.”
“It never occurred to me in any way whatsoever that he was planning violence against anyone,” the statement added.
“I am devastated by the deaths and injuries that have occurred and my prayers go out to the victims and their families and all those who have been hurt by these awful events,” Ms Danley’s statement said.
Ms Danley returned to the US voluntarily – and has not been arrested – after what she said was a trip that Paddock, 64, had paid for. He had sent her to the Philippines to spend time with her family.
The statement indicated that Paddock had purchased Ms Danley a ticket roughly two weeks ago, and had urged her to go visit her family. He then wired her $100,000 and told her to buy a home for her and her family. She indicated in the statement that she was grateful for the money and excited to spend time with family and friends back home, but that she was worried that the money and plane flight were his way of breaking up with her.
Ms Danley flew into Los Angeles from the Philippines, her home country, on Tuesday night and was met by FBI agents who took her out of a side exit to avoid waiting television crews.
Ms Danley was captured on footage broadcast by NBC News, being swiftly pushed on a wheelchair, using her left hand to keep a baseball cap pressed down on her head. A lawyer representing her told US media she was being treated as a witness.
As police and investigative agents scramble for clues to explain what led Paddock to check into a 32nd-floor suite in the Mandalay Bay hotel overlooking a country music festival, killing 58 people and injuring 489, they are increasingly hopeful his girlfriend of several years could help fill in some blanks.
The fact Ms Danley has suggested she knows little of his motive may come as a blow, but investigators will likely be trying to gain as much information about her interactions with Paddock and their daily life.
In an evening press conference, Sheriff Lombardo called Paddock “disturbed and dangerous” as he provided further detail on the investigation. Paddock had fired continually for 10 minutes – injuring 489 people, a total reduced from the previous update of more than 500. Mr Lombardo said that 317 of those injured had been released from hospital.
Sheriff Lombardo said Paddock rented a room in downtown Las Vegas around the same time as an alternative music festival – Life is Beautiful – held between 22 and 24 September. Paddock rented a room through Airbnb at the Ogden hotel in downtown Las Vegas but Mr Lombardo said he did not know why. He said investigators have recovered items and video from the hotel.
For years Paddock had quietly stockpiled an arsenal of high-powered weapons while pursuing a passion for high-stakes gambling at Nevada casinos, where his game of choice was video poker, a relatively solitary pursuit with no dealer and no humans to play against.
Paddock had gathered 47 guns since 1982 and bought 33 of them, mostly rifles, over the past year alone, right up until three days before the attack, said Jill Snyder, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“He was a private guy. That’s why you can’t find out anything about him,” his brother, Eric Paddock, said from his home in Florida. As for what triggered the massacre, the brother said: “Something happened that drove him into the pit of hell.”
Also, casino regulators are looking closely at Paddock’s gambling habits and checking their records to see whether he had any disputes with casinos or fellow patrons. In addition, investigators are examining a dozen financial reports filed in recent weeks when he bought more than $10,000 in casino chips.
It was in a casino where Paddock met his girlfriend, who was a high-limit hostess for Club Paradise at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, Eric Paddock told The Washington Post. “They were adorable – big man, tiny woman. He loved her. He doted on her,” he said.
Employees at a Starbucks in Mesquite, where the couple lived told the Los Angeles Times that Paddock often berated Ms Danley in public. The Starbucks is the only one in town and is inside the Virgin River Casino.
“It happened a lot,” Esperanza Mendoza, supervisor of the Starbucks, told the Times. He would verbally abuse her when Ms Danley asked to use his casino card to buy food or other things inside the casino, Mr Esperanza said.
“He would glare down at her and say – with a mean attitude – ‘You don’t need my casino card for this. I’m paying for your drink, just like I’m paying for you.”
FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, speaking at a cyber security forum in Boston yesterday, said investigators were “reconstructing the life, the behaviour, the pattern of activity of [Paddock] and anyone and everyone who may have crossed his path in the days and the weeks leading up to this horrific event”.
“This individual and this attack didn’t leave the sort of immediately accessible thumbprints that you find on some mass casualty attacks,” he said. Paddock had no known criminal history. Public records contained no indication of any financial problems
It is known that Ms Danley was in Asia on Sunday night when the attack happened, having arrived in the Philippines on 15 September. According to immigration documents, she left on 22 September then returned three days later on a flight from Hong Kong. She holds Australian citizenship and was travelling on an Australian passport.
Philippines immigration bureau spokeswoman Antonette Mangrobang said authorities there had been working with US officials.
“From the very beginning, we have been providing them necessary information that would aid their investigation,” she said.
Ms Danley’s sisters believe Paddock sent her away so she would not interfere with his plans.
Australia’s Channel 7 TV network interviewed the sisters with their faces obscured and their names withheld. They said they believe their sister could not have known about his ideas. They said Ms Danley was a “good person” who would have sought to stop him doing anything so staggering.
Speaking from her home on Australia’s Gold Coast, one of the women said: “I know that she don’t know anything as well, like us. She was sent away. She was sent away so that she will be not there to interfere with what he’s planning.”
She added: “In that sense, I thank him for sparing my sister’s life.”
It is known that Paddock travelled at least twice to the Philippines, where his girlfriend was born, according to a Filipino official.
The official said Paddock visited the Philippines in 2013 and 2014, around his birthday, staying for five to six days on both occasions. There were no immediate details available about those trips, according to the official.
Mr Lombardo said on Tuesday that the investigation was proceeding cautiously in case criminal charges were warranted against someone else.
“This investigation is not ended with the demise of Mr Paddock,” he said. “Did this person get radicalised unbeknownst to us? [If so]...we want to identify that source.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies