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Investigators question girlfriend of Las Vegas shooter seeking to probe mind of shooter

A makeshift memorial to victims of the mass shooting on Sunday night, on the northern end of the Las Vegas strip, Oct. 3, 2017. (Hilary Swift/The New York Times. Copyright 2017, The New York Times.)

FBI agents questioned the girlfriend of the Las Vegas gunman on Wednesday hoping for more answers into what sparked the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history and possible glimpses into the intricate planning that turned hotel rooms into an armed fortress with hidden surveillance cameras.

So far, however, few clues have emerged to help investigators understand 64-year-old Stephen Paddock and the evil he rained down on a Las Vegas concert - leaving at least 58 dead and once again bringing calls for greater gun controls to the center of political debate.

In a backdrop of anguish and anger, President Donald Trump planned to travel Wednesday to Las Vegas to address law enforcement officials and survivors of Sunday's massacre. But he already signaled that would seek to sidestep the gun debate during the visit, saying Tuesday that "we'll be talking about gun laws as time goes by."

Piece by piece, investigators have put together a profile of Paddock - a retired accountant - making meticulous preparations for the moment when he smashed a plate-glass window in the 32nd floor of his hotel room and opened fire with a weapon, apparently modified to spew bullets with the split-second speed of an automatic rifle.

As he fired round after round during an 11-minute stretch from a suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Paddock used video cameras to keep an eye out for police storming his hotel room, according to Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo.

Paddock hid one camera in the peephole of his suite and two more in the hall, at least one of them disguised on a service cart, authorities said. At one point, he shot numerous rounds through the door, wounding a security guard. Paddock eventually put a gun in his own mouth and pulled the trigger as SWAT officers closed in. They found him with blood pooling behind his head and around the empty shell casings that littered the carpet, a handgun near his body.

"It was preplanned, extensively, and I'm pretty sure that he evaluated everything that he did in his actions, which is troublesome," Lombardo said Tuesday.

The sheriff said investigators were "making progress" on determining a motive, but complete answers remained elusive. Some could come from Marilou Danley, the gunman's longtime girlfriend.

In Los Angeles, FBI agents met Danley after she arrived on a flight from the Philippines, where she was at the time of the attack. Danley's sister, interviewed by Australia's Channel 7, suggested that Paddock had arranged Danley's trip to visit her homeland to keep her from undermining the attack plans.

"I know she doesn't know anything as well like us," said the sister, whose identity was shielded by the channel. "She was sent away. She was away so that she would not be there to interfere with what he's planning."

According to court records, Danley appears to have been living with Paddock as early as August 2013, while she was still married to another man, named Geary Danley. Geary and Marilou Danley were married in Las Vegas in 1990. According to court records, they jointly filed for divorce on Feb. 25, 2015, and the divorce was finalized the next day.

Investigators have described Danley as a "person of interest," but have not indicated that she is considered an accomplice. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said the "best lead is through this girlfriend."

"They don't know a lot about who the girlfriend is and why she left the country a week prior to the shooting," said Heller, who has been briefed by authorities. "She is someone they need to have this discussion with to better understand the shooting and what his thought process was."

Neighbors in several states where Paddock owned homes in retirement communities described him as surly, unfriendly and standoffish. Paddock was the son of a bank robber who was once on the FBI's most-wanted list and whom authorities described at the time as a "psychopath," but Paddock's brother said their father was not involved in their lives when they were children.

Relatives say the roots of Paddock's loner lifestyle might have been planted on July 28, 1960. On that day, when Paddock was 7, a neighbor from across the street took him swimming. The neighbor told a local newspaper at the time that she knew authorities were coming for his father, and she wanted to spare the young boy from the trauma of seeing his father taken away. From that point on, Paddock's family was never the same.

Until carrying out the massacre Sunday night, Paddock had no criminal history himself. Despite repeated claims by the Islamic State to the contrary, he also had no ties to international terrorism groups, authorities said.

He had done some government work during his career, as a letter carrier for the Postal Service, an agent for the Internal Revenue Service and an auditor for the federal government's Defense Contract Audit Agency in the late 1970s and 1980s. He was divorced twice and recently had been dating a woman from the Philippines who has Australian citizenship. He was known to gamble routinely and extensively.

Some public officials seemed to suggest Paddock's mind was troubled, though there were no immediate indications that he had been diagnosed with a mental illness or was anything other than fully aware of what he was doing.

"A normal person would not cause this type of harm to innocent people," said Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev. "Clearly, there was something wrong with this man."

People close to the investigation also said that in the weeks before the attack, Paddock transferred a large amount of money - close to $100,000 - to someone in the Philippines, possibly his girlfriend. The significance of that development was not immediately clear, though investigators said they were interested in probing Paddock's finances and his avid interest in high-stakes gambling.

At his home in Orlando, Eric Paddock, Stephen Paddock's brother, said he doubts Danley had any prior knowledge of the incident and speculated that Stephen might have been trying to quietly ensure her financial security. Stephen Paddock loved and doted on his girlfriend, whom he had met when she was a hostess at a casino, Eric Paddock said. The couple often gambled side by side.

"He manipulated her to be as far away from here and safe when he committed this," Eric Paddock said. "The people he loved he took care of, and as he was descending into hell he took care of her."

Coroner John Fudenberg on Tuesday evening clarified that Paddock was among the 59 counted as slain; previously, authorities had said he wasn't. More than 500 people were wounded in the attack or injured in the crush to flee.

Undersheriff Kevin C. McMahill, speaking after Fudenberg, warned that the number of dead and injured could fluctuate as the investigation progresses.

Paddock brought 23 guns to his Mandalay Bay suite, which overlooked the concert grounds on the southern end of the Strip. Included in that cache was an AR-15-type rifle with a high-capacity magazine and 12 "bump stocks," modifications that would allow a gun to fire as if it were an automatic weapon. He also brought another AR-15-type rifle with a magnification scope commonly used for hunting and a bipod stand to help steady it, according to law enforcement officials and experts who reviewed images of the weapons posted online.

"For this individual to take it upon himself to create this chaos and harm is unspeakable," Lombardo said.

The guns appeared to be but a piece of the arsenal Paddock had acquired during a period of years, at least some of it legally obtained from major retailers such as Cabela's, a national retailer of guns and outdoor gear, and Guns & Guitars, a store in Mesquite, Nev., according to people familiar with the case. ATF Special Agent in Charge Jill A. Snyder said Tuesday Paddock had purchased shotguns, handguns and rifles in Nevada, Utah, California and Texas.

At Paddock's home in Mesquite, Nev., investigators recovered 19 more guns and an explosive, and in his car they found ammonium nitrate, a chemical that can be used in making bombs. At another property in Reno, Nev., investigators recovered five more handguns, two shotguns and a "plethora" of ammunition, Lombardo said Tuesday.

Paddock probably secreted the weapons in his Mandalay Bay suite using numerous suitcases. Lombardo said hotel housekeeping had been there since Paddock checked in Sept. 28 and saw nothing nefarious.

Lombardo said investigators had scoured Paddock's suite, his car and the homes in Nevada, and they were examining surveillance and body camera video evidence and other electronic items they had seized in their searches. Separately, Lombardo said the department had opened an investigation into the unauthorized release of images that show the crime scene. Another sheriff's official confirmed the authenticity of those images.

Police also continued documenting the crime scene and performing the grim task of identifying those slain, some of whom died blocks away from the concert as they tried to flee or seek help. As of late Tuesday afternoon, authorities had tentatively identified all of the victims.

Hospitals across the region continued to treat patients from the scene, many of them seriously injured. Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center said that as of Tuesday, it had 59 patients from the rampage, 31 of them still in critical condition. University Medical Center said it had 64 patients from the attack, 12 of them critical.

Authors Information: Matt Zapotosky covers the Justice Department for the Washington Post's National Security team. Mark Berman covers national news for The Washington Post and anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and stories from around the country. Lynh Bui and Tim Craig in Las Vegas; Barbara Liston in Orlando; Ally Gravina in Reno, Nev.; William Dauber in Los Angeles; and Brian Murphy, Devlin Barrett, Alex Horton, Wesley Lowery, Julie Tate, Jessica Contrera, Sandhya Somashekhar, Aaron C. Davis, William Wan and Sari Horwitz in Washington contributed to this report.