Just about everybody had the Connecticut shooting massacre on their minds. It was hard not to.
So when Danielle Banks, 17, heard what sounded like gunshots in the lobby of the Excalibur on Friday night, her father, Riverside, Calif., police officer Troy Banks, said his daughter wanted to believe that they were firecrackers going off.
But when one of the moms of the dozens of cheerleaders in town came running up the stairs, screaming that everybody should get under the tables – that there might be a shooter on the loose heading in their direction – that’s when Buca di Beppo’s restaurant turned into a scene of chaos, he said.
And everybody did what the mom told them to do: They ducked for cover.
“I don’t think it was an overreaction on her part,” said Banks, a man in his mid-40s whose daughters are in town for an annual national cheerleading competition. “The mom is downstairs, she hears this, people were running up and down, and she thought for some reason somebody was coming up. And of course her concern was for the kids. She thought that maybe it was some sort of copycat act.”
Fortunately, it was not.
But the scene that unfolded at 8:30 p.m. in the lobby of the hotel-casino at the corner of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard was no less tragic. An unidentified man walked into the hotel lobby, then fatally shot the concierge, identified as Jessica Kenny, before shooting and killing himself, police said.
Homicide investigators said Kenny was shot several times. She worked for Vegas.com, and her job as a vendor at the hotel was to answer all sorts of questions for guests – as concierges do.
“We were saddened to learn that a member of the VEGAS.com family was the victim of tonight’s tragic and senseless killing …” VEGAS.com Chief Operating Officer Bryan Allison said in a statement Friday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends.”
But as of Saturday, nobody could say what prompted the man to walk into the casino and shoot the woman – who may or may not have been his ex-girlfriend.
KENNY’S LAST DAYS RECALLED
Around the casino, Kenny was known by employees as “a sweet girl” and “an amazing girl.”
Freddie Walton, 57, said he’d give her what he liked to call “a lucky hug” every day when he came to work.
“Friday night, she was, like, ‘What’s going on? Come give me my lucky hug?'” recounted Walton, who works as a bag handler and said he neglected to hug her the first thing Friday. “At 5:20 p.m. I gave her a hug. Next thing I know, she’s gone.”
Kodjo Vivor, 49, a West African immigrant who sells time shares inside the hotel lobby for Grandview, said she called him over to her concierge stand Dec. 9 to tell him her former boyfriend, after three years of being separated, was back in Las Vegas from Illinois.
According to Vivor, Kenny said she didn’t want to get back with him because “he’s crazy.” Vivor said Kenny told him that the ex-boyfriend spent one night at the Excalibur and one night at The Mirage.
“I said, ‘Oh, does he have money?'” Vivor said. “And she said ‘No, but his parents do.’ Then she started laughing, and when I asked if she was going to get back with him, she said, ‘No, he’s crazy.’ And that’s the last thing I said to her.”
It was also the last time Vivor would see Kenny alive, he said.
“When I turned on the news and saw what happened, I thought, ‘Oh, maybe that’s the guy?'” he said.
The case is still under investigation, said Laura Meltzer, a public information officer with the Metropolitan Police Department.
It was the sixth such murder-suicide in the Las Vegas area in the past two months alone, according to newspaper reports.
On Dec. 6, a man took his life after shooting his wife and her 17-year-old son in Bullhead City.
On Nov. 17, a man, while sitting in his bank-owned home, shot his ex-girlfriend, then fatally stabbed his 3-year-old daughter. He later shot himself five miles away.
On Nov. 25, an 86-year-old man shot his 85-year-old wife before turning the gun on himself in his house near East Tropicana Avenue and Boulder Highway.
On Nov. 14, a man, apparently despondent over losing his apartments in North Las Vegas to the bank, shot and killed one man, seriously wounded a woman, then barricaded himself inside his apartment, eventually killing himself.
The list goes on.
There are so many murder-suicides in the United States that there is no national database to account for them all, according to the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., which conducted a study that showed that there were 1,300 murder-suicides in 2011.
Said VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand, in a written statement in May this year: “Murder-suicides destroy families and negatively impact entire communities. While the factors contributing to murder-suicide are becoming better understood, much more needs to be done from a prevention standpoint, including recognition of the key role played by firearms.”
SHOOTING SCENE SECURED QUICKLY
One difference between these statistics and Friday’s apparent murder-suicide is that it happened in a very public place – a resort hotel that was 90 percent full. It occurred between the front entrance of the hotel and the registration desk, said Gordon Absher, vice president public affairs for MGM Resorts International, which owns Excalibur.
It also occurred hours after a mass shooting took place on the other side of the country in Newtown, Conn., although Las Vegas police say there’s no reason to believe that there is any sort of connection.
Within minutes of the shooting, Kenny was rushed to University Medical Center, where she later died of her injuries.
The man died on the spot, his face down on the floor, according to one employee who did not want his name used for fear the hotel would reprimand him.
Absher said the scene was eventually secured by police and that all hotel patrons were safe in the aftermath.
So that hotel guests didn’t see the man’s body, Absher said hotel staff brought in a “pipe and drape” to cover it up. It’s a device that’s often used to separate booths during trade shows, he said.
“We took the steps that were appropriate: safety and security … we were able to isolate the area to our satisfaction and that of the Police Department, so that they could conduct their investigation,” he said.
Within a half hour of the shooting, hundreds of patrons continued on their nightly excursions, some of them in town for the National Finals Rodeo, others for the cheerleading competition.
Some of them were unaware that a shooting had even occurred. That’s just how big the hotel is.
As Absher pointed out, probably one of the safest areas in the world is the four-mile stretch that is the Strip. There are security guards and surveillance cameras everywhere.
To Troy Banks, whose daughters, Trisha, 14, and Danielle, 17, had to duck for cover, there’s no mistaking the issue: It’s gun control.
“It’s a tricky question,” he said. “As a police officer I believe in the Second Amendment (of the U.S. Constitution), but I know we can’t have the general public just walking around with guns. They have to be careful. People need to be trained on them.
“It’s just one of those things. There’s a right to carry them, but I don’t believe people should be able to run around with them. If the guy’s set up to be mad at his girlfriend, he’s going to do it. You can’t have metal screening of every individual that comes into the casino. You can’t have armed security guards everywhere, like some military in other countries.
“You don’t want to see that either. These are isolated cases. They happen. There’s evil in the world, and you have to deal with it.”
Contact reporter Tom Ragan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5512.