Mayor Allan Litman said he hasn’t talked to a single local resident who really knew Paddock since the 64-year-old was identified as the gunman in the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas.
“They say he was a resident. That’s a pretty loose term,” Litman said Friday in his first interview since the attack. “He was a nonentity as far as anybody knows in Mesquite. I’m not sure even his neighbors knew him.”
Litman is not alone in thinking that.
Since Monday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has spoken to dozens of people in this desert city with about 18,000 residents 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Paddock left little impression on any of them.
A few locals recalled seeing him around town. Most said they never laid eyes on him before his face showed up on TV. Some said they were tired of reporters asking about the guy.
Unknown at the range
The second Connie Shaw heard the name, she checked.
Riffling through her sign-in sheets, she skimmed: “Stephen Paddock, Stephen Paddock, Stephen Paddock.”
Shaw’s family owns The Smokin’ Gun Club, Mesquite’s only gun range. It’s a pistol range, not a place Paddock could have used those rifles found littered across his Mandalay Bay suite. But she was so troubled, she had to make sure.
“None of us recognized him,” Shaw said.
Even her regulars, who’ve been coming in throughout the week keep talking about it, wondering if they ever shared a room with him or saw him in passing.
“He was either not here or kept to himself,” she said.
Or maybe he did his shooting out in the desert, like a lot of people do.
“If anybody was going to try to fire something like he had, well, he wouldn’t most likely go to a rifle range anyway,” Shaw said.
Mesquite is a relatively small town and fairly tight-knit, she said. Although no one in the gun community knew him, most people she’s encountered are broken up.
“There had to be something extremely wrong with the person,” she said, refusing to say his name. “No normal person would do something like that to someone else.”
Encounters with a killer
After a photo of the shooter appeared on the news, Fernando Arias said he choked up. The Mesquite resident swore he saw Paddock’s face at least twice in one night about a month ago.
First, he saw him playing video poker at Casablanca casino while Paddock’s girlfriend, Marilou Danley, mingled with customers. Then, Arias went to the Stateline Casino to play darts and saw the couple there, too.
She seemed joyful, but Paddock just sat there with his beer, staring in Arias’ direction as if he had something on his mind.
“I’ve been to jail before, and this was the first time I ever felt afraid of somebody,” the 27-year-old said as he worked his landscaping job Friday morning just outside the subdivision where Paddock bought a house in 2015. “I can’t stop thinking that I should’ve said something to him.”
Others offered similar stories — ones almost certainly tinged by the news and based off memories from months ago of a man who by all accounts didn’t say much.
At Taco Bell, employee Scotty Prescott recalled serving Paddock a few times. He said he kept a low profile.
“He seemed normal when he came in by himself,” Prescott said. “He didn’t stand out much.”
An employee at Domino’s Pizza on Sandhill Boulevard said that Paddock was a regular at the pizza joint, but refrained from talking any further. He said a co-worker was recently suspended for a week for talking to the media.
Kris Zurbas’ Paddock story happened earlier this year, when Zurbas was flying his drone over the orange mesas that surround Mesquite.
He said he was startled by a man in a blue shirt and jeans who introduced himself as a pilot and said he wanted to buy a drone.
The man asked normal questions: How far can it fly? How high? Is it hard to maneuver? How long does the battery last?
“There is almost no traffic on that road, and I had never encountered anyone around there while flying,” Zurbas said. “He watched me fly for a few minutes and left.”
Zurbas is now convinced the man he spoke with was Paddock.
“It was numbing,” he said. “Just to think that I was out there alone with nobody around with who would become the future largest mass murderer in U.S. history shook me up.”
Worried for their rights
Mesquite residents Ryan and Jason don’t have a Paddock story, but they had plenty to say about the attack when they met in a wash south of Mesquite Friday morning for some target shooting with pistols and a pair of AR-15 rifles.
The two friends from Mesquite declined to give their surnames and didn’t want their picture taken.
“I don’t want the drama,” Jason said, though he acknowledged that people in town would know who they are anyway based on their guns and Ryan’s distinctive tattoo of the Second Amendment.
Neither man knew Paddock, though Jason thought he might have seen him around a few times. They never crossed paths with him at any of the makeshift shooting ranges locals like to use in the desert outside the community.
“Almost all of the avid shooters know each other,” Ryan said, and no one seemed to know Paddock.
The men said they’re worried that politicians from both parties will try to use the attack in Las Vegas as an excuse to chip away at gun rights.
”There is no ‘but’ in the Second Amendment,” Ryan said.
He even opposes efforts to ban so-called “bump stocks” like the ones Paddock used to make his semi-automatic rifles fire like fully automatic ones. Outlawing bump stocks won’t keep people from modifying their guns, Ryan said, and it could trigger a “snowball effect” of wrongheaded restrictions.
“Guns aren’t evil. People are evil,” Jason said.
“You can’t law people out of evil,” Ryan said.
At the gun store
Since the shooting in Las Vegas, Mesquite gun store employee Skipper Speece said he has gotten angry calls and at least one uninvited visitor to his house. Someone wrote the word “die” on his car.
But the week hadn’t been all bad at Guns and Guitars. Speece said he was happy to see loyal customers stand up for the store and yell at reporters who descended on the place from across the nation.
“The community is looking out for each other,” he said.
On Friday, a steady stream of customers came in and out of the store now known worldwide for selling guns to Paddock.
A man who identified himself only as Scott stopped in to ask questions about handguns.
The man said he had never owned a gun in his life, but he’d thought about home defense in the past. The Mandalay Bay shooting convinced him and his wife the time was right.
The man signed up for a concealed weapons class. He’d been reading as much as he could on safely using and storing them and planned to talk to his 5-year-old son about his plans, how guns are tools but not toys.
“Nobody expected this,” he said of the shooting. “I’d rather have it and not use it.”
Chasing a ghost
Some of the stories about Paddock’s life in Mesquite are difficult to prove. Others don’t hold up under scrutiny.
Go to Stateline, where Arias said he saw Paddock and others claimed he was a regular on karaoke night, and the bartender will tell you Paddock and Danley spent their karaoke nights at the Peggy Sue’s diner about a mile away.
Go to the bar inside Peggy Sue’s, and the bartender will tell you she’s done talking about where Paddock may have been and what he may have liked to do for fun before he killed 58 people.
“The only thing official is my feet are on the ground,” she said.
There was a report that Paddock had a beef with his homeowner’s association, but that is disputed by two men whose regular comments at meetings are documented in publicly available HOA meeting minutes.
A hairstylist named Kallie Beig told CNN she cut Paddock’s hair at least three times over the past three years.
An employee at Great Clips in Mesquite looked up Paddock and Danley in the store’s system and found no information on them.
“There’s no record of him here,” she said, looking at the computer screen. “We have no memory of him.”
None of the other employees or regular customers recalled seeing Paddock, she said. Reached by phone, Beig stood by her comments.
She described Paddock as always smelling of alcohol and lacking any emotional connection.
The last time she cut his hair — in August — she said he came in with Danley around 8 a.m. and mentioned that she was going to the Philippines soon and that he would be home alone for a while.
“Although they came in together, they didn’t seem like they were together,” Beig said. “Their relationship seemed very cold. It didn’t seem normal.”
The 28-year-old added that Paddock refused to give her any information, only his first name, she said.
“It makes me sick to my stomach knowing that he sat in my chair and took the lives of so many people,” Beig said, crying. “It makes you wonder what goes through a person’s mind that make them do something so horrendous.”
Not one of them
With so little concrete information out there about the man, seemingly insignificant details have taken on strange and chilling resonance.
Mesquite City Clerk Tracy Beck said her office had no unsual contact with Paddock, though she did note that he paid his city sewer fee early last month, before the bill was even sent out.
Beck said he sent the money in on Sept. 28, “right before he went down to Las Vegas” and checked into Mandalay Bay.
Mayor Litman said when he first heard that the shooter was from Mesquite, he was worried the guy would turn out to be someone well known in the community.
“I almost felt relieved that, no, I didn’t know who he was,” he said.
Litman said he thinks that will help with the healing process. It’s a lot easier for his city to forget a man it barely remembers to begin with, he said.
The mayor isn’t the only one eager to disavow Stephen Paddock.
Ronda Barnum was born and raised in Mesquite. Now she works as a waitress at Peggy Sue’s. When asked whether she considers Paddock a local, she grimaced.
“He only lived here two years,” Barnum said, putting her hands up as if to push the idea away. “No, no, no, no.”
Contact Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter. Contact Sandy Lopez at email@example.com or 702-383-4686. Follow @JournalismSandy on Twitter. Contact Wade Tyler Millward at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4602. Follow @wademillward on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Rachel Crosby contributed to this story.Rapid growth, seasonal stays
Mesquite Mayor Allan Litman said Stephen Paddock isn’t unique in his anonymity.
Though the city 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas is tight-knit in a lot of ways, it is also home to a sizable population of retirees and seasonal residents, some of whom don’t get involved in civic activities.
Like much of Southern Nevada, Mesquite also has grown explosively in recent decades. When it was incorporated in 1983, it was a farming community with just 800 residents. Today, there are more like 18,000 full-time residents, and the population swells to more than 20,000 when the snowbirds come home to roost.
All of that can be a recipe for isolation, even for the mayor.
Litman said he has lived in the same house in the same gated community for the past 13 years. “I’ve got some neighbors I’ve never even seen,” he said.