A small homemade bomb exploded at the Luxor parking garage early Monday, killing a man and stoking fears of a terrorist attack on the Strip.
Not long after the 4 a.m. blast, national news outlets jumped on the story in a media frenzy that continued throughout the day, though Las Vegas police soon determined that the deadly explosion was an act of murder, not terror.
“This is a murder investigation, but rather than a gun or knife as the weapon of choice, an explosive device was used,” Las Vegas police Deputy Chief Ted Moody said.
The dead man was an employee of Nathan’s Famous hot dogs, employees there said and an investigator confirmed. The restaurant is one of several noncasino businesses that remain open all night in the food court inside the Luxor, a pyramid-shaped hotel with more than 4,400 rooms and 4,200 employees at the south end of the Strip.
The Nathan’s employee left the hotel with a female worker and walked with her to his car, which was parked on top of the two-story parking garage behind the hotel, police said.
When he got to his black sedan, the man noticed an object on the roof. When he picked it up, it exploded, said police, who released few details about the bomb.
“We have no reason to believe that anyone other than the deceased victim in this attack was the intended target,” Moody said, though he noted anyone could have picked up the bomb.
The man died shortly after arriving at University Medical Center, but his companion was unhurt despite standing about four feet away. She was cooperating with detectives, Moody said.
Agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined police in the investigation, scrutinizing pieces of the explosive device for evidence that could lead to the killer.
ATF Special Agent Tom Mangan said the device was unlike explosives used in war, but it packed enough power to kill. The device produced a blast with the force of a stick of dynamite.
“The lethality is there when you look at the puddle of blood and shrapnel,” he said. Shrapnel penetrated nearby vehicles, and pieces of the bomb were scattered across the parking structure.
Police were reviewing videotape from the casino and from the parking lot, which fully reopened about 9:30 p.m.
Early in the day, Sheriff Doug Gillespie told state officials that the incident resulted from a “domestic dispute,” Nevada Homeland Security Director Larry Martines said.
But late Monday, Gillespie said his earlier statement had been based on preliminary information and that detectives hadn’t determined the reason for the bombing.
“We don’t know the motive,” he said. “We don’t even know who the victim is.”
The coroner’s office had not confirmed the victim’s identity by Monday afternoon.
Detectives ruled out terrorism early in the investigation based on the bomb’s placement on a car in a parking garage, Moody said. Terrorists would likely target crowded areas where a bomb could inflict mass casualties, he said.
Investigators considered Monday’s bombing an isolated event and unrelated to a morning explosion at the Black Pearl tattoo parlor at 4160 S. Fort Apache Road, near Flamingo Road, Moody said.
News of the explosion at the Luxor hit national airwaves early Monday morning, with both CNN and Fox News Channel running stories about the blast. Local news stations, which updated the story throughout the day, were joined by three satellite news trucks and at least two news crews from Los Angeles that broadcast live reports from the scene.
Amid the media frenzy, a suspicious package spotted in the Luxor sports book about 11:30 a.m. prompted a brief evacuation while Clark County firefighters checked out the package and deemed it safe.
Gillespie said he knew the combination of a bomb and Strip resort would attract the media spotlight.
“Anytime you hear of an explosive device going off on the Strip, you can’t help but think of mass casualties,” he said.
The sheriff learned early in the investigation that the explosion was not terrorism, and he shared the news with Gov. Jim Gibbons, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and other federal, state and local politicians.
He said his detectives would work closely with ATF to find the killer, and he hoped tourists and residents would take comfort in knowing the explosion was not terrorism-related.
“I don’t want anyone to think Las Vegas is an unsafe place to visit based on this one incident,” Gillespie said.
Review-Journal reporters Alan Maimon and Adrienne Packer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.