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Country singer Jason Aldean, who was performing on stage when the Las Vegas massacre began, paid tribute to the victims of the mass shooting as he opened Saturday Night Live.

He spoke of America’s “unbreakable spirit” before he and his band performed Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down, in honour of both the victims and the rock star who died last week.

Instead of the usual joke-filled opening, the weekly comedy sketch show began with an emotional introduction by the singer.

Before playing, he said: “This week we witnessed one of the worst tragedies in American history. Like everyone, I’m struggling to understand what happened that night and how to pick up the pieces and start to heal.

“So many people are hurting. There are children, parents, brothers, sisters, friends, they’re all part of our family. So I want to say to them, we hurt for you and we hurt with you.

“But you can be sure that we are going to walk through these tough times together every step of the way. Because when America is at its best our bond and our spirit in unbreakable.”

People run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after gun fire was heard

Image: People run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after gunfire was heard

Aldean’s appearance on the programme was a surprise, given that Sam Smith had been booked as the musical act. The singer earlier cancelled tour dates for this weekend “as a result of what happened”.

He was performing at the Route 91 Harvest festival, an outdoor concert, last Sunday night when Stephen Paddock opened fire, spraying bullets into the crowd from a nearby hotel, killing 58 people and injuring nearly 500.

It is the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.

Stephen Paddock

Image: Killer Stephen Paddock, whose shooting spree claimed 58 lives

Paddock, who had a stash of high-powered weapons in his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel, apparently killed himself as police closed in. A motive for his shooting spree has not been established.

Tom Petty died on Monday in Los Angeles aged 66 after suffering a cardiac arrest.

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