The police officers who stormed the hotel room of Las Vegas killer Stephen Paddock have revealed details of the “deadly game of hide-and-seek” that led them to the gunman’s lair.
Paddock killed 58 people and injured hundreds of others as he opened fire from his room in the Mandalay Bay Hotel on a concert below.
In their first TV interview since the 1 October massacre, the officers told of how they managed to get to the gunman as the bullets rained down on 22,000 country music fans at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on the Las Vegas Strip.
They arrived on the 32nd floor of the luxury hotel to discover Paddock had barricaded shut a stairwell door, going up to the hallway, right by his room, to try and stop police and hotel security during his rampage.
“He had screwed shut the door with a piece of metal and some screws,” Sergeant Joseph Bitsko told CBS show 60 Minutes.
One of the team had a pry bar and was able to prise open the door.
Police radio calls to the team told them to watch out for booby traps, as they came across a room service cart with wires on it going underneath the door of the gunman’s room.
“Initially, I was thinking, ‘This is a booby trap, it’s going to explode’. It turned out to be cameras,” said Sgt Bitsko.
The door was riddled with bullet holes. “It looked like Swiss cheese,” said officer David Newton.
“He knew we were coming and we were going to have to come through. We didn’t know where he was going to be in that room.”
Sgt Bitsko added: “It was like a deadly game of hide-and-seek.”
When the gunfire stopped, officer Newton stood behind the door with only a single police shield for protection, while a SWAT officer, Levi Hancock, prepared to blow open the door with explosives.
They entered to find the shooter’s arsenal of firearms and ammunition “neatly stacked in suitcases” with shell-casings and rifles littered across the floor
“It looked like almost a gun store,” said officer Newton.
“We were tripping over guns, there were so many,” added Sgt Bitsko..
Detective Matthew Donaldson found Paddock’s body on the floor, with blood pouring out of his mouth and a revolver near him.
Police said Paddock had killed himself. A motive for the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history has yet to be established.
The team said the 64-year-old killer looked like an “average Joe” and told of their surprise to discover he was an “older gentleman”.
“When we are trained on active shooter situations, we look for a younger male, dressed in military-type garb, that’s moving through a crowd,” said Sgt Bitsko.
They also discovered several phones, laptops and tools in the “eerie” room.
“It looked straight up like out of a movie,” said officer Newton.
They also noticed a note near to his shooting platform with calculations of where to aim to maximise casualties.
“He did his homework,” said officer Newton.
“His plan might have been to shoot it out with us because there was a rifle on a bipod near the door, and just the amount of ammunition and weapons he had, he could have held us off for hours.”
Las Vegas police Sheriff Joe Lombardo praised the team that stormed the room, saying “they prevented 1,000 deaths.”
The killing has rekindled a gun control debate in America, especially on rapid-fire modification devices used in the attack.
Paddock used “bump stocks” to transform many of his semi-automatic rifles into fully automated guns, meaning they were capable of firing much more quickly.
The National Rifle Association, which has opposed efforts to pass federal gun legislation following previous mass shootings, said it would not oppose moves to regulate bump stocks.
The revelations came as the Las Vegas Strip’s bright lights dimmed for about 10 minutes to mark the passing of a week since the shooting.
Investigators also returned to Paddock’s home in Mesquite, in southern Nevada, to carry out a fresh search of the three-bedroom property, while the gunman’s brother, Eric Paddock, was questioned for a second time, with detectives still grappling to find a motive for the shooting.
Singer Jason Aldean, who was on stage when the shooting broke out, visited victims still being treated for their injuries at the University Medical Center in Nevada.
“His visit helped heal hearts and cheer those who were wounded in this tragedy. #vegasstrong,” the hospital wrote on its Facebook page.