Even before the victims are counted and the blood dried after mass shootings, the public, press, and politicians all begin searching to understand what drove the perpetrators. This is important as a matter of law enforcement—Did they work alone? Is there a remaining threat?—and to make sense of the senseless. But it also serves an important psychological purpose: If the killer can be fit into a known profile, it provides some minimal comfort to an otherwise horrifyingly random crime, some feeling that the key to preventing the next tragedy is just doing a better job of recognizing people like him (it’s almost always a him) and stopping them.
It’s one thing to tell people, “If you see something, say something,” but if no one sees anything, it won’t help. That’s one reason that Stephen Craig Paddock, the man police have identified as the shooter in the Vegas massacre, which killed at least 59 people, is such a frightening enigma. His motivations are, as yet, entirely opaque. As countless people pointed out Monday, Paddock does not immediately fit the “profile” of a mass shooter. More accurately, he does not fit any of the obvious profiles.
Here’s what we do know about the man. He was 64 years old, and lived in Mesquite, Nevada, a town 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. His brother Eric said he was well-to-do, a millionaire even, and he owned two single-engine planes. He lived in a clean, neat retirement community next to a golf course. Eric Paddock said his brother had moved to Nevada from Central Florida because he hated the humidity and because he loved to gamble; gaming was apparently his main occupation, though he had previously worked as an accountant or auditor and real-estate speculator. He had also lived in Texas, and according to The New York Times owned several other properties around the country. Police said his house in Mesquite was in good order.