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A severe test

Oct 4, 2017 By Steven R. Peck, Publisher

Investigators and reporters ofSundaynight's mass shooting in Las Vegas are beside themselves this week trying, first, to figure out why gunman Stephen Paddock did what he did, and second, to understand it.

It's a terrible notion for humanity, but we may be reaching the point where these age-old exercises and explorations of "motive" have become passť. There is no plausible explanation, and without that, there can be no consensus of understanding.

It's long since been more difficult for experts to "profile" the perpetrators of mass shootings. They don't follow the neat patterns that other perpetrators tend to follow lower on the criminal pyramid. But this guy melts the mold completely.

His shooting was not confined to a bar, a bus, a school, or a movie theater. The shooter wasn't part of the crowd as he was killing, unwitnessed and, therefore, unable to be countered by a brave hero in close proximity. This shooter wasn't confronting an ex-boss, or an ex-girlfriend, or the bullies at school. He wasn't even there, buffered by hundreds of yards of both horizontal and vertical distance as he blasted away from a hotel high-rise into a crowd in the far distance.

And, no, this killer does not appear to fit the personality profiles of so many mass killers. No neighbors, or old classmates, or co-workers, or estranged family members have produced troubling stories to tell about a guy who "just didn't fit in," or who had been bullied, or who had a mental health history, or trouble on the job,or a pattern of strident political rhetoric, who complained about unfairness at school or at work or at home. He wasn't a religious fanatic.

He wasn't a loner in an overcoat with a shaved head. This wasn't an impressionable 22-year-old who had trouble getting a job, not an internet-bombed kid who wasn't old enough to know better.

There are no Facebook diatribes, no terminal medical issues, no failed finances to blame on banks or brokers. He had a lot of money.

And he planned everything to a far greater level of detail than the typical shooter. He didn't just walk into a crowded room and start blasting. He didn't just get into a truck and plow into a group of bystanders. He didn't take out a knife on a train and slash the four people closest to him.

He made plans. He scouted locations. He spent days loading in his guns and ammo. He placed cameras. He bought advanced weaponry. He knew the suite to book at the hotel. He put thought, organization and money into his operation.

In a brilliant comedy routine first performed more than 20 years ago, the comedian Chris Rock riffed on O.J. Simpson and criminal behavior in the modern world. He said that when a criminal case is examined in detail, often it's not difficult to identify with the person's problem, if not his solution. Justice can't be done to the cleverness and insight here, but the comedian's closing line about O.J. was, "I'm not saying he should have killed her, but I understand."

O.J. Simpson is a lot easier to understand than Stephen Paddock. Perhaps the crucial pebble of truth from his past still might emerge. If it's there, it remains well hidden.

We ask "why" because we are human beings, because our brains have the capacity of contemplation and the yearning to understand more than meets the eye. It's particularlygalling when we feel that a missing glimpse of understanding might help prevent, or interrupt, the next senseless act of violence.

Because we know that next act is coming. Our hope is, and must continue to be, that the killers haven't completely outstripped out ability to comprehend them. This case puts that to a severe test.

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2017-10-18