“October 1st will always be a day impossible to forget, it will always be the day that took a part of me,” says 18-year-old Erika Yeargan.
She was at the scene of the Las Vegas shooting: “That day I lost the part of me that I loved about myself, my cheery, bubbly side. If I can say that he took something from me, if it wasn’t my life, then it is that. Because it will be a while until I will ever be like that. Or I might not ever be like that or close to it again.”
‘He’ is Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old multi-millionaire property developer, the ‘biggest video poker player in the world’, as he described himself, and the perpetrator of the deadliest mass shooting in modern America.
On the night of October 1, he shot 59 people dead and injured 489 others during a country music festival called Route 91, which was being attended by 22,000 people. He fired from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, where police found 23 guns surrounding his dead body after he shot himself. Additionally, they found 50 pounds (23kg) of explosives, ammonium nitrate and 1,600 rounds of ammunition in his car.
Now, possibly most frequently asked question in the States since the attack is: “Why?”
With not a single word left to explain his actions, Stephen Paddock has taken the answer with him. However, looking into his family history, medical records and psychological profiles, there may be an explanation for what he did.
“Research looking across generations in families has shown that children of parents who engage in “antisocial” behaviours (such as rule-breaking, aggressive or violent behaviour) are at greater risk for various negative outcomes including criminality, psychiatric disorders, substance use, and low academic achievement. And research has also shown that individuals who engage in antisocial behaviours tend to have poorer cognitive abilities than those without antisocial tendencies,” according to Science Daily.
Given that, a closer look at Stephen Paddock’s family background, especially to his father’s life, leads to a possible clue.
Benjamin Hoskins Paddock, Stephen’s father, was an avid gambler who was always on the move. He spent ten years of his life as a fugitive after he escaped from a Texas prison in 1968 while serving time for a series of bank robberies.
On the FBI’s wanted poster, it is stated that he had been diagnosed as “psychopathic” as well as suffering from “suicidal tendencies” and “should be considered armed and very dangerous.” He was arrested in 1960 at a Las Vegas petrol station, a few miles from where the Mandalay Bay was later built, when his son Stephen was seven years old.Benjamin was a ‘numbers guy’, always focused on gambling – which may be the reason why he had been running a bingo parlour in Oregon while on the run. Also, he had started the Holy Life Congregation in Oregon to exploit a loophole in state law, which allowed him to pocket the proceeds of his bingo parlour, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. He couldn’t be found because he was using a fake name: Bruce Ericksen.
He was found and arrested in 1978, but was paroled a year later when he moved back to Springfield and restarted his bingo business. Benjamin started representing himself as a self-ordained minister in Las Vegas and married couples in the late 1980s. He died in 1998, in Texas.
Considering the statistics and going back to Stephen Paddock and his life, there seems to be a series of similarities between him and his father.
Stephen grew up in a lower-middle-class family in Southern California, with his mother and three brothers; Bruce, Patrick and Eric. ”My brother was the most boring one in the family,” Patrick Paddock said. ”He was the least violent one in the family.”
Richard Alarcon, who lived near the Paddocks and once had a science class with Stephen, remembers him as a smart but with “a kind of irreverent” kid, who once cheated in a competition to build a bridge out of balsa wood.
“Everybody could see that he had cheated, but he just sort of laughed it off. He had that funny, quirky smile on his face like he didn’t care,” Alarcon said. “He wanted to have the strongest bridge, and he didn’t care what it took.”
Young Stephen started seeking financial independence at an early age, in order to gain complete control over his life. “He cycled through a series of jobs he thought would make him rich,” his brother Eric said. “He went to work for the I.R.S.(Inland Revenue Service, or Tax office) because he thought that’s where the money was, but it turned out the money wasn’t there. He went to the aerospace industry, but the money wasn’t there either. He went to real estate, and that’s where the money was.”
Eric had given him his life savings, and by the late 1980s “we had cash flow,” he said. In 2012, Stephen sold a property in Mesquite for $8.3 million (£6.2 million). By that time, in 2003, he got his pilot license, eventually buying ‘cookie-cutter’ (generic estate) houses in towns with small airports in Nevada and Texas, where he kept his planes. “He flew planes for a while until he got tired of it and started taking cruises,” Eric said.
After two failed and childless marriages, Stephen Paddock got into gambling, and his favourite place to be was Las Vegas, where he could gamble enormous amounts of money.
“I would liken him to a chess player: very analytical and a ‘numbers’ guy,” said John Weinreich, 48, a former executive casino host at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, according to the New York Times. “He seemed to be working at a higher level mentally than most people I run into in gambling.”Going back to 2011, when Paddock sued Cosmopolitan Hotels & Resorts after he slipped on a puddle inside their casino, some of his testimony focuses on his gambling, which was outlined in the 97-page court statement deposited on October 29, 2013.
“I know some of the video poker players that play big. Nobody played as much and as long as I did,” it said. Accordingly, in 2006 he averaged “14 hours a day, 365 days a year”, and according to a gaming industry analyst, “his game, video poker, requires some skill. Players have to know the history of a particular machine. They can do that by reading a pay table, which tells them what each possible winning hand pays out.”
The most he had ever played on a game was $1 milion (£760,000).
It is clear Stephen Paddock was a smart guy, very good with numbers, and that he loved gambling, just like his late father. In the same deposition, Stephen declared splitting his time between Nevada, Texas, California and Florida, traveling “maybe upwards of three weeks out of a month.” Living their lives on the move is another similarity between father and son.
Although, his resemblance to his father was not something unknown or unaccepted by him. In a series of text messages sent to an anonymous call-girl, he talked about his father, saying: “I didn’t have anything really to do with him but the bad streak is in my blood. I was born bad.”
He used to pay her $6,000 a weekend to take part in brutal sexual intercourse. According to her, Paddock was into roleplaying, especially tying her up and asking her to act out rape fantasies. “When he would have a winning streak, we would go back and have really aggressive and violent sex.”
She described him as “obsessive” and “paranoid”, always talking about conspiracy theories, including claiming 9/11 was an inside job. “He had a dark and twisted side. But even so, I could never have imagined he would do something like this.” She said the two met around nine times between November 2015 and June 2016.
Looking at the study covered by Science Daily, there are a number of points to consider. The research found that “sons whose fathers have criminal records tend to have lower cognitive abilities than sons whose fathers have no criminal history, data from over one million Swedish men show. The research, conducted by scientists in Sweden and Finland, indicates that the link is not directly caused by fathers’ behaviour but is instead explained by genetic factors that are shared by father and son.”
This suggests that “cognitive skills are the core skills your brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason, and pay attention. Working together, they take incoming information and move it into the bank of knowledge you use every day at school, at work, and in life,” according to Learning Rx.
This indicates that the similarities between Stephen and Benjamin Paddock, such as sharing a passion for gambling, high-level intelligence and a constant need of changing locations, may actually be a genetic factor. Moreover, one of Stephen’s brothers, Bruce, also has a criminal record similar to his father Benjamin. He has been arrested in the past for commercialising narcotics, theft, arson, vandalism, burglary, driving on a suspended licence, contempt and criminal threats.
“I didn’t have anything really to do with him but the bad streak is in my blood. I was born bad.”
Professor John White, a leading forensic psychologist and former Texas police officer who was quoted by Africa News, said this might be possible. “There’s no mass murder gene, but there are heritable traits, meaning that he inherits some part of the brain that, given the right circumstances, may bring out these behaviours. If he started having feelings of anger, being out of control at an early age but was able to suppress it, there could have been a lot of tension, a build-up, until a precipitating event, something that happened to push him over the edge.”
Therefore, the outcome of the study carried out by the Swedish and Finnish scientists might apply in this case.
However, there is another aspect to consider. A closer look at Paddock’s testimony on October 29, 2013, reveals that a Nevada internist, Dr. Steven P. Winker, had prescribed him Valium 18 months before the incident which took place in 2011, which means he had been taking Diazepam since late 2009, a treatment was prescribed for anxiousness.
According to his testimony, he had 10-15 pills left in a bottle of 60 which had been prescribed a year-and-a-half earlier. The Las Vegas Review-Journal has reported that Dr. Winkler last prescribed Paddock Diazepam in June this year, according to Nevada’s prescription drug monitoring database. While it’s unclear how regularly he took Valium, it is clear he was prescribed it for over eight years.
“Diazepam is a sedative-hypnotic drug in the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, which studies have shown can trigger aggressive behaviour. Chronic use or abuse of sedatives such as diazepam can also trigger psychotic experiences,” according to Drug Abuse addiction website.
A 2015 study published in World Psychiatry, which examined 960 Finnish adults and teens convicted of homicide, showed that their odds of killing were 45 per cent higher during time periods when they were on benzodiazepines.
A year earlier, the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry published a study titled “Benzodiazepine Use and Aggressive Behavior.” The authors wrote: “It appears that benzodiazepine use is moderately associated with subsequent aggressive behaviour.”Dr. Mel Pohl, chief medical officer of the Las Vegas Recovery Center, states: “If somebody has an underlying aggression problem and you sedate them with that drug, they can become aggressive. It can disinhibit an underlying emotional state. It is much like what happens when you give alcohol to some people; they become aggressive instead of going to sleep.”
Benzodiazepines can also influence cognitive abilities, which might have already been affected in Stephen Paddock’s case. ‘Cognitive Effects of Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use’, a study published on Springer Link (which implied neuropsychological tests to evaluate performance after long-term use of benzodiazepines) showed that “moderate-to-large weighted effect sizes were found for all cognitive domains suggesting that long-term benzodiazepine users were significantly impaired, compared with controls, in all of the areas that were assessed.”
Therefore, it is highly possible that Stephen Paddock’s actions on October 1 could be linked with his genetic inherences and Diazepam consumption.
On the table next to Stephen Paddock’s dead body, police found a note containing a series of numbers. The FBI later claimed that it was a list of phone numbers. If there was one thing that had never left Stephen’s side, it is the numbers – sharing the same interest in gambling as his father, which may be an actual obsession with numbers.
Finally, Stephen chose to end his life by his own hand, the same way he had taken those 59 lives, by shooting. This might be the result of his father’s supposedly “suicidal tendencies,” as the FBI had stated at the time of his escape.
Stephen had suffered “psychopathic” behaviour; causing the mass shooting, had “suicidal tendencies”; killing himself, and he has also remained in the American history as an “armed and very dangerous” man.
Leaving aside the genetic issue in Stephen’s case, there have been many similar incidents are suspected to have been caused by the use of antidepressants, according to Citizens Commission on Human Rights Florida.
One such report states: “While on a mix of anti-depressants, sixteen-year-old Cory Baadsgaard took a rifle to school and held 23 students hostage. His father said he was not a violent kid before he took the drugs but while on the medication he was volatile and susceptible to blind rage. Cory does not remember anything other than waking up, not feeling so well and going back to bed. The next thing he remembered was being in juvenile detention. Luckily no one was hurt, but it could have become another mass shooting.”
Although, if this is the case, many people are being hurt every day either by people taking anti-depressants, and the effects are felt not just by the families of the dead, but the survivors as well.
As Erika Yeargan, Route 91 Festival survivor, put it: “I can’t sleep at night because I get nightmares and cry in my sleep. I will never understand why someone could be so heartless and just kill people. I will never get my question answered and will never understand how someone could do that. I won’t be the same, and I won’t ever be ‘okay,’ but I hope I make it through it.”
Featured image by Rudy van der Veen via Good Free Photos