Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock 'the most well-known unknown person in town'

A sleepy retirement community 130 kilometres northeast of Las Vegas is tormented by what ifs after learning that Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock had lived among them.

Neighbours in Mesquite, Nev., say they 'had no idea that a lunatic lived three doors down'

Stephen Paddock lived in this home in the small community of Mesquite, Nev., 130 kilometres northeast of Las Vegas. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

It's a modest, orange stucco house on a hill overlooking the desert, not much different from any of the others on the block, except for wooden boards covering a hole where the garage door would have been, and the yellow police tape that circles the property.

Terry Nerrins didn't want to come to Stephen Paddock's house, but she had to: it's her job. She has covered the city of Mesquite, Nev., for the local paper for years. She spent the last couple of days trying to find out everything she could about the man who lived here, to understand why.

Terry Nerrins is consumed with what ifs: 'If anybody could have known or reached out or maybe if it wasn't such a quiet community, who knows?' (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

She spoke with neighbours, talked to workers at the local casino where Paddock gambled. Almost nothing.

"He just kind of blended into the crowd, he was completely under the radar," Nerrins said. "He's become the most well-known unknown person in town."

'It's unimaginable'

But as she stood in front of the house taking photographs, knowing what happened after he closed his front door for the last time and drove the hour-and-a-half to the Vegas Strip, her journalistic objectivity dissolved and she began to cry.

"It's just terrible. Our hearts ... are just so heavy for what happened. It's unimaginable, it truly is."

Stephen Paddock was known to gamble at the Eureka casino in Mesquite, Nev. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

A tragedy of that magnitude seems unimaginable anywhere. But Mesquite is a sleepy retirement community 130 kilometres northeast of Las Vegas, most of it newly carved out of the desert sandstone. There seem to be as many golf carts as cars. Many of its 18,000 residents are seniors who just want to be left alone.

Nerrins is tormented by 'what ifs.'

'Nobody knew'

"If anybody could have known or reached out, or maybe if it wasn't such a quiet community, who knows? ... Nobody knew," she said, crying again.

Then she wiped away her tears and went back to photographing the now-infamous home, while neighbours like Rod Sweningson walked by and quietly contemplated the "evil" that nested in their midst. 

This undated photo provided by Eric Paddock shows him at left with his brother, Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock at right. Stephen Paddock opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, killing dozens and wounding hundreds. (Eric Paddock/Associated Press)

The retiree lives across the street from Paddock, and figures he must have crossed paths with him on the way to the mailbox. Yet both kept to themselves to such an extent that when Sweningson saw Paddock's picture in the paper he didn't even recognize him.

"I had no idea that a lunatic lived three doors down," Sweningson said, shaking his head. He said he's "shocked and amazed" that the man responsible for the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history was his neighbour in this quiet community.

Mesquite, Nev., a community of about 18,000 people, many of whom are retired. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

'We don't even lock our doors'

"Typically we don't even lock our doors," Sweningson said. 

Sweningson was taken aback at the arsenal police found in the shooter's home and in his car: in addition to the 19 guns, they recovered several thousand rounds of ammunition along with explosives.

Rod Sweningson says he had no idea 'a lunatic was living three doors down.' (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Sweningson said he owns several guns himself. "I keep a firearm by my bedstead, so anybody that comes strolling around my house is probably going to regret it."

But, he said, the shooting has changed his views on firearm regulations.

"I don't think that anyone should really have the ability to convert their firearms into fully automatic weapons where he could just go out and do just ... ratatatatat," he said, using his hands to sweep the area with imaginary gunfire. "You know, there's no sense in that to me."

Police say they found many guns, thousands of rounds of ammunition, as well as an ingredient used in explosives, inside Paddock's home and car. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

When asked how the community would cope with this tragedy in their midst, he thought for a moment.

"Good question," he said. "I reckon there's going to be a lot more people locking their doors."

About the Author

Kim Brunhuber

Los Angeles correspondent

Kim Brunhuber is a CBC News Senior Reporter based in Los Angeles. He has travelled the world from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan as a videojournalist, shooting and editing pieces for TV, radio and online. Originally from Montreal, he speaks French and Spanish, and is also a published novelist.