By: Alexandria Sage and Sharon Bernstein
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – The FBI on Wednesday questioned the girlfriend of the gunman behind the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, seeking to learn what motivated Stephen Paddock to open fire on a Las Vegas music festival, killing 58 people and then himself.
Marilou Danley, who returned from the Philippines to the United States late Tuesday, is a “person of interest” in the investigation, Las Vegas police have said. Her relatives in the Philippines told reporters she had a “clean conscience” and no prior knowledge of the shooting rampage.
More than 500 people were injured, some trampled in the pandemonium, when Paddock, 64, strafed an outdoor concert with gunfire on Sunday night from his 32nd-floor suite of the Mandalay Bay hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.
He took his own life before police stormed his room, where they found as many as 23 guns, bringing the total death toll to 59.
Twelve of his rifles were fitted with so-called bump stocks, officials said, allowing the guns to be fired almost as though they were automatic weapons.
U.S. President Donald Trump visited Las Vegas on Wednesday to pay his respects and support first responders, marking the first time since taking office that he has had to confront a major mass shooting of the type that has killed hundreds of people in recent years in the United States.
Investigators have focused on Paddock’s girlfriend, Danley, 62, an Australian citizen who had shared his retirement community condo in Mesquite, Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas, before leaving the United States for the Philippines in September.
Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation met her plane from Manila at Los Angeles International Airport and took her away for questioning, two U.S. officials briefed on the case told Reuters.
As of midday Wednesday, there was no indication she was aware of Paddock’s plans, the officials said.
Investigators questioned her about Paddock’s weapons purchases, a $100,000 wire transfer to a Philippine bank that they think may have been intended for her, and about whether she saw any changes in his behavior before she left the United States.
“Assuming she had no role in his actions, the most important thing is any light she can shed on Paddock’s motive,” said one official, who spoke about the continuing investigation only on condition of anonymity.
A third source, a senior U.S. official familiar with the investigation, said there was still zero evidence that Paddock had contacts with any extremist groups, foreign or domestic, or that he might have sought out any militant groups online that could have incited him to carry out a mass shooting.
Danley, who has retained Los Angeles-area defense lawyer Matthew Lombard, had assured her family of her innocence, her brother told ABC News in the Philippines.
“She said, ‘Relax, we shouldn’t worry about it. I’ll fix it. Do not panic. I have a clean conscience,’” Reynaldo Bustos told ABC in Manila.
Paddock’s brother Eric told reporters the $100,000 transfer was evidence that “Steve took care of the people he loved,” and that he likely wanted to protect Danley by sending her overseas before the attack.
She arrived in Manila on Sept. 15, flew to Hong Kong on Sept. 22 and returned to Manila on Sept. 25. She was there until she flew to Los Angeles on Tuesday night, according to a Philippine immigration official.
While Danley has not been arrested nor identified as a suspect, one expert noted that was also the case for the wife of the gunman who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year, previously the bloodiest shooting spree in modern U.S. history. Pulse assailant Omar Mateen was killed in a shootout with police.
His wife, Noor Salman, cooperated with investigators but was later indicted on charges of aiding and abetting her late husband in support of the Islamic State. Salman has pleaded not guilty.
“She cooperated her way right into a criminal indictment,” said Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos.
Trump, touring a hospital in Las Vegas, told reporters Paddock was “very demented” but that investigators still had not nailed down a motive for the shooting.
“We struggle to explain to our children how such evil can exist,” he said later at Las Vegas police command center.
Meeting with law enforcement officers who rushed toward the shooter, Trump asked the head of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department if investigators were any closer to establishing a motive.
“We’ve had a couple good leads and we’re working our way through it,” Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told the president.