A laptop computer recovered from the Las Vegas hotel room where Stephen Paddock launched the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history was missing its hard drive, depriving investigators of a potential key source of information on why he killed and maimed so many people, ABC News has learned.
Investigators digging into Paddock’s background also learned he purchased software designed to erase files from a hard drive, but without the hard drive to examine it is impossible to know if he ever used the software, one source said.
The absence of substantial digital clues has left investigators struggling to piece together what triggered Paddock to kill 58 innocent concertgoers and injure more than 500 others on Oct. 1.
The frequent gambler, described as a loner, spent months amassing his arsenal, staying under the radar with no one suspecting he would turn to extreme violence.
His finances did not appear to be a problem and Paddock had settled any debts he had with casinos shortly before the attack, a source said.
Other mass shooters in the United States have left behind writings or manifestos explaining their actions — however deranged those explanations may have been.
Paddock, however, left behind no such writings or evidence.
He is not the first mass shooter to destroy or hide digital clues.
- In 2007, Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung Hui removed the hard drive of his computer and disposed of his cell phone shortly before the massacre. Authorities even searched a pond for the missing digital media, but the devices were never recovered.
The dorm had been locked in the morning, Mr. Flinchum said, adding that “we believe Cho waited for some unsuspecting individual to walk in or out of West Ambler-Johnston and then took the opportunity to enter the dorm,” Chief Flinchum said.
Investigators said they also have not yet recovered the hard drive to Cho’s computers, something they want to examine for clues to his motives.
“That’s a piece of evidence we would love to find, along with his cell phone and possibly some other documents,” Colonel Flaherty said.
A panel appointed by the Virginia governor, Timothy M. Kaine, is expected to issue a report next month on the shootings, the worst in modern national history.
- The 2008 Northern Illinois shooter, Steven Kazmierczak, removed the SIM card from his phone and the hard drive from his laptop, and neither was recovered.
Police think the graduate student who shot and killed five students last week at Northern Illinois University took steps to thwart investigators trying to figure out why he did it.
In addition to removing the hard drive from his laptop computer, Steven Kazmierczak also removed the SIM card — a key computer chip — from his cell phone, a police source said.
- In 2012, Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza had removed the hard drive from his computer and smashed it with a hammer or screwdriver.
Before 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot his mother multiple times and then drove to a nearby elementary school, killing 26 more victims, he destroyed his computer hard drive, a law-enforcement sources tells The Daily Beast.
“It was pretty bad,” the source said of the smashed hard drive. “If he destroyed the computer, that means there are things on there that would concern him. It is going to be a while before they can decipher the information.”
The FBI’s computer-analysis response team is still trying to put the pieces of the hard drive back together, said the law-enforcement source, who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing investigation, “The kid knew what he was doing,” the source said. “This was a planned event. There is no question about it.”