Las Vegas mass shooting: 'act of pure evil'

LAS VEGAS (BP) -- A lone gunman with a bird's eye view fired an automatic weapon into a crowd of 22,000 Las Vegas concertgoers, killing at least 58 and injuring more than 500 before killing himself in his hotel room Sunday night (Oct. 1).

A lone gunman with a bird's eye view fired a fully automatic weapon into a crowd of 22,000 Las Vegas concertgoers, killing at least 58 -- one an alumnus of Union University -- and injuring more than 500 before killing himself in his hotel room Sunday night (Oct. 1).
Screen capture from CBS News
Las Vegas police identified the suspected shooter as 64-year-old Stephen Craig Paddock of Mesquite, Nev., and said he acted alone when he fired into the Route 91 Harvest Festival of country music just after 10 p.m. Perched in his room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino across the street from the open-air event, the gunman committed for no known reason the deadliest mass shooting in the nation's history.

As more details of the shooting have surfaced, Southern Baptists are among religious leaders offering prayer and counseling to console the community reeling from what President Donald Trump called "an act of pure evil." The FBI has deemed as bogus a supposed claim from the Islamic State taking credit for the crime, the Independent reported.

Monday afternoon, Union University tweeted that Sonny Melton, a 2015 alumnus, was among those killed in the shooting. Melton had completed his bachelor of science in nursing, according to the university. "Our hearts go out to the family of Sonny Melton," the tweet said. Union is affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.

"You know how when you met someone and you just know that they're good and kind? That was Sonny," Christy Davis, assistant professor of nursing, said in a statement released by Union. "He just had a sweet, kind spirit."

Hope Church is only a few miles from the shooting scene near the Las Vegas airport. Senior pastor Vance Pitman will keep the church doors open all day today, he told Baptist Press, to offer prayer and counseling to anyone in need among the city's 2.2 million residents and its 1 million weekly tourists.

"God is a refuge in help, a very present help in time of trouble," Pitman told BP, quoting Psalm 46:1. "The Scripture teaches that God is to be run to in moments like this, that He's a refuge. He's a shelter that we can run to in moments of tragedy and find comfort, find peace, find redemption, reconciliation, and find hope."

Hope will provide safety and shelter for tourists blocked from their hotel rooms by the chaos, Pitman said. The church also is attempting to set up a mobile blood bank to accept blood donations for the hundreds receiving medical treatment across the city. Pitman has encouraged his membership to donate blood at centers across the city, and will arrange weekend activities to address the tragedy.

"You've got some people who are believers, yet even their faith has been shaken," Pitman said. "And then you've got a lot of people in Las Vegas, a city that's 92 percent non-evangelical, 60 percent unchurched, that are already really skeptical of faith and now, very much so.

"And so we want to try to provide some answers from Scripture about where God is in all of this and in a tragedy like this."

SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., is also offering comfort and prayers.

"The hearts and prayers of Southern Baptists go out to the families of all those who were killed and injured by the gunman at the concert in Las Vegas," Gaines told BP. "Such calculated violence is diabolical and depraved. May the Lord Jesus give grace and healing to all those affected by this tragic, senseless, horrific event."

Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, also offered the comfort and clarity of Scripture.

"Politicians will posture and everyone will wonder," Page told BP. "Jesus told us years ago in John 10:10 these words, "The thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance."

Such violence has become all too frequent in America, Page said.

"There is evil among us and it has manifested itself in yet another cowardly, violent form overnight," he said. "May this be a wake-up call for us all! God help us all."

At least two off-duty police officers were among the dead, FOX News reported, and at least two on-duty police officers were injured.

Las Vegas is home to 118 Southern Baptist congregations, according to North American Mission Board figures. The church-to-resident ratio is roughly one to 18,300. Less than 8 percent of the city identifies as evangelical, NAMB said on its Send City website, and about two-thirds of the city is unchurched.

At press time, Pitman was not aware of any Hope Church members being injured in the crime.

"We've already heard from several people in our church who had friends or family members there that were shot and are in the hospital," Pitman said. "I don't know yet of any fatalities that are directly related to our fellowship, but we're still getting information in minute by minute. You can imagine it's a little chaotic here this morning."

Pitman encouraged Americans to remember that Las Vegas is much more than a tourist attraction.

"You've got 2.2 million people that live here, that have families, they have jobs. It's a beautiful community, a beautiful city that's right here in the heart of the southwest. And they're really hurting today," he said. "A lot of people think of Vegas as sin city, but the Scripture says where sin abounds grace abounds all the more, and the darker the darkness, the brighter the light of the Gospel.

"And today is a dark, dark day in the city of Las Vegas, which means that's a backdrop for an incredible display of the glorious light of the Gospel," Pitman said. "And that's what we pray to see happen here, is the church rises up and begins to serve the city."

President Trump plans to visit Las Vegas Wednesday, he said in a morning press conference.

Details of the suspect Paddock, whom police found dead in his hotel room from a self-inflicted gunshot, are still unfolding. Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said an "excess of 10 rifles" were found in the room, FOX News reported.

Paddock had been in the hotel room since Sept. 28, Lombardo said in news reports.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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