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Congressman briefed on Las Vegas shooting probe says no motive has emerged
 Marc Wehrs
 10.02.17

LAS VEGAS (TNS) — At least 59 people were killed and 527 others injured after a gunman opened fire Sunday night at an outdoor country music festival near the Las Vegas Strip — the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

The first shots came at 10:08 p.m., about 20 minutes into a performance by country music star Jason Aldean. More than 22,000 concert-goers sought cover as a barrage of what sounded like automatic weapons fire ripped through the crowd, fired from a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel across the street.

Police said the suspect, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, a resident of Mesquite, Nev., had smashed the windows with a hammer-like tool before opening fire. By the time a SWAT team burst into the room, Paddock had killed himself — leaving in the hotel room at least 19 weapons, mostly military-style rifles.

At least one of them had been modified with a legal “bump stock”-style device that allows the shooter to rapidly fire off rounds without actually converting it to a fully automatic weapon, one federal law enforcement source said. Other weapons may have been converted to fully automatic fire, and were still being examined.

A total of 18 more weapons were found in Paddock’s car and in his home, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Ammonium nitrate, sometimes used in manufacturing explosive devices, was found in Paddock’s vehicle, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said.

“Right now we believe it’s a solo act, a lone wolf attacker,” Lombardo said. “We are pretty confident there is no longer a threat.” The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is a joint city-county force headed by the sheriff.

Lombardo said authorities had no evidence of a motive. “We don’t know what his belief system was at this time,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., who received a briefing from the multiagency anti-terrorism center, said no new clues have emerged so far in their search of Paddock’s home.

“Law enforcement were looking through his computer. They couldn’t find a motive. As of a couple of hours ago, there was no motive. That’s all we know,” he said.

Investigators found fully automatic guns among multiple weapons in Paddock’s 32nd-floor Las Vegas hotel room, according to the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California.

The congressman, who received a briefing from FBI officials in Washington on Monday, said he didn’t know if the guns found in the Mandalay Bay Resort room were manufactured to be fully automatic or had been modified. Such weapons fire more than one round with each pull of the trigger.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders grew emotional as she read a statement praising the people who aided victims in the middle of the gunfire. “What these people did for each other says far more about who we are as Americans than the cowardly acts of a killer ever could,” Sanders said, quoting from the Bible’s Gospel of John: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend.”

The militant group Islamic State issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, saying the gunman had converted to Islam months ago, though it provided no proof; almost immediately, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s field office in Las Vegas, Aaron Rouse, said federal authorities had found no such evidence.

“We have determined, to this point, no connection to an international terrorist group,” Rouse said.

“It was an act of pure evil,” President Donald Trump said in a televised statement from Washington. The president did not refer to the shootings as an act of terrorism, but said he would travel to Las Vegas on Wednesday — a day after he visits victims of another tragedy, this one the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico — to meet with first responders and families of the victims.

“We cannot fathom their pain, we cannot imagine their loss. To the families of the victims, we are praying for you, and we are here for you, and we ask God to see you through this very dark period,” Trump said.

“Our unity cannot be shattered by evil, our bonds cannot be broken by violence,” Trump added, saying that while Americans may be angry, “it is our love that defines us today and always will forever.”

Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, and a military honor guard, later led a somber moment of silence on the White House lawn for the massacre victims.

Clark County officials declared a state of emergency as investigators undertook the massive task of identifying all the dead and wounded while also trying to learn what motivated Paddock, a real estate investor, gambler and licensed pilot who appears to have had no previous run-ins with the law.

Police raided the home where Paddock lived with his girlfriend, Marilou Danley, in a small retirement community called Sun City Mesquite, tucked among meandering roads and single-story homes about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Mesquite police said they’d had no prior contact with the gunman — no traffic stops, no citations, “no arrests, nothing,” Mesquite Police Department spokesman Quinn Averett said. “It’s a newer home, a newer subdivision, a nice clean home, nothing out of the ordinary.”

Danley was out of the country when the attack happened but is a “person of interest” in the investigation, Lombardo said. Officials have contacted her and plan to question her when she returns to the U.S.

“Steve had nothing to do with political organizations, religious organizations,” said his brother, Eric Paddock, who lives in Orlando, Fla. “No white-supremacist organizations. Nothing as far as I know, and I’ve known him for 57 years. Something just incredibly wrong happened to my brother.”

Eric Paddock said he helped move his brother from Florida to Mesquite, Nev., a couple of years ago. He said Paddock wanted to get away from the heat and humidity of Florida and be closer to Las Vegas, where he liked to gamble.

“He’s just a guy who played video poker and took cruises and ate burritos at Del Taco,” Eric Paddock said.

Their father, Benjamin Hoskins Paddock, had been wanted on bank robbery charges and was arrested in Las Vegas in 1960, Eric Paddock said in an interview. He tried to run an FBI agent over with his car before he was captured, according to news accounts from the time.

The elder Paddock, who had a wife and four children in Arizona, was placed on the most-wanted list after escaping from a federal prison in La Tuna, Texas, on Dec. 31, 1968, having served eight years of a 20-year sentence.

He was captured in Springfield, Ore., in 1978, having opened a bingo parlor for a nonprofit organization in Eugene, Ore., during his time on the lam. He died in 1998.

Paddock’s former brother-in-law, Scott Brunoehler, remembers the gunman as a smart, fun-loving person.

Paddock was a young man thriving in Southern California when he was married to Brunoehler’s sister, Sharon, in the 1970s and early 1980s, Brunoehler said in an interview.

“Oh, he was a smart guy, like an accountant or something. He had a good job, he was a great guy actually,” Brunoehler said. “We used to go water skiing together.”

Brunoehler, 62, said he hasn’t spoken to Paddock since he divorced his sister.

“It was pretty mutual, they just kind of grew apart,” Brunoehler said.

When they were in their 20s and 30s, Paddock would take them out on his boat at Castaic Lake or Buena Vista Lake in Kern County, Brunoehler said.

“He seemed like a normal, good guy. I don’t remember anything bad back then at all,” he said. “I’m still in shock.”

Public records suggest that Paddock also owned or co-owned real-estate in California and Texas, according to the Associated Press.

Previously, the worst mass shooting in modern American history was the June 12, 2016, massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. That gunman, Omar Mateen, had pledged his allegiance to Islamic State.

With the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007 — where 32 people were killed by a mentally disturbed student — the three deadliest shootings in nearly a century have all happened within the past 10 years.

The fact that the gunman was positioned on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort and casino overlooking the outdoor concert site made victims particularly vulnerable, law enforcement experts said.

“It is so, so challenging when you have shooter in a very, very high position,” said retired Los Angeles Police Department commander Rick Webb, an expert on active shooter scenarios. “It was very well-thought-out on his part, it is a horrible tragedy.”

Webb said it takes time to locate a shooter and that Las Vegas is a very challenging backdrop, even for the experienced Las Vegas Metro Police.

The three-day Route 91 Harvest country music festival was underway across Las Vegas Boulevard from the Mandalay Bay when the shooting erupted about four or five songs into Aldean’s performance.

“Single shot. Single shot, then a lot of shots,” concert attendee Frank Allard said. Many concertgoers didn’t initially realize what was going on.

“I thought it was like bottle rockets going off,” said Seth Bayles, of West Hollywood, Calif., who was about 50 feet from the stage. “Then we saw people dropping. We saw someone get hit and then we started running.”

Dozens of people dropped to the ground, screaming, while others ran, some in pairs or in groups with their arms linked. The shooting went on for more than 30 seconds before the music stopped, and another burst was heard later. Aldean and the band were pulled off stage.

“Get down, stay down,” one woman shouted in a video posted to social media. “Let’s go,” another voice said. Another wave of gunshots followed soon after.

Allard said the crowd began to stampede and he grabbed a nearby fence, stretched both arms wide and tried to shield his wife from the danger. Then they ran.

“We followed the crowd out,” said his wife, Bernice Allard.

Two men near Mandalay Bay said they heard someone in a helicopter with a bullhorn yelling, “Go! Go! Go!” as the incident unfolded.

The scene was one of pandemonium. “Thirty-five years, and I have never seen that many ambulances (as) I saw last night … Dozens. Dozens and dozens,” said Clark County Fire Chief Greg Cassell.

Dispatch audio revealed that police were dealing with a chaotic scene, as they received erroneous reports of active shooters all over the place — supposedly at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino, the Tropicana Las Vegas Casino Hotel Resort and at the Aria Resort and Casino.

In the end, there was only one gunman in one location, police said.

Some officers loaded multiple victims into the backs of their squad cars to take them to area hospitals. “We’re going to have a lot of people self-transporting in pickup trucks,” one officer radioed.

Police and SWAT teams streamed into the Mandalay Bay hotel, where police said they coordinated with hotel security to narrow down what floor the gunman was on, after which his room was easy to find.

“We need to pop this and see if we’ve got any kind of response from this guy,” one officer whispered into his radio from near Paddock’s room, as he and other officers prepared an explosive charge for the door.

“All units move back, all units move back,” a dispatcher said.

“Breach, breach, breach!” one of the officers said, a transmission that was followed by the sound of an explosion.

Paddock had killed himself, officials said later. “We have one suspect down inside the room,” one official radioed.

Some of those shot were off-duty law enforcement officers.

One of the dead was an off-duty officer who was attending the concert, Lombardo said. Several other officers from Nevada and California, both on and off duty, were wounded by gunfire, officials said.

Several off-duty police officers from Bakersfield, Calif., were among those attending the concert when the gunfire began. Bakersfield Police Lt. Jeff Burdick said they were not in a position to return fire.

One Bakersfield officer was wounded by the gunfire and was taken to a hospital for treatment, but is expected to survive, Burdick said.

Two young prosecutors were near the stage when the shooting happened and remained “pretty shaken up,” said Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson. “This is a classic WMD — a weapon, and a man, of mass destruction.”

“A tragic and heinous act of violence has shaken the Nevada family,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said on Twitter. “Our prayers are with the victims and all affected by this act of cowardice.”

Both Trump and California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered flags flown at half-staff. “Our prayers and deepest sympathies are with the families and loved ones of those killed and injured in last night’s tragic and senseless shooting and we stand with the people of Nevada in this difficult time,” he said in a statement.

Aldean was the final act of the Route 91 Harvest festival, while dozens of others had played over the course of the weekend. In numerous tweets, artists communicated with fans and followers, expressing their sorrow and prayers for anyone injured and telling loved ones that they were safe.

Jake Owen, who played the main stage before Aldean, tweeted: “Praying for everyone here in Vegas. I witnessed the most unimaginable event tonight. We are okay. Others aren’t. Please pray.”

Aldean responded on Instagram:

“Tonight has been beyond horrific,” he wrote. “I still don’t know what to say but wanted to let everyone know that Me and my Crew are safe. My Thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved tonight. It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night. #heartbroken #stopthehate.”

Inside the Tropicana and outside Mandalay Bay on Monday afternoon, signs broadcasted the phone number people could call about their loved ones and about blood donations.

Electric signs outside Mandalay rotated messages. “Our prayers for the victims,” one says. “Our gratitude for the brave first responders.”


Local
La Crosse only public school district in county to see enrollment dip
 NHansen  / 
 10.03.17

Fall enrollment numbers confirmed the La Crosse School District’s decade-and-a-half enrollment slide is continuing.

La Crosse is down more than 90 students this year and down 280 students compared with seven years ago, according to Third Friday of September counts provided by the district. Other schools in La Crosse County reported increasing or stable enrollment this year, with Onalaska up nearly 6.5 percent since 2011 and Holmen up more than 4 percent.

District2017201620152014201320122011
Onalaska3,1783,1643,1523,0873,0462,9962,986
West Salem1,8181,8141,7701,7761,8021,8011,812
Holmen3,9383,8943,9733,9583,8953,8123,767
Bangor595583579571567595601
La Crosse6,6526,7446,7896,8036,8016,8656,932
Aquinas9939649509891,0051,002967
Public school total16,18116,19916,26316,1951,611116,06916,098

Countywide, enrollment is up slightly from seven years ago but down 80 students from a high of 16,263 in 2015. Districts provide their September headcounts to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, and the numbers influence everything from school budgets to how districts and school boards plan for the future.

For La Crosse, the pain of declining enrollment isn’t felt immediately, Superintendent Randy Nelson said. For budgeting purposes, the state uses a three-year rolling average to calculate revenue limits and state aid to help districts that experience spikes in enrollment.

The district has experienced declining enrollment for over 15 years, Nelson said, a trend the district calculates as it budgets, plans for future staffing and considers the best ways to use school space and resources.

Open enrollment has helped the district: More students come into the district from neighboring districts each year than resident students who chose to go to school elsewhere. But like many urban districts, La Crosse doesn’t have much room to grow, unlike neighboring suburbs such as Onalaska and Holmen.

“All of these things play into it,” Nelson said. “There is still an opportunity for development in the city, but not to grow our boundaries.”

The Onalaska school district is up 14 students this year to 3,178, and Holmen is up 44 to 3,938. Bangor is up 12 students to 595 and West Salem, which has had steady enrollment in recent years, is up 4 students to 1,818.

Aquinas Catholic Schools’ enrollment also increased this year, by almost 30 students. During the past seven years, the private school system has seen its enrollment numbers fluctuate between 960 and more than 1,000 students.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune  

Layla Greer, 7, works on Lego Creator on her tablet computer Monday during her first-grade class at State Road Elementary School.

Aquinas began participating in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program in 2014 and had 142 students enrolled this year, up more than 30 from last year. The choice program allows families with students meeting certain income eligibility requirements to enroll at a private school using public funds.

Aquinas High School and Blessed Sacrament School saw strong enrollment numbers this year, Aquinas President Ted Knutson said. He felt families were choosing the Catholic school system for its strong teachers and principals.

Open enrollment has been a boon for Onalaska which gained 228 students this year through the state program that lets students attend school at a neighboring district. Onalaska Superintendent Fran Finco said the district resident enrollment and open enrollment growth have combined for an increase of more than 190 students since 2011.

Finco said the state funding attached to those new students has helped Onalaska avoid budget cuts. But as enrollment grows, he said, the district will be cautious to set limits on open enrollment to avoid having more students in a certain grade, school or special needs category than staff can effectively serve.

“Having a steadily increasing population has been a good thing for the district,” he said.


Local
Leaders of recall petition effort against Onalaska School Board member Jake Speed exceed goal
 NHansen  / 
 10.02.17

ONALASKA — Organizers to recall school board member Jake Speed claim they have enough signatures to force an election.

Speed

In a Monday morning announcement, they claim to have collected more than 2,350 signatures, 600 more than the 1,743 needed to trigger the election. The recall effort kicked off on Aug. 8, and organizers had until Tuesday to get the required signatures.

Paperwork will be delivered to the Onalaska district office at noon, and Speed will have 10 days to decide whether to resign from the board or face another election, which will take place six weeks after the petition has been officially recognized as successful.

According to the announcement, Deana Verdon, a former Onalaska School Board member, has confirmed she will run against Speed if an election is held. Other than a few comments to the media, Speed has not returned any requests for interviews or comments from multiple organizations, calling them “fake news.”

Tribune file photo  

In this file photo, Deanna Verdon is sworn in as a new member of the Onalaska Board of Education in 2014. Verdon has expressed interest in running against member Jake Speed in a potential recall election.

“I think we need people on the board whose No. 1 concern is the students and the community,” Verdon said. “There shouldn’t be any other agenda.”

Leaders of the recall effort, which includes former Onalaska Board President Mark Cassellius, have called out Speed for his public and private behavior toward the board and the district. Speed has refused to participate in new board member orientation, mentoring and committee assignments, and has been absent from multiple meetings.

Speed also has made claims against the district and its officials, implying the district had not complied with its legal obligations and announced to the media that he filed a complaint with the district attorney’s office; no complaint was ever filed. He also claimed to have filed a criminal complaint against the school district with the FBI, saying the district had tried to send him malicious files through email, a claim he later walked back.

Speed has been criticized by board members for improperly accessing district premises, and staff members have said he has threatened, harassed and intimidated employees while they were at work. Speed was unanimously censured in April by the board for his attitude and actions.

“This is not a personal attack on an individual,” Cassellius said of the recall effort. “It is an opportunity for voters in the School District of Onalaska to reflect on the actions of Jake Speed and decide if this is who they really want representing them as an elected official on our school board.”


Speed


GOP bill would end Wisconsin wetland development permits
 Marc Wehrs
 10.02.17

Steineke

MADISON — Wisconsin Republicans are pushing to allow developers to build on state wetlands without any oversight after passing a $3 billion incentives package for a Foxconn Technology Group plant exempting the facility from a host of environmental regulations.

The Foxconn incentives bill allows the Taiwanese company to fill wetlands without permits. Conservationists and Republican supporters alike predicted the legislation could pave the way for much broader environmental rollbacks after the bill’s critics complained other businesses don’t get such perks.

Estimates of how many of Wisconsin’s 5 million or so wetland acres fall under state jurisdiction vary from 10 percent to 30 percent. The rest are under federal jurisdiction because they’re generally part of navigable waters such as Lake Superior or the Mississippi or Wisconsin rivers. The state wetlands, in contrast, are typically isolated swamps and bogs.

Republicans have long bristled at Department of Natural Resources permit requirements for filling state wetlands, saying the process slows business expansion. Sen. Roger Roth and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke introduced a bill Friday that would eliminate the permit system. Developers would still have to abide by requirements that call for them to create 1.2 acres of wetlands for every acre filled

“We’ve been hearing for years from homeowners and developers from every corner of the state about how onerous the process is to get permits to fill (wetlands), how time-consuming it is, how costly it is,” Steineke said in a phone interview. “These aren’t high-quality wetlands that serve a broader function.”

Scott Manley, a lobbyist for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group, said in August that the Foxconn bill could provide a “proof of concept” for regulatory reform. The group issued a statement Monday praising the Roth-Steineke bill.

Steineke and Roth aide Angela Roidt both said they had been exploring wetland permit exemptions before the Foxconn bill surfaced. But Steineke said that bill gave them an extra push.

“When you had legislators and other members of the public coming out saying they’d prefer we do these exemptions for everybody, not just one business, it was encouraging,” he said.

Erin O’Brien, policy programs director for the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, said she was sure the Foxconn incentives played a role in developing the broader wetland bill. She called the new bill the Republicans’ “end game” for wetland development.

Wetlands serve as natural retention ponds, she said; destroying them leaves communities open to flooding. Even though state law requires rebuilding more wetlands than acres lost, there’s no guarantee the new wetlands will be located in the same area or that the new wetlands will be as good as the lost acres, she said.

“It’s unfortunate that what these (legislators) are choosing to do is eliminate a permitting system that we think balances wetland protection and development and replaces it with a system that allows developers to essentially pay to pave wetlands,” she said.

The bill’s prospects look good. Aides for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald didn’t immediately reply to emails, but Steineke and Roth have considerable clout in the Legislature. Steineke is the second most powerful member of the Assembly behind Vos and is one of the speaker’s closest allies. Roth is president of the Senate.

The measure is the second major environmental rollback Republicans have proposed in as many weeks. Reps. Jesse Kremer and Cody Horlacher and Sen. Duey Stroebel, all Republicans, introduced a bill on Sept. 20 that would wipe out all state air pollution rules that go beyond federal regulations. The DNR would be able to write new state rules going forward but they would be effective for only a decade.

In a memo seeking co-sponsors the legislators wrote that the DNR regulates nearly 300 more hazardous air pollutants than required by federal law and less than a third of them are actually emitted.

“These failed bureaucratic policies and red tape create a ripple effect that leaves businesses and hardworking taxpayers stranded on an island of artificial marketplace regulation,” the lawmakers wrote.

DNR spokesman James Dick couldn’t immediately verify the scope of the state’s air pollution regulation.

Sarah Berry, a lobbyist for environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, warned the federal government mainly focuses on pollutants that pose problems nationwide. Wisconsin’s standards reflect the state’s unique situation, she said.

“A full-scale repeal of our state-specific protections could have tremendous negative consequences for the health and well-being of people living in Wisconsin communities across the state,” she said in an email.

The Foxconn bill didn’t include any air pollution exemptions.


Steineke


Nelson