Roll the 'why?' dice: Waiting, waiting to learn why the Las Vegas gunman did what he did

Right now, I am doing what I assume many of you are doing, especially GetReligion readers who work in news media.

I am reading everything that I can about 64-year-old Stephen Paddock and the massacre in Las Vegas and I'm waiting for the shoe to drop. It's the "why?" shoe, as in "who, what, when, where, why and how?"

As is so often the case, in this sinful and fallen world, the next shoe could have something to do with religion. Islamic State leaders have already done what they do and, in this case, that statement looks even more cynical and senseless than usual. A CBS story noted:

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed ... that the man who opened fire on concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing at least 50 people, was acting on behalf of the group, but offered no evidence. ...
The statement offered no proof of a link with Paddock, nor did it identify him by name.

The next shoe to drop could be political, at which point the political content will take on cultural and perhaps even religious content. Why? Because that's the way things work in culture-wars America.

When you heard that the slaughter was in Vegas, that caused you to ponder one possible set of motives for a shooter. When you heard that the victims were at a country-music show, that triggered another set of assumptions, at least about the people being shot. That appears to have been the case for one lawyer linked to CBS -- Hayley Geftman-Gold (but not tied to the newsroom). In an update, CBS fired her.

“If they wouldn’t do anything when children were murdered I have no hope that Repugs will ever do the right thing,” wrote Geftman-Gold on Facebook. ... “I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country musica fans often are Republican gun toters.”

From his perch on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, was Paddock shooting at conservatives? Republicans? He was a gambler, apparently. Had things gone wrong and he was simply shooting at human symbols of Las Vegas? People who stood for America, period? Why?

The dead gunman's name revealed nothing. It appeared that he was a hunter, but had no military background. He had two airplanes and a big, expensive house. His live-in companion was an Asian woman.

The New York Post began rounding up a collection of URLs pointing to information about Paddock, but none of it provided any crucial information. The New York Times offered this headline: "Who Is Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas Shooting Suspect?" This section pretty much said it all:

What we don’t know:
* The suspect’s motive is unclear.
* It is not yet clear whether the suspect planned the shooting alone or was working with others.
* The authorities have not announced whether the suspect had any ties to domestic or international terrorist groups.

One of my favorite commentators, David French, spoke for many of us, sounding like the sober, practical lawyer and military veteran that he is.

Along that line, the sheriff predicted a “a long and tedious investigation” into a motive.

So where does that leave reporters, right now? After the Virginia Tech massacre a decade ago, I wrote a column on this topic -- the "why?" shoe. Basically, I was arguing that religion writers should be in the team investigating the shooting, and covering the aftermath, because this is America and religion is part of life -- period.

Can you say, "theodicy"?

You're waiting for the other shoe to drop.
You know the shoe I'm talking about -- the religion shoe. ... You've seen photos of mourners in pews, offering comfort and seeking solace. You know that believers will pray and that journalists will keep aiming cameras at them. ... They pray. It's a good photo, but it's just prayer. Right?
No, you're waiting for a real religion angle to surface, a crazy one linked to violence and power. After all, religion surfaces in so many bloody stories these days. ...
You know the pope will say something and that -- no matter what he says about the mysteries of life and death, good and evil -- it will appear in news reports as a naive cry for peace and for an end to violence. ...
(M)aybe Pat Robertson will say -- something, anything. Then, on the other side, perhaps the atheist version of Robertson could call a press conference and say this tragedy is more evidence that life is random and without purpose. That would work.

But there are hard-news, journalism questions to ask -- the same questions that apply to shooters of any kind.

Police say this was a lone wolf, but even lone wolfs have lives and ties that bind. So far, his family is mystified. Paddock had next to zero social-media presence, in terms of what authorities have found so far. His brother said Paddock was not political or religious.

But if the gunman just "snapped," for many readers that will raise a different set of questions. Why did he snap? Was this act random and meaningless, in every sense of that word? If so, what does that say? Yes, people will ask, "Where was God?"

Why? Why? Why? That question is rarely free of religious content.

So we keep waiting.






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