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Morning News Brief: Las Vegas Shooting, Puerto Rico Relief

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You have to start with the numbers. Fifty-nine people were killed. More than 500 people were wounded. And inevitably, when something like this happens - and let's be honest. This has happened far too often in this country. Inevitably, though, you start to ask why. And obviously, there's so much, Steve, about this tragedy that is disturbing. But it is the not knowing why this has happened that's really hard to wrap your head around. You are there in Las Vegas. What was it like arriving the day after the shooting?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Ordinary, at first. We heard stories of airlines offering to cancel people's tickets to Las Vegas, but the plane we were on was quite full. You fly in over the desert. It's a spectacular view. You're flying low, and you land here very near the Las Vegas Strip.

But you get on the Strip, and there are these subtle signs - literally signs, actually. Electric billboards that would normally be advertising fun, fun, fun are advertising prayers for the victims. And then you talk to people who survived the shooting on Sunday night, and one thing that begins to come through is that the story of what happened here just doesn't make sense.

MARTIN: What do you mean?

INSKEEP: What I mean is that we don't know why - why it would be that someone would open fire and kill 58 people. And in fact, that was true for Nicole Ruffino, who was in the crowd when the shots began and fled. Let's listen.

NICOLE RUFFINO: There was just a mass of people right there. And we saw this huge refrigerated, like, trailer truck sitting there, and it was open. And there were people saying, come on, get in, get in. So the three of us jumped in, and we got a bunch of other people in with us. And, you know, at that point, we were just still hearing gunshots and really not - were - we were just so confused. We didn't understand.

INSKEEP: We didn't understand. And there's our theme, Rachel. It's just hard to make sense of this. Now, NPR's Martin Kaste is with us here in Las Vegas overlooking the Strip. He's been trying to answer some little part of this question why because he's been trying to learn about the shooter, Stephen Paddock.

And Martin, what are you learning?

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Well, if you're looking for meaning, I have to disappoint you. So far, this man is something of a cipher. He doesn't fit any of the normal narratives we have for people who do this kind of crime. He's older. He's financially stable, apparently. Apparently, he had quite a bit of money from real estate, at least according to one of his brothers. He didn't have a criminal record.

He just doesn't fit any of those sort of categories that quickly and easily explain something. As far as we know, even, you know, religious motivation - nothing like that. So, you know, what you have is this sort of question mark about somebody who, as far as we know so far, no one noticed getting ready to do something very meticulously planned, very elaborate. He had 23 firearms in that hotel...

INSKEEP: Twenty-three firearms.

KASTE: In that hotel suite.

INSKEEP: In the hotel suite.

KASTE: Yeah - in his house, which was raided later in Mesquite, about an hour from here - another 19. You know, he had this armory, and I guess we all found out about it all at once. It's very - it's very strange.

INSKEEP: And part of the mystery is, anything that you might say is wrong with a person is probably wrong with many people who don't go out and kill 58 people, if we're talking about mental illness, or some kind of trouble in their life or anything else. That's part of what the mystery is here.

KASTE: Yeah, I don't think we can - we have no data points there, really.

INSKEEP: So you've also been looking for meaning in another place, in the behavior of the police because there's been a string of mass casualty incidents of this sort, and police across the country are trying to learn and learn how to handle them better. What have Las Vegas police learned, based on their behavior Sunday?

KASTE: Well, they're still recovering. They don't really have their own timeline in their minds for what happened. But we do have this recording that comes from - there're hobbyists who record the police dispatch radios in many cities, and they get collected on the Internet by a company called Broadcastify. And it's very convenient. You can listen to a whole incident like this in real time after the fact.

So I've been spending some time - I've - you know, I cover law enforcement. I've been looking at how police departments handle this sort of thing. And the police department here really seems to be up to date in the terms of the new mentality that you treat this like almost a battle scene, and you can hear the officers kind of yelling at each other on that radio, reminding each other that nowadays, the wisdom is, you go in and stop the killing. At one point, one officer says, let's not worry about the victims so much right now so we don't have more victims. Let's go in there and get that guy.

INSKEEP: ...Which can sound cruel. Essentially, they're saying, leave the wounded in the street. Leave them to fend for themselves because we have to stop the shooting. We have to stop the bleeding, so to speak.

KASTE: And to be fair, they weren't leaving the wounded in the street.

INSKEEP: There were also first responders to handle that.

KASTE: They were doing what they could there. But they - you know, the old mentality before Columbine and all that was secure the perimeter, figure it out, to go in slowly and carefully. Now it's go in, go in, go in. They did take a while to actually go into his room, but they certainly narrowed down where his room was pretty fast. And, you know, they were just waiting for more SWAT teams to back them up. But they - that was their priority that night.

INSKEEP: So it still took a while.

KASTE: It took a while for the final breech of his door, apparently. According to that tape, according that recording, they knew very early on where he was, but they waited for backup, and they waited for other safety concerns, such as clearing things out. And you have to keep in mind here that they didn't know for sure how many people were in that room or even if there were other shooters or if he - if there were people moving around.

And they were being flooded with false reports. There were reports of a guy in fatigues in a white RV. There were reports of other active shooter situations that they had to check out while still handling Mandalay Bay. They had to go to New York-New York and Tropicana. And they were constantly looking for a larger attack that wasn't there, and they had to do that.

INSKEEP: So are there parts of this Las Vegas response that you think other police departments will see as a model or parts that you think they'll see as a cautionary tale?

KASTE: Everything hasn't been worked out yet about how things went. But I would say that most large police departments in this country are already thinking this way. Send in paramedics to the warm zone. Risk being shot while rescuing people while, at the same time, going after the shooters.

INSKEEP: Martin, thanks very much - really appreciate it.

KASTE: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Martin Kaste here in Las Vegas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: President Trump and first lady Melania Trump are traveling to Puerto Rico today.

INSKEEP: They plan to arrive in San Juan, and will meet, we're told, with survivors of Hurricane Maria as well as first responders, and government officials and others. But one person the president is not scheduled to meet with is Carmen Yulin Cruz, the Puerto Rican mayor who has been locked in a public feud with the president over his administration's hurricane response.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Mandalit del Barco has been reporting from the capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan.

Good morning, Mandalit.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: You've been there for several days now. Just - what's the situation? I mean, are relief supplies getting out to the people who need them most?

DEL BARCO: Well, I can tell you that in - a very, very few of the restaurants and hotels in the tourist areas of San Juan are slowly, slowly coming back to life powered by generators, which you might be able to hear in back of me. But, you know, fewer than half of all Puerto Ricans still have no access to clean drinking water. There's still no electricity, only limited cell phone service, mostly around a few cell towers. People are living in shelters still or living in the ruins of their homes.

Those lucky enough to get gasoline or diesel can drive around the island on the highway, but the interior is still really, really hard to get to, and those people are really cut off. Officials say that the hospitals are coming back. But we've heard stories of some patients that are really suffering in the heat without air conditioning. The official death count still stands at 16, but that doesn't account for many people who may've died in their homes. People are really struggling still.

MARTIN: So the president is going to be met with all of that when he gets off of Air Force One in Puerto Rico. You've talked with people, I imagine, in San Juan, at least. What do residents there want to hear from the president in this moment?

DEL BARCO: Well, there's not a lot of communication throughout the island, and some people I met didn't even know the president is coming. Those who do say the relief is coming very slowly - despacito, as the song goes, you know? I heard from a man in Vieques, Christian Evans (ph). He says he hopes that Trump's visit brings more attention, but he says, actually, he wish he would stay home.

You know, there's going to be a protest planned. A protest is planned in San Juan at the convention center. I met a woman named Carmes Lourdes Lopez (ph). She lives in La Perla in Old San Juan - near Old San Juan, and she says she hopes that President Trump comes with sensitivity, and there's a lot of sadness, she says. And she hopes he comes with a good heart.

MARTIN: Putting you on the spot, Mandalit, but do you know if the mayor of San Juan is going to meet with the president? Because as we mentioned in the intro, there has been this very public feud - I mean, he accusing her on Twitter of being a bad leader and calling her out, and she just saying, listen, I'm just trying to get the work done here, our people need help - and her criticizing the federal response.

DEL BARCO: Well, I know the White House says the - that she was invited here, but she's not on any official schedule to meet with him. He's supposed to be meeting with her - he's getting a briefing. He's going to a chapel. He's meet - supposed to be meeting with military personnel and the governors of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Island. But I don't know if she's going to be...

MARTIN: Unclear, yeah. In seconds remaining, just - is there a scene that sticks out to you, Mandalit - a person, a moment?

DEL BARCO: Yes, there is. I've met a little boy over the weekend. He's 8 years old, and he says Trump - president Trump should stop tweeting and come help the people.

MARTIN: NPR's Mandalit del Barco - she's been reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the devastation it has caused on the island of Puerto Rico. President Trump, Melania Trump will land in Puerto Rico today to survey the damage.

Mandalit, thanks so much.

DEL BARCO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARMS AND SLEEPERS SONG "GRAND THEFT FINALE (INAUGURATION SPECIAL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.