Absent a pathologist’s determination, though, it’s worth considering the message embedded in the Vegas killer’s actions even if there is no trail leading to a specific grievance or hatred: Stephen Paddock was determined to make his mark as the most effective mass murderer in American history. A man whose existence was unremarkable, even forgettable, wanted to immortalize himself as a champion in an event that has become in recent years horrifyingly competitive, with six new records since Whitman’s shooting and three in just the last decade.
Paddock thus becomes the latest embodiment of a pattern that has emerged in recent decades. In a world gushing with information about fresh atrocities on the internet and social media, one where screaming chyrons and shouting talk radio hosts have become ubiquitous, a small number of individuals seek to make their mark through record-setting violence. By doing so, they hope to distinguish lives hitherto marked by insignificance or failure.