The Las Vegas shooting reminded security officials at St. Louis hotels, amphitheaters and other venues that they must stay vigilant to protect the public. But it also showed the challenges of stopping someone like Stephen Paddock.
“It’s a constant battle,” said Scott Cluck, physical security specialist at the Gateway Arch. “You can’t really stop anyone who’s willing to die for his cause. ... Every time we come up with a defensive measure, people come up with different tactics.”
Paddock, 64, rented a hotel room on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, hauled in more than 20 guns, broke two windows and opened fire on a country music festival 1,000 feet away, killing 58 people and injuring 489. Police think he acted alone and haven’t found a motive.
No one is more aware of such vulnerabilities than Cluck, who is responsible for protecting one of America’s most iconic monuments and its visitors. Hundreds of thousands are expected to gather on the Arch grounds next Fourth of July, when Fair St. Louis returns to the riverfront after a four-year hiatus.
Only Memorial Drive and Interstate 44 divide the outdoor venue from a string of high-rise apartments, some with rooftop swimming pools. The Hyatt Regency, a hotel with 910 rooms on 13 guest floors, is about 200 feet from the main entrance. The company’s public-relations firm declined comment.
“We don’t own those buildings,” Cluck said. “You could always ask (hotels) to block off rooms during big events, but that would cost them thousands of dollars. You’ve got to find that balance between security, convenience and cost.”
Every time we come up with a defensive measure, people come up with different tactics.
Scott Cluck on protecting the public against mass killers
Private property aside, Cluck said the Arch has strong security measures, including patrols by security guards and law-enforcement rangers; steel posts that prevent vehicle access; closed-circuit TV cameras that monitor crowds; and X-ray machines and metal detectors at the museum entrance.
For big events, such as Fair St. Louis, officials add extra patrols, search visitor bags at checkpoints and require security clearances for vendors and their vehicles, Cluck said.
Hotels also are located across the street from other big venues in downtown St. Louis. The Westin, which has 255 rooms on seven floors, is about 200 feet from the 50,000-seat Busch Stadium with its Colosseum-style openings in brick walls and large plaza out front.
“We’re not interested in participating,” said St. Louis Cardinals Vice President of Communications Ron Watermon in regard to a story about ballpark security.
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department still is investigating an incident at the stadium in May. A stray bullet hit a 34-year-old woman in the arm during a game against the Milwaukee Brewers. She was treated for an abrasion and released.
“A bullet slug was located in the immediate area around the victim’s seat,” according to police spokesman Leah Freeman. “It appears the bullet came from outside the stadium.”
Dan Molina, the Westin’s director of operations, declined comment on how the Las Vegas shooting might affect operations. The hotel is owned by Marriott International, which released this statement:
“Hotel security has always been one of our top priorities to keep both customers and associates safe. Security procedures and risk assessments at our properties are reviewed often, and we typically re-evaluate them after tragic acts like this to determine what, if any, changes may need to be made.”
HoteLumiere at the Arch and Four Seasons Hotel are about 500 feet from The Dome at America’s Center, which hosts concerts, stock-car races and other big events. Seating is indoors, but tens of thousands flow in and out of the venue.
Representatives of Lumiere Place, which includes both hotels, couldn’t be reached for comment. Tony Paraino, director of communications for Explore St. Louis, which operates The Dome, declined comment. He emailed the following statement from Reggie Harris, vice president of security:
“The safety of our guests at America’s Center is the utmost priority. As per our established protocols, we ... work closely with local, state and federal officials to prepare for numerous scenarios that may impact the safety of our facility and the people who attend events in our complex. For security reasons, the specifics of our measures are kept confidential.”
Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, formerly Riverport, in Maryland Heights, is owned by Live Nation Entertainment, the concert promoter for the Route 91 Harvest Festival, whose crowd was attacked in Las Vegas.
The Amphitheatre isn’t affiliated with Hollywood Casino & Hotel, which only pays for naming rights, according to a woman who answered the phone at the Amphitheatre’s local office. The hotel is about a mile away.
The woman referred media inquiries to a Live Nation email address, which did not respond to questions in time for publication. The company issued a public statement on Oct. 2, which included the following:
“We are heartbroken over the tragedy that took place at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. To think that anyone would want to inflict harm on a gathering of music lovers is beyond our comprehension. And while we are stunned and grieving over this incomprehensible act of violence, we know that this is a moment when we must come together to prevent more tragedies like this from occurring.”
The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville is another venue with a hotel near large crowds. Hundreds of thousands of people drive through the 200-acre property each Christmas season for its Way of Lights display.
The Shrine Hotel is relatively small with 78 rooms on two floors, but it sits on a hill overlooking the visitor-center grounds, where many people congregate during the Way of Lights.
If Madonna came into the hotel with a lot of suitcases, you wouldn’t think anything of it.
Cheryl Hertfelder on how Paddock got away with murder
Human Resources Manager Cheryl Hertfelder said the Shrine has security measures in place, but she doesn’t see how any hotel, especially one as big as Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, could foil the plans of someone like Paddock.
“I guess the only thing that would tip them off was the number of suitcases,” she said. “But if Madonna came into the hotel with a lot of suitcases, you wouldn’t think anything of it.”
The Las Vegas shooting hasn’t made the Fair St. Louis committee second-guess its decision to return to the riverfront July 4, 6 and 7, 2018, said chairman James Boldt. The event, formerly known as the VP Fair, has been on the Arch grounds most years since 1981.
It spent the past four summers at Forest Park because of construction on the Arch grounds. Both locations have logistical advantages and disadvantages, Boldt said, but the latter provides a “truly unique Fourth of July experience” with the Arch, Mississippi River, St. Louis skyline and Old St. Louis County Courthouse.
No location is risk-free, he said. “Every city in the country has venues with tall buildings around them.” He added that one way the Las Vegas shooting affects the Fair St. Louis committee is that it “keeps security at the top of our priority list, as it should be.”