Death toll in Resorts World attack rises to 38
MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN)—The fatalities in the attack at the sprawling Resorts World Manila have gone up to 38, with authorities dismissing it as a criminal but not a terroristic attack.
Security guards shot and wounded the gunman who attacked Resorts World Manila early on Friday before he forced his way into a room of an adjoining hotel and killed himself, the top official of the hotel-casino complex said.
Stephen Reilly, chief operating officer of Resorts World Manila, also said 13 employees and 24 guests, one of them the wife of Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales, died from suffocation and smoke inhalation after the gunman torched gambling tables in the casino.
Police said 38 people, including the gunman, died in the attack on Resorts World Manila, a complex of hotels, restaurants, stores and a sprawling multifloor gambling area near Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Two of the dead employees and six of the dead guests remained unidentified on Friday night.
The attack sent hundreds of people fleeing into the night outside the Resorts World Manila complex in Pasay City and produced a claim of terrorism that Malacañang and the Philippine National Police stressed had no evidence to support it.
US President Donald Trump referred to the attack as an act of terror, but Malacañang and police officials said the attack was the work of an “apparently emotionally disturbed individual” who acted alone.
They also cautioned people against spreading false claims that the Islamic State (IS) group was behind the attack.
“All indications point to a criminal act by an apparently emotionally disturbed individual. Although the perpetrator gave warning shots, there apparently was no indication that he wanted to harm or shoot anyone,” presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella told reporters.
Abella also said authorities found no link between the attack and the terrorist siege of Marawi City that entered its 11th day on Friday.
IS claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the group’s Amaq news agency, but Philippine authorities suspected that robbery was the gunman’s motive.
Authorities suspect the man, who stuffed his backpack with P113 million in stolen casino chips, was trying to rob the casino at Resorts World and fired an M4 assault rifle at TV screens and set fire to gambling tables to cover his escape.
“Either he lost in the casino and wanted to recoup his losses or he went totally nuts,” said Director Oscar Albayalde, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office.
While there was a claim on social media that a “lone wolf soldier” of IS was behind the attack, police noted that the gunman did not shoot anyone he encountered.
“He would have shot all the people gambling,” if his goal was terrorism, said the PNP chief, Director General Ronald dela Rosa.
The attack happened just after midnight, police said.
Dela Rosa said security footage showed the gunman ignoring a guard who tried to question him at the complex’s entrance, then going straight to the casino.
The man stuffed his backpack with gambling chips, fired his assault rifle at TV screens and set gambling tables on fire by pouring gasoline onto them from a 2-liter bottle he carried, Dela Rosa said.
It was not clear how the man smuggled the gasoline and rifle into the crowded casino.
Albayalde said the gunman may have an extra container of gasoline as well.
The gunman, whom Dela Rosa described as “white, with a mustache,” about 1.8 meters tall and English speaking, fled the gambling area and barged into a room on the fifth floor of Maxims Hotel, which is part of the Resorts World complex.
He laid down on the bed, covered himself with a blanket, doused himself with gasoline and then set himself on fire, Dela Rosa said.
The gunman carried no identity documents, police said.
The bag of high-value gambling chips—with an estimated worth of P113 million to P130 million, or more than $2 million—was found in a toilet.
Reilly said hotel security guards shot and hit the gunman in the leg.
“Testimonies of responding members of Resorts World Manila security team confirm that we were able to shoot and wound the gunman,” Reilly said.
“Severe loss of blood from a gunshot wound significantly slowed down the assailant and resulted [in] his holing up in a room where he took his own life,” he added.
Reilly said reports that the gunman had lost heavily in the casino were “sheer speculation.”
He also denied reports that a security guard accidentally shot himself.
Reilly said the report of an attempted robbery was being investigated, but insisted that “all of the resort’s gambling chips” were in the management’s possession.
Reilly said the man was already armed when he approached from the parking lot the “security point” on the second floor of Newport mall, which leads to the casino.
“With his firearm forward, he unloaded a number of shots. He was in military attire. A security guard who was at the door of X-ray screening tried to slow the assault down but unfortunately could not do so,” he said.
Only one gunman
Reilly also denied online reports that there were two gunmen.
“On behalf of the victims’ families and loved ones, we request everyone to refrain from spreading hurtful speculation and false information,” he said.
More than 70 people suffered mostly minor injuries in the stampede to escape, police said.
A South Korean died of a possible heart attack suffered during the evacuation, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.
Albayalde said the gambling room was carpeted and the tables were combustible, and all the bodies were found in the smoky room.
Investigators were going check if the water sprinklers in the hotel worked.
Chief Supt. Tomas Apolinario, chief of the Southern Police District, said investigators were checking out a person of interest whose identity they based on the registration papers of a vehicle the gunman allegedly used in going to Resorts World Manila.
Apolinario said security footage images showed the person of interest resembled the gunman. —The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report