When Lucas Thomas woke up around 3:30 a.m. Monday, he wanted to check the news, so he turned to Twitter.

That’s when the Messalonskee High School graduate learned the gunman believed to be behind the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history had lived in Mesquite, Nevada, the town where he is the only reporter for the Desert Valley Times.

Police say Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, opened fire around 10 p.m. local time on a country music festival from his room in a high-rise hotel overlooking the Vegas Strip, killing 58 and injuring more than 500.

Paddock was found dead in his room at the Mandalay Bay complex by Las Vegas SWAT officers who responded to the shooting.

Eighty-five miles away, Thomas had fallen asleep in front of the late football game as chaos consumed the Route 91 Harvest festival, where an estimated 22,000 were watching the show.

“I’m a reporter, so my sleep schedule is a mess,” he said.

As the news started to sink in, Thomas scrolled through Twitter, trying to find more information. He came across a tweet that gave Paddock’s residence as Mesquite, so he drove across the quiet, retirement destination city of 17,000 to Sun City, the 55+ subdivision. When he arrived, he saw police trying to secure the scene for detectives and the FBI.

During a lull late morning local time while waiting outside Paddock’s home, Thomas said he had spoken to neighbors, but no one seems to know much about the man.

The last time that area of the country made the national news, it was for the Bundy standoff three years ago, he said.

The month-long armed confrontation between Cliven Bundy and his supports and federal law enforcement that boiled up after a decades-long dispute over grazing on public lands.

“This is quite a low-crime sort of town,” he said. “It’s shocking. People don’t know how to react yet.”

Thomas covers everything that happens in town, from the Chamber of Commerce and city government to sports and crime. And as a 28-year-old, he said, he’s often younger than everyone around him by 20 or 30 years.

Mesquite, he said, is the opposite of Las Vegas. There might be an occasional drug bust or domestic violence, but the golf and retirement community is a quiet, rural town near Nevada’s border with the northwestern corner of Arizona. It’s also 2,800 miles from Oakland, Maine, where he grew up after moving there from Waterville with his family. After Messalonskee High, Thomas studied broadcast journalism at the University of Maine in Orono. When he graduated, he started looking for a job west of the Mississippi River, and whenever he came across an opening, he sent an application. He has been working for the Desert Valley Times since February 2016.

“I guess you think about it when you see events like this. How would I cover it? How would I react?” he said. “I didn’t think my job in Mesquite would be covering the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.”

Las Vegas, he said, is only about an hour’s drive down Interstate 15 from Mesquite. Although Mesquite has casinos of its own, Thomas said Mesquite residents often make the trip for the entertainment and activities the larger city has to offer. As a self-described gambler and poker player, it’s a trip he’s made before. And it’s one he could have made Sunday.

“I got offered tickets to the concert by a PR rep,” he said. “But I stayed home and watched football and fell asleep.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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