Deadly Bomb at Heart of Vegas Murder Probe

The Las Vegas killing could have been the plot of a "CSI" mystery. At about 4 a.m. Monday at the iconic, pyramid-shaped Luxor Hotel, restaurant worker Willebaldo Dorante Antonio was just leaving his job as a night-shift worker at Nathan's Famous hot-dog restaurant. The Mexican immigrant, 24, left the hotel food court and walked through a covered second-story bridge to the self-park car lot with a female friend. He was about to get into his black Saturn, but then he apparently reached out and tried to remove a soft-drink type cup perched unaccountably atop the roof.

That was the last thing Antonio did. Hidden inside was a homemade bomb. It detonated when Antonio picked it up with an explosive force that investigators say was equivalent to one stick of dynamite. The blast ripped a 12-by-3-inch hole in the Saturn's roof, as well as another fist-size gap. Shrapnel sprayed surrounding vehicles, with one piece penetrating Antonio's brain. After he died at University Medical Center at 6:14 a.m. on Monday, the Clark County Coroner officials ruled Antonio's death a homicide.

But that still left the mystery of why he was killed. In bad-news-shy Vegas, where scaring the tourists can cost millions, officials quickly ruled out terrorism and even a mob-type slaying. The target was not Las Vegas tourism, authorities were quick to say. It was a murder, and the weapon was a homemade bomb rather than a gun or a knife, said Bill Cassell, a spokesman for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. "The device was not directed at the hotel itself, nor is there any evidence that it was a random act," Cassell said. "This is a homicide with an unusual weapon." In other words, Antonio himself was the intended target.

Still, security was crawling through the hotel and nerves were on edge Monday. "I was so scared. I asked if I should go home, but they said the hotel was running as usual," said Maxi Roy, a newspaper vendor at the hotel for 13 years who was barred from the parking garage when she arrived to work at 5:30 a.m. Monday. "Can you imagine if that thing had detonated in the lobby of the hotel?" asked Tom Mangan, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who arrived from Phoenix to assist the investigation. "We'd have had to shut down the hotel." It almost happened Monday. At the Luxor later that day, jittery employees called in the bomb squad and briefly evacuated the race and sports book zone of the casino when somebody spotted an unclaimed bag. It turned out to be an empty computer case.

Investigators remained tightlipped about why anyone might want to see Antonio dead. They refused to release the name of his female companion, who was miraculously uninjured and is cooperating with authorities. Workers at Nathan's had been instructed not to talk to reporters. ATF spokesman Tom Mangan declined to discuss the bomb--but stressed that investigators had painstakingly gathered forensic evidence that might lead to the killer or killers. Mangan said the material extracted from Antonio's body, as well as any evidence of explosive filler that could be recovered from the car, would be meticulously compared with other bombings, solved and unsolved, both in Las Vegas and around the country. "A bomb tells a story, just as a bullet does," he said. "It tells us about the psyche of the bomber."

Mangan said the killer had employed detail and sophistication in planning his crime, carefully constructing his bomb to target someone, presumably Antonio. "You are looking at an individual that had a degree of anger toward the victim," Mangan said. "This plan could have taken days, weeks or months."

Antonio's family, reeling from the tragedy, said the married father had just had his wife and 1-year-old son move to Las Vegas from Puebla, a city outside Mexico City two weeks ago. The victim's brother, Miguel Dorante, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Tuesday that Antonio immigrated from Mexico in 2004 and worked two jobs, one at Nathan's and another at a Quizno's inside the neighboring resort, the Excalibur. The family is now trying to raise the $5,000 to ship Antonio's body home. Dorante and other family members told the media they couldn't fathom why someone would want to kill Antonio.

By midday Tuesday, authorities had ruled out a connection between the Luxor bomb and another local bombing on Monday, a $450,000 arson at the Black Pearl Tattoo shop. An arsonist there had broken a window and placed an incendiary bomb inside the shop. The bomb was bigger than the Luxor device, and contained more flammable accelerants. "They are not connected at all. One was targeted to an individual and one to a business," said ATF agent Mangan. Another difference: nobody was hurt at the Black Pearl.

Hotel public relations officials were quick to distance the Egyptian-themed Luxor from the killing. "This is a small incident directed at one person. It was a device designed to harm only one person," said Gordon Absher, vice president of public affairs for MGM Mirage Inc. The Luxor hotel itself has 4,400 rooms and 4,200 employees. "A terror attack on the Strip would devastate our economy," said another MGM Mirage executive on condition of anonymity. "It's a terrible thing that's happened, but it was isolated."

The company also owns the ritzy Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, the Excalibur, the MGM Grand, New York-New York, Treasure Island, Circus Circus, Monte Carlo and the Mirage. They are among 23 properties the company owns in Nevada, Mississippi and Michigan. Nathan's Famous seemed even more upset about the potential damage to its name. An area vice president tried to have hotel security kick a reporter off the Luxor property just for asking who in the company to speak to. But tourists continued to buy hot dogs and French fries, largely unaware of the mysterious death of Antonio.