By Sharon Bernstein
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Las Vegas officials have begun releasing the bodies of 58 people killed in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, but it could be months before families learn exactly how their loved ones died, Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg said on Thursday.
Days after Stephen Paddock, 64, sprayed bullets from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas Strip hotel into a crowd attending a country music festival before killing himself, Fudenberg said his staff had worked day and night to notify families that their loved ones had been killed.
"This has been very, very difficult," Fudenberg said. Employees have endeavored to speak with as many as five family members per hour in recent days, he said.
The remains were slowly being released to local mortuaries, which have pledged to help both local and out-of-town families receive their loved ones and prepare them for funerals, Fudenberg said at a news conference.
A full list of the dead would be released later on Thursday, although Reuters and other news media have already confirmed the names.
Fudenberg said mortuary officials would be on site at a special assistance center at the coroner's office in Las Vegas to help families navigate such tasks as applying for a death certificate and arranging for their loved ones' remains to be sent to funeral homes.
But he said it might be months before officials release the full causes of death for the 58 victims, because it will take a long time to sit down with all of the families and explain how their loved ones died.
Officials have said they anticipate that most of those who were killed in Sunday's massacre died of gunshot wounds, but have declined to speculate on whether some might have been trampled to death in the rush to leave the concert, or died of other causes.
At another family assistance center, at the Las Vegas Convention Center, representatives of airlines and taxi services will be available to help families arrange transportation for themselves, victims and survivors, officials said.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)