SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – In the months leading up to Friday night’s rampage, which left six victims and the killer dead and 13 others injured, there were warning signs that Elliot Rodger, a lonely and sexually frustrated college student, harbored violent tendencies.
When some young women neglected to smile at him at a bus stop one day, Rodger wrote, he splashed them with his Starbucks latte. When he saw a cluster of undergraduates frolicking happily in a park another day, Rodger grew so jealous and angry that he loaded a Super Soaker water gun with orange juice and sprayed them.
Rodger, who police say fatally shot himself after his killing spree Friday, had been receiving treatment for years from several psychologists and counselors. Last month, the 22-year-old wrote, his mother was so concerned about his well-being after seeing some of his videos on YouTube that she contacted mental health officials, who dispatched sheriff’s deputies to check on him at his apartment in Isla Vista, an enclave near the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Had the officers sensed something awry during their April 30 visit, they might have searched Rodger’s home. They would have found his three semiautomatic handguns, dozens of rounds of ammunition and a draft of his 137-page memoir-manifesto. They would have read about his plot for a Day of Retribution – when, as Rodger wrote, he planned to kill everyone in Isla Vista, to utterly destroy that wretched town.
But the deputies did not look. They concluded that Rodger seemed quiet and timid polite and courteous, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation.
So they left and never returned.
He was able to make a very convincing story that there was no problem, that he wasn’t going to hurt himself or anyone else, and he just didn’t meet the criteria for any further intervention at that point, Brown said. Obviously, we certainly wish that we could turn the clock back and change some things, but at the time the deputies interacted with him, he was able to convince them that he was OK.
Simon Astaire, a friend speaking on behalf of the Rodger family, told the Los Angeles Times that minutes before the shooting Friday, Rodger emailed his manifesto to his mother and his therapist. His parents frantically raced to Isla Vista, but by the time they arrived Rodger already had killed six people and taken his own life.
On Saturday, authorities identified three of the victims: Katherine Breann Cooper, 22, of Chino Hills, California; Veronika Elizabeth Weiss, 19, of Westlake Village, California; and Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, 20, of Los Osos, California. On Sunday night, authorities identified the three remaining victims killed: Cheng Yuan Hong, 20, of San Jose; George Chen, 19, also of San Jose; and Weihan Wang, 20, of Fremont, California. All three were UCSB students and were found dead with multiple stab wounds in Rodger’s apartment. Hong and Chen are listed as tenants on the apartment’s lease.
Criminal forensic experts and mental health professionals studying the episode said authorities missed important clues about his behavior. And in Washington, Obama administration officials and lawmakers renewed their calls to toughen the nation’s gun laws.
Philip Schaenman, who studies mass murders and runs a public safety research firm, said authorities should have noticed the acceleration of red flags.
They get rejected by girls, they visit psychologists and social workers, their roommates say they act weirdly – taken individually, these things don’t matter much, Schaenman said. It’s the acceleration that’s being missed.
Experts drew comparisons between Rodger and other mass killers, including Adam Lanza, who in 2012 fatally shot 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, and Seung Hui Cho, who in 2007 killed 32 people at Virginia Tech University. Like Rodger, Lanza and Cho killed themselves.
It’s deja vu all over again, said Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He added: We need to look at identifying people early for these disorders, rather than just identifying violence. This can be a condition that hides in plain sight.
But James Alan Fox, a noted criminologist at Northeastern University, said, There is no way that we can identify would-be mass murderers in advance.
People call them red flags,’ but they’re yellow flags, he added. They only turn red after the blood is spilled.