Published in the Daily Nexus, May 25, 2014
Twenty-two-year-old Santa Barbara City College student Elliot Rodger, who killed at least six innocent victims and injured 13 in a drive-by murder spree through Isla Vista streets Friday night, had been planning the massacre since at least fall of 2012, according to a 141-page manifesto he wrote detailing his intentions. During this time, he had three run-ins with Santa Barbara law enforcement.
Rodger was diagnosed with a high-functioning form of Asperger syndrome at a young age and was being treated by multiple professionals. About a month ago, the family’s attorney Alan Shifman said, Rodger’s family became concerned when they found a series of disturbing YouTube videos he had posted. His parents reported the issue to local police.
Three months earlier, Rodger turned in his roommate to police over accusations of petty theft, Brown said. In July of 2013, deputies interviewed Rodger when he wound up in the hospital and claimed to be the victim of an assault. Further investigation led police to suspect that Rodger was actually the aggressor.
Hours before committing the mass murder, Rodger uploaded one final video in which he films himself in his black BMW, complaining about the fact that he was still a virgin and vowing to take revenge on women, who he felt rejected him. YouTube removed the video Saturday afternoon, citing it as a violation of the site’s policy on violent content.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said in a press conference Saturday that all three of the semiautomatic handguns found in Rodger’s vehicle — a Glock 34 and two SIG Sauer P226s — were legally acquired from stores in Goleta, Oxnard and Burbank and registered in Rodger’s name. More than 400 remaining rounds of ammunition were also found.
Elliot’s father, Peter Rodger, a high-profile Hollywood director who was an assistant director of the movie The Hunger Games, identified his son as the shooter, via Shifman’s statement, before the information was released by the Sheriff.
A routine check-in
After confirming Rodger was the killer, Brown revealed that Rodger came into contact with local law enforcement three times in the past year. The most recent incident was when deputies made a call to Rodger’s apartment on April 30 to check on his welfare at his parents’ request. Brown said they found him to be “polite and courteous,” and he downplayed concerns for his well-being. The call was cleared.
“He appeared timid, shy. He did not meet the criteria…that would authorize him being held temporarily for an examination,” Brown said. “He expressed to deputies that he was having difficulties with his social life and would probably not be returning to school in the next year. The deputies discussed options with him in terms of support, offered resources to him and ultimately cleared that call without further action.”
According to their attorney’s statements, Rodger’s family had reached out to the police after noticing YouTube videos on his account in which he rants about killing people and committing suicide. In his manifesto, Rodger described the encounter with the deputies responding to the wellness check in his own words.
“As soon as I saw those cops, the biggest fear I had ever felt in my life overcame me. I had the striking and devastating fear that someone had somehow discovered what I was planning to do, and reported me for it,” Rodger wrote. “If that was the case, the police would have searched my room, found all of my guns and weapons, along with my writings about what I plan to do with them.”
Brown told CBS’ “Face of the Nation” on Sunday that he was “not sure” if the deputies who visited Rodger’s apartment checked whether he was a gun owner. At the time of the check, Rodger had already purchased all three handguns used in the attack. In addition, Sheriff spokesperson Kelly Hoover told Associated Press that the agency was not aware of any of the videos until after the rampage.
State law stipulates that if deputies had chosen to move forward with a formal mental evaluation, they would have been required to confiscate all deadly weapons from Rodger. Additionally, if a threat against a reasonably identifiable victim had been discerned, then the subject could have been banned from buying a firearm for five years.**
Sheriff Department Sgt. Mark Williams said that in general, a subject would have to demonstrate some potential for suicidal or homicidal tendencies in order for officers to take further action in this type of call.
According to Brown, wellness calls like this are not usually considered cause for alarm and are “quite commonplace.”
Rodger contacted the Sheriff’s Department in January to report that his roommate had stolen three of his candles, worth a total of $22. He then placed his roommate under “citizen’s arrest.” As a result of the incident, his roommate spent one night in jail and was eventually charged with petty theft, Brown said.
Rodger’s neighbor at Capri Apartments, who declined to give his name, said Rodger had been troubled for several months before the shooting. He described Rodger as “closed off” and resistant to his attempts at friendship.
“We invited him to party with us and hang out with us, but he didn’t want to drink. He didn’t want to do anything. He just sat there and stared at us,” the neighbor said. “He just had that look in his eyes that he was upset all the time.”
On the night of the shooting, Rodger stabbed three UCSB students to death in his apartment on Seville Road before setting out in his BMW to continue the rampage. Fourth-year computer engineering major C.H.* and third-year computer science major George Chen were confirmed to be Rodger’s roommates, while it remains unclear whether third-year computer engineering major Weihan Wang was a tenant of the building or just visiting.
In his manifesto, Rodger explicitly detailed plans to stab his two roommates to death while they slept and called them “utterly repulsive.”
Rodger’s first contact with local law enforcement was on July 21, 2013, when deputies visited him in the hospital, where he had landed as the result of injuries he claimed he had sustained as the victim of an assault. Brown said further investigation suggested Rodger may have been the aggressor in the incident, but the case stalled due to lack of evidence.
In the manifesto document, Rodger also gave his own account of an assault that matches the dates given by Brown. He described drunkenly provoking others at a house party on Del Playa by insulting and threatening to kill them and then attempting to push them off of a ledge. He then claimed to have fallen off the ledge himself, breaking his ankle. When he tried to return to the party, he said, he was beaten by the group he had provoked.
The next day, Rodger said he gave police a “fairly altered” account of what happened in which he said he was pushed from the ledge by two males. Despite the fact that both the Sheriff’s investigation and Rodger’s own account of the incident indicated that Rodger was the likely instigator, Rodger claimed that this incident further fueled his determination to carry out mass murder.
“The highly unjust experience of being beaten and humiliated in front of everyone in Isla Vista, and their subsequent lack of concern for my well-being, was the last and final straw,” Rodger wrote.
Rodger’s neighbor recalled a night that Rodger came back to his apartment with his face covered in blood. His neighbor was concerned that he might need stitches. He sat down and talked with Rodger for three hours and learned that he was just returning from a party where he had said he had been jumped.
“By the end of it, I was smiling and he seemed like he was calm. So I went to bed,” the neighbor said. “But the words stuck out clearly when he had said, ‘I’m going to kill all those motherfuckers. I’m going to go and kill all of them and then kill myself.’ ”
‘An all-too-common occurence’
According to a statement from SBCC spokesperson Joan Galvan, Rodger was enrolled at the school intermittently over the last three years but either stopped attending or withdrew from all courses. He managed to complete three courses before this in 2011. Galvan said SBCC cannot locate any record of discipline or other issues.
According to the manifesto, Rodger first seriously considered acting on his violent impulses after he did not win the lottery and the disappointment sent him into a rage. Rodger claimed to have developed an obsession with winning the lottery during the spring of 2012.
That summer, Rodger wrote that he sank into a deep depression. In one incident, he described how he took out his anger on people in Girsh Park by spraying them with a Super Soaker. At another point, he said, he visited a shooting range in Oxnard to “practice.”
Two months later, he bought his first handgun, a Glock 34, from Goleta Gun and Supply. The second, a SIG Sauer P226, was purchased in spring of 2013 and the third sometime in the months before the welfare check.
In a state where firearm laws are said to be comparatively restrictive, Brown characterized Rodger as a “madman” who managed to slip through the system.
“In the days and weeks to follow there will be a very clear picture of something that has turned out to be an all-too-common occurrence in this country, where someone who is obviously severely mentally disturbed resorts to extreme violence, and in the process murders a significant number of innocent victims,” Brown said.
Jimmy Chang and Daniel Slovinsky contributed to this article.
*The UCSB College of Engineering has issued statement on behalf of the victim’s family requesting that the victim be referred to by initials only.
**Correction: A previous version of the story stated the potential ban was six months. This was based on an outdated version of the California Welfare and Institutions Code.