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What We Know About The Man Behind The Isla Vista Killings


Tomorrow has been declared a day of mourning and reflection at the University of California Santa Barbara. The university will hold a memorial service to honor the six UCSB students killed in Friday night's rampage. Three of them stabbed and three more shot before the killer shot himself, 13 others were injured. As with other mass killings, one of the questions now is could have this been prevented? And what were the warning signs? Scott Gold with the Los Angeles Times has been looking into the background of the killer, 22-year-old Elliott Rodger, and he joins me now. Scott, first, what's known about Rodger's mental health?

SCOTT GOLD: Roger was born into a world of privilege. He had traveled the world to exotic places, he walked the red carpet at movie premieres with his father, who is a Hollywood director. But he had suffered for much of his life a darkness and he had struggled for much of his life with social behavior. He found it very difficult to connect with people and spoke in a very halting manner. He didn't make eye contact with people. So there were questions in his family about his mental condition for a long time, that had sadly been building in the last couple of years until this event unfolded on Friday.

BLOCK: And was he being treated? Had there been a diagnosis, do you know?

GOLD: Yes, he had seen a number of therapists and psychiatrists, some of whom appear to have had prescribed psychotropic medications, some of which he declined to take. And that was one reason that there weren't red flag because it becomes difficult for authorities to step in when someone is not declining their health care.

BLOCK: As I understand it, Elliott Rodger did not have a criminal record, but he did have previous encounters with law enforcement, with the police.

GOLD: Right. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department had had three contacts with Elliott Roger prior to this incident. Now, some of those were minor and kind of bizarre. In one case, he had accused his roommate of stealing three candles with a combined value of $22 and attempted to make a citizen's arrest for petty theft. More recently however, and most significantly, the sheriff's department was summoned to Elliott Rodgers apartment, as part of a welfare check, when his parents had become quite disturbed at some of the videos and the messages that he had posted online.

BLOCK: Let me ask you about that - was there anything in those videos that indicated a level of violence that should have prompted more action? One of them was called "Why Do Girls Hate Me So Much?" I mean, was the fear that he would harm himself or that he would harm others?

GOLD: Right, well, the messages and the videos that he recorded and posted on YouTube and other sites were the words of a kid who was distressed, sad and lonely. He considered himself to be a catch and a sophisticate and he appeared to be mystified as to why women were not interested in dating him. So he was bitter, he was resentful, he was mystified, he was sad, and more than anything, he appeared to be lonely and self-pitying. But none of that is a crime. And none of that even crosses the threshold where there would be the sort of red flag raised that would prompt any kind of formal official action.

BLOCK: He did have three handguns that were apparently legally purchased and also registered. Under California law, is there anything that should have prevented those sales or no?

GOLD: Under California law there is virtually nothing that would have prevented Elliott Rodger from purchasing these three handguns. There are questions about whether the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department could have or should have done an inquiry to determine whether or not this young man owned guns prior to making his welfare check at his apartment in April.

BLOCK: Scott, your story today has the headline "Red Flags Came Too Late," but I do wonder as more emerges about this man, isn't it possible that the flags about him came early, they came often and they simply weren't pieced together?

GOLD: Well, it's still very early in this. We don't know everything of course. And there's still a lot to learn. But the mental health system always seeks to balance the civil liberties of an individual against public safety. And as much as we would all like to be able to say, well, this person fell down on the job, it may come to that, but it is possible that this kid just found a space to do this and to plan this in a way that no one could have ever known.

BLOCK: Scott Gold is a senior writer with the Los Angeles Times. Scott, thanks for talking with us.

GOLD: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: ALL THINGS CONSIDERED continues after this. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Melissa Block
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.