GOLETA, Calif. – Sheriff’s deputies who showed up at Elliot Rodger’s doorstep last month to check on his mental health hadn’t seen online videos in which he threatens suicide and violence even though those recordings were what prompted his parents to call authorities.
By the time law enforcement did see the videos, it was too late: The well-mannered if shy young man that deputies concluded after their visit posed no risk had gone on a deadly rampage on Friday.
The sheriff’s office “was not aware of any videos until after the shooting rampage occurred,” a Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said.
Sheriff Bill Brown has defended the officers’ actions, but the case highlights the challenges that police face in assessing the mental health of adults, particularly those with no history of violent breakdowns, institutionalizations or serious crimes.
“Obviously, looking back on this, it’s a very tragic situation and we certainly wish that we could turn the clock back and maybe change some things,” Brown told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
“At the time deputies interacted with him, he was able to convince them that he was OK,” he said.
It’s not clear why the deputies did not become aware of the videos. Attorney Alan Shifman said the Rodger family had called police after being alarmed by YouTube videos “regarding suicide and the killing of people” that their son had been posting.
Rodger’s family has disclosed their son was under the care of therapists.
“Once again, we are grieving over deaths and devastation caused by a young man who was sending up red flags for danger that failed to produce intervention in time to avert tragedy,” Doris A. Fuller, executive director of the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center, said in a statement.
“In this case, the red flags were so big the killer’s parents had called police … and yet the system failed,” she said.
Rodger, writing in a manifesto, said he was relieved his apartment wasn’t searched because deputies would have uncovered the cache of weapons he used in the beach town rampage Friday in which he killed six people and then, authorities say, himself.
He posted at least 22 YouTube videos. He wrote in his manifesto that he uploaded most of his videos in the week leading up to April 26, when he originally planned to carry out his attacks. He postponed his plan after catching a cold.
Because many of the videos were removed from YouTube then re-added in the week leading up to the killings, it’s unclear which of the videos alarmed his family, or whether others were reported that were not uploaded again.
In a last-minute bid to intervene, Rodger’s parents raced to his home Friday night after his mother saw his online threats, but the couple heard the news of a shooting on the radio as they were on the freeway, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.
Family friend Simon Astaire told the newspaper that Elliot Rodger’s mother, Chin Rodger, got a call from her son’s therapist shortly before the shooting started that he had emailed his ranting manifesto. Then, the mother found the YouTube video in which he threatens to kill people. She alerted authorities and set off frantically with her ex-husband, Hollywood director Peter Rodger.
But by the time they arrived, officers confirmed their son had gone on a deadly rampage.
In his videos and writings, Rodger voices his contempt for everyone from his roommates to the human race, reserving special hate for two groups: the women he says kept him a virgin for all of his 22 years and the men they chose instead.