Amid Warning Signs, Isla Vista Killer Slipped Through System

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A student lights a candle at a memorial for one of the victims of Elliot Rodger during a series of attacks near the UC Santa Barbara campus. (Robyn Beck/AFP-Getty Images)
A student lights a candle at a memorial for one of the victims of Elliot Rodger during a series of attacks near the UC Santa Barbara campus. (Robyn Beck/AFP-Getty Images)

Amid the horrific accounts of the Isla Vista mass murders and the ugly misogynistic resentments expressed by alleged killer Elliot Rodger, one of the startling facts to emerge in the incident is that Santa Barbara sheriff's deputies met with Rodger on April 30 to determine if he posed a threat.

The officers checked on Rodger at his apartment "at the request of state mental health officials, acting on an expression of concern by his mother," says the New York Times. "They left after a calm and polite Mr. Rodger assured them that there was nothing to worry about. The officers reported that Mr. Rodger was shy and had told them that he was having difficulties in his social life."

The encounter with the deputies is described by Rodger in the 134-page autobiographical manifesto he sent out shortly before the attack. The document, which lays out the plans for a killing spree, is a bitter recounting of his life and the deep resentments he had built up, especially toward the women who continuously rejected him, he said. Here's an excerpt about the meeting with the deputies, which occurred after he had posted disturbingly bitter videos online:

After only a week passed since I uploaded those videos on YouTube, I heard a knock on my apartment door. I opened it to see about seven police officers asking for me. 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.

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. I would have been thrown in jail, denied of the chance to exact revenge on my enemies. I can’t imagine a hell darker than that. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, but it was so close.

Apparently, someone saw my videos and became instantly suspicious of me. They called some sort of health agency,  who called the police  to check up on me. The police told me it was my mother who called them, but my mother told me it was the health agency. My mother had watched the videos and was very disturbed by them. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know the full truth of who called the police on me. The police interrogated me outside for a few minutes, asking me if I had suicidal thoughts. I tactfully told them that it was all a misunderstanding, and they finally left. If they had demanded to search my room … That would have ended everything. For a few horrible seconds I thought it was all over. When they left, the biggest wave of relief swept over me. It  was  so  scary.

Rodger Visited by Sheriff's Deputies in April

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown discussed the visit by his deputies on CBS's "Face The Nation."

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"We were asked by the mental health department to conduct a welfare check with Elliot Rodger to determine if he was a danger to himself or anyone else. This was prompted by a call by a third party; the mental health department contacted one of his relatives who had expressed some concern about his well-being.

"Our deputies went to check on (him) and contacted him outside his residence. They found him to be rather quiet, timid. He was polite and courteous. He was able to convince the deputies that this was all a misunderstanding. That although he was having some social problems, he was probably not going to be staying in school and returning home. 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 that he just didn't meet the criteria for any further intervention at that point. Obviously looking back on this, it's a very tragic situation, and we certainly wish we could turn the clock back and change some things....

Brown said that after reading Rodger's manifesto, he believed the youth was able to "fly under the radar" in terms of his "likelihood of propensity to hurt anyone else."

"When you read his autobiography and manifesto that he wrote," Brown said,  "it's very apparent that he was able to convince many people for many years that he didn't have this deep underlying obvious mental illness that manifested itself in this terrible tragedy."

Brown said Rodger had purchased three handguns in the year before the incident, and because he had never been "institutionalized or committed for an involuntary hold," the weapon sales were not flagged. When asked if anything in the visit should have prompted a check of Rodger's weapons purchases, Brown said, "I think they actually, probably spoke to him about weapons, but I'm not sure a weapons check was conducted."

Southern California Public Radio KPCC spoke to a pair of mental health experts about Section 5150 of California's Welfare and Institutions Code, which potentially could have allowed for authorities to detain Rodger involuntarily.

"They're looking for body language, they're looking for how you look at the officer," said CarolAnn Peterson, who teaches at the USC School of Social Work. "[Taking note] if I'm kinda looking down or I'm looking at other directions. But if I'm looking directly at you — I'm answering the questions, I seem very calm, nothing seems out of the ordinary — law enforcement may not think that there's a problem."

Carla Jacobs, board member at the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center, told KPCC that "waiting for danger means the danger can lead to horrendous tragedy as we have seen over and over again." Doris Fuller, executive director of the center, told CBS News: "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."

KPCC said the sheriff's office did not respond to a request to discuss any training on mental health issues the department receives.

Rodger's Mental State

An attorney for Peter Rodger, Elliot's father, told news organizations that the younger Elliot was highly functioning but had been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. The New York Times and the L.A. Times spoke to neighbors and friends of Rodger's and his family, most of whom described a sense of isolation and depression in Elliot. Both papers describe an incident at a party last summer resulting in one of the three contacts Rodger had with police. Rodger "tried to shove women off a ledge where they had been sitting," according to the L.A. paper. "Several men intervened and pushed him off the ledge instead, and he injured his ankle." Police interviewed him afterward, but no action was taken.

The paper sums up any warning signs of potential violence in Rodgers this way:

It's tempting, now that the finale has been written, to think that someone could have stepped in before Rodger killed six people and wounded 13 Friday before apparently killing himself, that the law could have been crafted to raise a red flag, to compel someone to act.

But according to interviews with Rodger's acquaintances, law enforcement officials and mental health professionals, all that was known about the 22-year-old college student was that he was terribly sad. And being sad is not a crime, nor the sort of mental state that would, alone, cross a legal threshold requiring official response.

George Woods, a San Francisco psychiatrist, told the paper that Rodger was in an early stage of pre-psychosis, in which the patient can commonly mask symptoms. "They aren't telling people their business," he said.

In his 134-page screed, Rodger mentioned he had been under the care of Dr. Charles Sophy of Beverly Hills. Sophy had prescribed Risperidone, Rodger wrote, an anti-psychotic drug that the National Institutes of Health describes as treating "mania (frenzied, abnormally excited or irritated mood) or mixed episodes (symptoms of mania and depression that happen together)."

Rodger wrote that he would not take the drug and that he never saw Sophy again.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, writes that an online trail of Rodger's posts on the Internet "suggests an ideology behind his lust for revenge." The center details racist comments Rodger made on PuaHate.com, which the SPLC describes as "an online forum known for its misogyny."

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A friend of Rodger's mother told the New York Times that Rodger's mother read the manifesto detailing his murderous plans just 10 minutes before it began. She called her ex-husband, Rodger's father, and then 911. Both parents raced separately to Isla Vista, but when they arrived it was too late.