David Attias

Paul Wellman

David Attias

Isla Vista Shooting: Echoes of David Attias

Similarities Abound Between I.V.’s Madmen, But What Could Have Been Done?

Originally published 3:00 p.m., May 24, 2014
Updated 11:35 a.m., May 27, 2014
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In the deadly aftermath of Elliot Rodger’s psychotic and suicidal shooting spree that left six others dead in Isla Vista and another 13 wounded, the muted echoes of David Attias — who killed four people in Isla Vista 12 years ago — will be bouncing off Isla Vista’s blood-stained streets for some time to come.

While authorities are still sifting through the fragments of Rodger’s life, he made clear to the world in a chilling YouTube monologue filmed the day before his rampage that he was seeking revenge upon all the women who’d never seen fit to have sex with him and all the males who had more sexual pleasure than he had. In it, Rodger, 22, bitterly lamented his virginity and expressed enraged bewilderment that women were not interested in him — “a supreme gentleman”— but were instead “throwing themselves” at “obnoxious brutes,” and he vowed, between creepy theatrical chortles, to exact lethal retribution.

Elliot Rodger
Click to enlarge photo

Elliot Rodger

In 2001, Attias, then a UCSB freshman with a long history of severe mental illness, plowed his black Saab into a crowded Isla Vista street, killing four and wounding others. Attias, who was filmed at the scene hopping around the dead bodies and proclaiming himself the “angel of death,” attributed his action to frustration over lack of sexual contact. Attias was tried for murder and achieved the rare distinction of being found not guilty by reason of insanity. Two years ago, Santa Barbara Judge Thomas Adams ruled that Attias had recovered his sanity and ordered him released from a state facility for the criminally insane. Presumably, he is still living in a supervised group home and receiving supervised therapy.

Both Attias and Rodger struggled with significant mental-health issues. Before Rodger moved to Santa Barbara from the Los Angeles area to attend Santa Barbara City College, his mother and psychiatrist had sought to set up a range of mental-health services to enable Rodger to safely navigate the challenges of a new environment. But just two days before the shooting occurred, Rodger was reportedly denied the insurance coverage to pay for such help.

In addition, the fathers of both killers were successful in the television and motion-picture industry. Daniel Attias, David’s father, was an accomplished television director. Rodger’s father, Peter Rodger, was assistant director of The Hunger Games, both critically acclaimed and commercially successful, not to mention the writer and director of a documentary about the nature of god.

For UCSB, the Attias tragedy provided a much-needed wake-up call, prompting campus officials to, among other things, take more proactive steps in providing students alternative methods of recreation and letting off steam. While some of those programs have yielded modest but steady results, events of the past year clearly demonstrate that Isla Vista remains very much an urban pressure cooker and that effective adult control is, at best, equivocal.

I.V.’s Growing Tension

This year’s much-berated Deltopia celebration, for example, erupted into an out-of-control riot seven weeks ago. To restore order, Sheriff Bill Brown had to call for backup from every nearby law enforcement agency, and his deputies used so much tear gas that they had to order more. Just four weeks before Deltopia, Sheriff’s deputies and the Isla Vista Foot Patrol found themselves forced to quell a Saturday-night mini-riot. In both instances, law enforcement officials have blamed outsiders for instigating the violence.

While such explanations are statistically correct, they fail to acknowledge the mounting tension, aggression, and sexual violence simmering throughout the campus and Isla Vista. The laissez-faire attitude of the community at large toward Isla Vista bacchanalian extravagance was at least temporarily shocked earlier this year by a pair of uncommonly violent gang rapes. And while UCSB has yet to attain the notoriety of other universities tainted by allegations of consequence-free sexual assaults, the problem clearly exists here. Already, it has drawn the attention of Janet Napolitano, the new head of the UC system.

To an exceptional degree, Isla Vista — about a square mile of densely packed and hormonally charged humanity — has always been notably disconnected from any broader urban context, a municipal orphan disowned and disavowed by any government agencies that might possibly play the role of foster parent. In fact, when the City of Goleta incorporated about 10 years ago, its founders took pains to exclude Isla Vista from the boundaries for fear that UCSB students would become enfranchised, take over the government, and enact some form of rent control.

Numbers tell only part of the story, but since Attias shocked and horrified the South Coast, UCSB has grown significantly in prestige and popularity, boasting almost as many Nobel laureates as it does drunks on a Saturday night. As the cost of attendance skyrocketed, the number of students seeking entry into classes grew. At the same time, the number of course offerings diminished, meaning more time was required for most students to complete graduation. This scenario, in turn, has ratcheted up the competition for limited housing.


While the similarities between Rodger and Attias are striking — both drove black expensive cars that were reportedly paid for by their fathers (Attias a Saab, Rodger a BMW) — there is one obvious difference. Rodger moved to Santa Barbara to enroll at Santa Barbara City College (SBCC), Attias at UCSB. This may appear a superficial distinction, but for those laboring to find long-term solutions to the urban dysfunction that is Isla Vista, it’s anything but. SBCC, now ranked the top city college in the nation — not just the state — has long been known as a backdoor into the UC system for low-achieving high school graduates. As community colleges throughout the state sought to weather the draconian budget cuts accompanying the Great Recession, they increasingly turned to recruiting out-of-state and out-of-country students to whom they could charge much higher tuition. Around town, SBCC is well-known as a magnet first for Chinese students and more recently those hailing from Sweden.

SBCC’s swelling enrollment of out-of-towners may have helped the school’s bottom line, but it’s taken a toll on Santa Barbara’s ever Darwinian rental housing market. Low-income Latinos who’ve traditionally called the lower Westside home have been feeling the pinch as area landlords have sought to maximize their investment by renting to better-heeled City College emigres instead. Likewise, the allure of Isla Vista has proved irresistible for growing legions of City College students. According to recent census reports, there are reportedly 3,000-5,000 of City College’s 23,000 students now living in Isla Vista. Certainly, the demand placed by these students on the area bus service is by far the most intense now confronting the Metropolitan Transit District.

And unlike UCSB, SBCC has never pretended it could or should do anything to offset the demand. The campus mission has always been providing education for those most in need; the school lacked the funds or resources to provide housing. Back when Marty Blum was mayor of Santa Barbara, this was a serious bone of contention between City Hall and the school. Now Blum sits on the City College board of directors and the situation hasn’t changed. If anything, it’s grown more intense. She noted when she was mayor, she’d been told that no community college addressed — however partially — the housing demand its students generated. Since then, she said, she found out that 10 community colleges have.

For the time being, SBCC President Lori Gaskin has issued an official statement expressing her grief and condolences at what’s transpired and offering counseling to students and employees who need it. Coincidentally, the shooting took place the same day as SBCC celebrated its graduation ceremonies and just one day before the campus was slated for a massive emergency-preparedness drill by multiple public-safety agencies in case of some hypothetical disaster. That disaster, tragically, was not nearly hypothetical enough. “A lone madman,” as Sheriff Bill Brown described Rodger, managed to get his hands of a semi-automatic handgun with far greater ease than his family could secure the mental-health services he so desperately needed.

What’s Next?

As with the Attias rampage, the bloodbath unleashed by Rodger will prompt another round of soul-searching as to what, if anything, can be done about Isla Vista. Sheriff Brown is no doubt correct that this sort of outburst could happen anywhere or anytime. But for some reason, they’ve been happening with greater frequency in Isla Vista.

UCSB officials sought to put a damper on the party-hearty exuberance that sends so many students to the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital’s emergency room every weekend for alcohol poisoning. One idea was for the campus to buy up existing I.V. rental units and install resident managers to keep the residents in check. But county officials objected that would displace renters and drive up the cost of housing. As a result, the Long Range Development Plan — formulated to guide the future growth and expansion of UCSB — specifically forbade that from occurring.

One program that emerged in response to the Attias disaster was Isla Vista Arts, a campus-run effort to generate non-alcohol-fueled entertainment on weekend nights. Currently, the program funds the Magic Lantern Films series — run by D.J. Palladino, a freelance arts writer for this paper — and a comedy improv troupe that’s been meeting every Friday night at the Embarcadero Building Theater for the last 10 years.

Ellen Anderson, who is in charge of both programs, was just driving away from the Embarcadero Theater Friday night when she heard shots. “I’m from Detroit,” she said. “I know what gunfire sounds like. It was gunfire.”

She raced back to the theater and, to her great relief, discovered that the students charged with running the show had locked the doors and kept the lights off. With the exception of one comedian, they didn’t tell anyone what happened. UCSB improv artists were having a face-off, it turned out, with counterparts from Cal Poly. Normally, the show would have ended about the time the shooting started. Given that some of the shooting occurred by the new 7-Eleven right across the park from the Embarcadero Theater, it was urgent no one left.

“I was really scared,” Anderson said. “What would happen when we told people they couldn’t leave? How would they react?”

Perfectly, it would turn out. First, the small crowd of about 100-plus people (including 8-10 elementary school kids) watched a short cartoon, then they did about two more hours of improv. One woman in the audience got a text that a friend of hers was shot in the leg. Nobody panicked.

“I did get a little grouchy,” confessed Anderson. “I’d say things like, ‘How many times do I need to tell you to stay away from the window?’” About midnight, the building was unlocked, and people allowed to leave. Students were instructed to go to a nearby dorm.

“I love my students,“ Anderson gushed. “They’re so great. And I’m so incredibly sad.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Chancellor Henry T. Yang has spent the last decade ignoring the problems of alienated students with mental health problems and the I.V. "lifestyle" generated by the free flow of alcohol just steps away from campus.

The socialization and integration of students in the community is an obvious priority for the safety of all concerned...and zero efforts in that regard are made by Yang.

Time to do two things: 1.) clean house at UCSB on the admin level. Perhaps Napolitano has the insight and the political courage to do so. Likely not, however, as rocked boats get everyone's feet wet. 2.) eliminate by County Ordinance the sale of any alcoholic beverages within a 3-mile radius of the UCSB campus. (Back in the day, UCLA's Westwood Village was "dry", and these problems simply did not exist.) So much of UCSB's ills are directly attributable to the free-flow of liquor and suds...and Bill Brown's brownshirts have a habit of waiting until everyone is sh*t-faced before they make any appearance, rather than acting calmly and preemptively.
Business as usual will only see more tragedy in the future.

Beachgirl77 (anonymous profile)
May 24, 2014 at 3:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"The similarities abound between I.V.’s murderous madmen, so could anything have been done?"

Nothing like vultures picking on a carcass before it can even be buried... shame on you Nick Welsh !!!

yendopostal (anonymous profile)
May 24, 2014 at 6:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Thanks for this thoughtful writing, although I think the similarity to the Attias crime was a stretch.

What's needed is for SBCC to limit and to cap its enrollment. It is more than time that this is looked into seriously. It is not supposed to be the college of choice for affluent foreign students. Certainly, this would not stop an Elliott Rodger from enrolling, but it would cut down a little on the IV population.

at_large (anonymous profile)
May 24, 2014 at 6:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes, many good points here, but E. Rodger? A crazed mass murderer? I don't see what can be done about it. Had nothing to do with alcohol. I'm sure there are many mentally ill, in whatever way, students at UCSB and SBCC. He couldn't be stopped beforehand as he did not meet criteria for 5150 hold.

"Sheriff Brown is no doubt correct that this sort of outburst could happen anywhere or anytime. But for some reason, [this sort of outburst has] been happening with greater frequency in Isla Vista."

How could this have been stopped? Even with more gun control, the tools will be out there. I don't foresee humans controlling or stopping crazed humans on a mission.

geraldbostock (anonymous profile)
May 24, 2014 at 7:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I have seen a definite change in the overall vibe in the Santa Barbara area. Simply put, when you crowd people together like proverbial "rats in the cage" and add the ever-increasing cost of living, you have a lot of stressed out people. Nowhere is this more obvious to me than in the aggressive driving habits I started noticing in Santa Barbara 20 years ago. (I've been in the area since 1973) Before that time, it was rare that someone would be on your bumper pushing you to go faster, but today it is impossible to go anywhere any time of day or night and obey the speed limit without someone being on your tail, and during daylight hours, the vehicles line up one behind the other and if you get to a two-lane break in the road, they will scramble around you and fight among themselves for who will get to the end of the two-lane break first. Meanwhile, they probably don't even think about what they are doing.

While we live in "paradise", there is the quiet desperation of those who struggle constantly. Even those with college degrees have little hope of being able to buy a house in this area. Add to that, the alcohol-soaked culture of Isla Vista, along with a mix of hormones, bad parenting, and in short "The M.T.V. culture" and finish it off with someone being mentally unbalanced and you have a deadly recipe as what happened last night. What people are afraid to ask is "what were we doing differently as a culture before these incidents became common?" Instead, they plunge into further denial about the sociological changes of the last few decades--mainly the breakdown of the family, and the abdication of personal responsibility. Their solution is more laws: More gun laws, more drug laws, more anti-terrorism laws, while failing to see how their own rejection of the aforementioned mores have contributed to this constant angst we see. Even a return to the old ways however, will not entirely stop the occasional crazy person from "going postal", but it would help.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
May 24, 2014 at 8:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

There is also the fact that there is incredible pressure to "score" sexually, and if you don't "score", you're treated as if there is something wrong with you.

Everyone has their own timetable, and they don't need the additional strain of peer pressure to hurry up acting upon their natural urges--assuming they have them. (Asexual, those who believe in holding out until marriage, and gay people being forced to fit in)

billclausen (anonymous profile)
May 24, 2014 at 8:57 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Say, didn't the state of California once boast having the most comprehensive Department of Mental Hygiene in the country, that is, until a former Santa Barbara resident took office as governor and decided to scrap mental health programs, a move now seen as a mistake?

salsipuedes (anonymous profile)
May 24, 2014 at 8:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The housing shortage, rising rent and tuition, these have been problems since I went to school at UCSB in the 90s. It has nothing to do with this shooting OR the mass killing in 2001. Both of these killers were wealthy, and didn't have the same stressors as the person writing this article apparently does.

redsongia (anonymous profile)
May 24, 2014 at 10:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

For my money, you are one of the great journalists of the age and a marvelous writer. And in this age of Honey Boo Boo bulls--t, that's really saying something.
Dean Opperman

deanopp (anonymous profile)
May 25, 2014 at 6:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm glad someone brought up the UCSB/City College distinction. While there is nothing wrong with attending a junior college, especially as a path to entry to a UC, I can see that increased CC student presence in IV could cause increased problems. When I was a student over 20 years ago, there were always CC students around and most didn't seem to be there to study (UCSB students, despite the seemingly endless partying, still had to buckle down and study to stay in school.) Senior year my friends and I needed a roommate for a quarter and rented to a CC student who appeared to have been sent across the country by her rich parents to live the college life without having to actually do any work. She stole from us and stiffed us on the rent.

The recent shooter appears to have been in a similar situation. Supposedly he hadn't even finished any classes at CC since 2011 - why the hell were his parents paying for this mentally ill young man to live in IV (and drive a BMW!) and not even attend school?

I don't know what the solution is, but if SBCC is now the "destination" JC, it would be nice if CC did something to help with the housing situation. Or maybe parents can just send their kids to the perfectly good JC in their own backyard instead of shipping their problems to IV?

mimimom (anonymous profile)
May 25, 2014 at 8:39 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Rather than trim budgets, both SBCC and UCSB aggressively recruit outside students who pay higher tuitions. Yup, it all goes back to the unions who keep demanding more and more money. The money has to come from somewhere.

Outside money is where it is at or else it means more local bond issues and parcel taxes. Neither are local educational institutions any longer, but both are now very large parts of our local economy and their unions and growing numbers of students influence local elections .

Reap what you sow. Teacher union demands must be met, so they keep goosing up the enrollments. It has spun out of control. Das Williams is chair of the state of California Assembly Higher Ed Committee. Why absolutely no word from him?

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 25, 2014 at 9:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)

According to the LA Times it was his mother who gave him the car to increase his self-confidence. Also he had Asperger's and was insecure about his mixed race. Why didn't the Independent or local papers cover this more thoroughly?

milena (anonymous profile)
May 25, 2014 at 5:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

better mental health care and prevention certainly needed, but it isn't easy and takes years to have a great state program; Reagan gutted California's over 40 years ago. Meanwhile foo does his troll'ish thread hijacking gig with this off-topic comment "Teacher union demands must be met,"

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 25, 2014 at 5:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@Milena: Here is a list (which by the way, fails to mention Daryl Hanna) of famous people with Aspergers. Find the killers among them:

DrDan: Reagan may have gutted the mental health system 40 years ago, but from what I see, Democrats have more or less run the state since and have failed to fix the problem. Jerry Brown, who succeeded Reagan and is our governor once again, focuses on his $100,000,000,000+ high speed rail dream when he should be focused on taking that proposed money and spending in on restoring mental health care.

By the way, I've read the A.C.L.U. supported Reagan's move because they thought is was not constitutional to commit someone to a mental institution against their will.

How long can people keep blaming Reagan while today's politicians refuse to address the issue?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
May 25, 2014 at 6:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

ACLU forced Reagan's hand. Not sure why you want to revise history and claim Reagan started the closure of state care institutions.

But no one in the ensuing decades after this ACLU forced decision that had to be signed by then sitting Governor Reagan, did anything to respond to the consequences of those state care institution closures, even after voters passed an initiative funded with billions of dollars for those with mental impairments a few years ago.

Hannah-Beth Jackson and Das Williams, where did those billions already raised by that mental health proposition go? And entire new generation of mentally compromised people are now on the streets and they sit on their hands and do nothing about this.

Addictions are a mental illness and addicts need to be taken off the streets for everyone's good until they can get well. Jail is not the answer; state care institutions are. The money has already been dedicated. This needs an investigation to see who got the money instead.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 25, 2014 at 7:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

To the person who suggested that teacher unions have something to do with higher college fees, I must inform you that SBCC does NOT have a teacher's union. I'm a teacher there and we have an "instructor's association" which is not affiliated with any official state or national unions.

The problem is that SBCC simply has too many students (aprox 20,000) and they have nowhere to live but in IV. The majority of my students come from other communities in CA (like Rodger), not from out of state or country. Although they have community colleges in their home towns, many come here because they want to "go away" for a college experience, and of course, many are hoping to transfer to UCSB. SBCC has put no caps on its enrollment despite the fact that there isn't sufficient parking, classroom space, or full-time teachers (the bulk of classes at SBCC are taught by adjunct instructors).

Unions are the least of our worries.

lantana (anonymous profile)
May 25, 2014 at 8:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

LA Times just ranked transfers from community colleges in this state. The leading farm clubs for UC campuses based upon numbers of transfers are:

1. Santa Monica College (UCLA) - way ahead of everyone
2. De Anza College (UCB-UCSC)
3. Pasadena City College (UCLA)
4. Diablo Valley College (UCB)
5. Santa Barbara City College (UCSB)
6. Orange Coast College (UCI)

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 25, 2014 at 9:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@Lantana: Amen, thank you for addressing the issue of overcrowding, which most vested interests wouldn't dare touch.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
May 25, 2014 at 9:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Foofither, clausen didnt revise history so why d U accuse him of that? He agrees with U and look now everybody hates you now, even clausen.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
May 25, 2014 at 10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Nobody hates Foofighter, Dolphinpod, he just keeps getting worked up and getting people annoyed.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
May 25, 2014 at 10:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Satan's Suburb: Santa Barbara; where the military industrial complex minions meet the Hollywood propagandists that make their mass murdering ways seem sexy and heroic. Then out of this muck crawls the spawn called Elliot Rodger, Hollywood sex and violence personified.

zebu111 (anonymous profile)
May 25, 2014 at 10:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Better and more mental health care is needed, but Rodger has had counseling and therapy since he was a child. It continued while he lived in Santa Barbara, according to his "Manifesto". On reading what he wrote, it's very hard to know what would have helped. Had the SBSO had a warrant and inspected the apartment on that April 30 visit, this particular horror would have been prevented. But he most surely would have planned another.

at_large (anonymous profile)
May 25, 2014 at 11:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Well put, Zebu.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
May 26, 2014 at 1:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Why the blame on Chancellor Yang--or teachers' unions, or Reagan, or Hollywood producers, or the mental health system, or the military/prison-industrial complex, or the NRA as I've seen elsewhere. They are us. Who elected Reagan and idolizes him, visits his library in droves? Who flocks to those movies and makes them blockbusters? Who accepts that a self-defense amendment from the time of lone-farmer-wielding muskets needs no interpretation for a dense urban society wielding automatic weapons? They are us, my friends, look in the mirror before finding someone else to blame. And just btw, all evidence I have seen shows that Henry Yang has been more involved in IV and trying to hoist UCSB out of its party-school morass than any chancellor to date, and is a model chancellor compared to others in the history of the UC system. (Think of the chancellor-backed pepper-spraying at UC Davis!) Henry Yang is incredibly dedicated and effective. Where did that vitriol come from?

hmarcuse (anonymous profile)
May 26, 2014 at 11:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

yeah, and remember the disrespect 'ol Vern Cheadle has to put up with..didn't he get nicked in the keester by some fireworks at the Jerry Rubin speech & demonstration approx. 1970? There was a guy out of touch, compared to him Yang has been quite involved. UCSB can't decide how much to intervene in IV's rousing/carousing night life scene... Yet Yang still fails to speak out about the Miller-Young fiasco.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 26, 2014 at 12:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Yang is on the right track - move as many UCSB students into on-campus housing as possible. All 25,000 of them.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 26, 2014 at 12:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's getting so bad to attend an education a person almost has to wear protective clothing to stay alive whether on Campus or Off. Here are some personal Protection on Ebay;

dou4now (anonymous profile)
May 27, 2014 at 7:14 a.m. (Suggest removal)

They were both self-absorbed narcissists who blamed everyone else for their shortcomings and decided that the lives of others meant WAY less than their's.
The ONLY difference between Attias and Rodger is that Rodger did us all a favor by taking himself out. Attias still lives and is now practically a free individual because of legal maneuverings by his wealthy, coddling parents.
They BOTH wound up there because of 1 single reason: UCSB is in the top 3 status of party schools.
In the case of Attias, mommy and daddy figured if they sent him to that day care center he would make friends and find a nice girl. Instead he MURDERED 4 people and crippled another.
In the case of Rodger he figured that since Isla Vista is a party town he was going to get laid. He didn't and he MURDERED 6 people and injured over 7 others.
UCSB has become a day care center for idiots and it is going to have to prove itself otherwise. Expect enrollment to drop.

blahblahmoreblah (anonymous profile)
May 27, 2014 at 10:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Good article except the SBCC vs. UCSB section is misplaced – SBCC is not responsible for this tragedy in any way. Housing demand/traffic generated by SBCC are important topics worthy of discussion, but here? And why demean SBCC students by calling them “low-achieving”? I know several SBCC students who are there because their parents cannot afford to send them to a 4-year college. Most of these kids are trying to educate themselves and improve their lives. I cannot believe this author said such a thing, especially in light of this tragedy.

sandcastle (anonymous profile)
May 29, 2014 at 10:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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