WHYS OF MURDERS: Now, even while our tears are still drying, it’s time for serious action: a thorough, impartial, A-to-Z study of how and why the tragic Isla Vista murders took place.
If official toes get stepped on, so be it. If feathers get ruffled and fingers get pointed, let it happen. As it is, too many hard questions remain unasked or unanswered.
Justice for the six slain students, the 13 injured, and their families must come first. We need to understand the chain of events that led to the deaths of six men and women with their young lives still ahead of them.
We must not forget them: Katherine Cooper, 22; Veronika Weiss, 19; David Weihan Wang, 20; George Chen, 19; Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, 20; Chen Yuan “James” Hong, 20.
They didn’t deserve to die, and in their memory we must probe — however painful it may become — what led to their deaths. It must be more than a recitation of things we already know: how a deeply disturbed, angry man armed with knives and guns took his frustrations out.
The trail is a long one, starting when mental illness was first detected in a young Elliot Rodger, and later the 22-year-old was turned loose by his family on a student community unaware that he was a ticking time bomb.
He supposedly was here to attend Santa Barbara City College, but he hadn’t attended for much of the past few years and wasn’t a current student, instead sulking in his Isla Vista apartment, whining at not having girlfriends, feuding with his roommates, and driving around in the new BMW his parents supplied him with.
And shopping for three semi-automatic handguns, all easily purchased because he met background checks despite his history of mental instability, which he kept hidden in his room while awaiting his self-proclaimed “day of retribution.”
Meanwhile, his bizarre behavior, such as throwing drinks on romantic couples he resented, getting beat up after trying to push people off a ledge at a sorority party, and getting into other scrapes, amounted to numerous red flags that authorities didn’t hear about or ignored.
On April 30, less than a month before the May 23 rampage, Sheriff’s deputies checked his welfare after being alerted by mental-health staffers. Deputies found him to be “shy, timid, and polite.” When asked about “disturbing videos he had posted online,” Rodger passed them off as mere self-expression, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Concluding that he was not an immediate threat to himself or others, deputies said that after a 10-minute visit, they saw no need to place him under an involuntary mental-health hold or to search his apartment. “Therefore, they did not view the videos or conduct a weapons check on Rodger,” the Sheriff’s Office said.
But Rodger wrote later that he feared that if they had found his guns, his entire “retribution” plan would have been foiled.
The slaughter of Friday, May 23, could easily have been even bloodier. After butchering his three roommates, he drove in rage directly to an Isla Vista sorority house, armed to the teeth, and pounded on the door. There, as he promised in a video posted the day before, “On the day of retribution, I am going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB, and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blonde slut that I see inside.”
Luckily, none of the women answered his pounding. So he turned to spot passersby Katherine Cooper and Veronika Weiss and killed them.
Then, after shooting Christopher Michaels-Martinez, he cruised the streets of Isla Vista, firing at random and engaging in a shoot-out with Sheriff’s deputies, running down bicyclists and anyone in his path. With so many bullets flying, it’s a wonder that the death toll wasn’t much higher.
Although a thorough fact-finding study will take time, some remedies for the future can be put into place now. For one, Santa Barbara County supervisors should enact Laura’s Law, which allows courts to order outpatient mental-health treatment, in exceptional cases.
While it may be too much to expect Congress to take action on gun control, Representative Lois Capps took the House floor last week to declare that the public “wants universal background checks, limits on high-capacity magazines, increased school safety, and stronger gun-trafficking penalties.
“We know that we must keep these weapons out of the hands of violent individuals. But all too quickly the attention fades, the drumbeat quiets, and we are left with inaction.”
Governor Jerry Brown and Santa Barbara County authorities must push forward now to authorize an in-depth study of the Isla Vista tragedy. Justice demands it.