[EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated at 5:55 p.m. on May 25 with the names of the first three victims in the murder spree.]
Elliot Rodger, the man suspected of stabbing three men to death before a drive-by shooting spree through Isla Vista that killed three more people, had three semiautomatic handguns and more than 400 rounds of ammunition left in his black BMW coupe after he crashed it and shot himself in the head. The weapons, along with 41 magazines, were all purchased legally.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown went into greater details about the attack near UC Santa Barbara that began around 9:30 p.m. Friday night. In a “horrific” scene, Rodger stabbed three roommates – Chen Yuan Hong, George Chen and Weihan Wang — to death before attempting to break into a sorority house, banging loudly on the door for as long as two minutes.
When no one answered, he shot and killed two women – Veronika Weiss and Katie Cooper – who were standing across the street, and then sped off on a circuitous route around Isla Vista. He stopped his car and stepped into the I.V. Deli Mart and shot to death Chris Martinez, a Central Coast native, before speeding off again.
Brad Martin, an anthropology student at UCSB, told the campus newspaper the Daily Nexus that his girlfriend was walking to his house when she was approached by the shooters. “She is absolutely hysterical, and so she tells me that these guys pulled up and said ‘hey what’s up.’ She turned and looked and they had a gun and she wasn’t sure if it was a real gun or a fake gun or what type of gun it was,” Martin said. “She said the next second he raised it up to her face … and she turned around and started running. That’s when she heard ‘bang bang bang’ right behind her as she was running, and she could feel the wind hitting her hair from the power of the gunshot from less than five feet away from the car.”
Click here for more coverage on the victims and the community reaction to the tragedy.
Click here for photos of a vigil on Saturday night that drew thousands of people.
Rodger sprayed bullets as he drove, firing on two sheriff’s deputies, who returned fire. Rodger hit two bicyclists, one of whom flew through the windshield of his car, finally causing it to crash. All told, 13 people were injured, two of whom remain in serious condition at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
The South Coast was in shock after the deadly rampage on Saturday, with students, university officials, area residents and business owners trying to come to grips with the bloody massacre that made headlines around the world.
Brown described Rodger as a mentally disturbed suspect who had been in and out of treatment and who had been contacted by officers three times, one of which left officers suspecting Rodger of committing assault. But Rodger purchased his three firearms – two Sig Sauer P226s and one long-slide Glock 34, all caliber 9mm – before he was questioned by sheriff’s deputies. Moreover, Brown said, none of those incidents resulted in an arrest or imprisonment that would have prevented Rodger from buying a gun during a federally mandated criminal background check.
Elliot Rodger is the son of Hollywood filmmaker Peter Rodger, who was on assistant director on the hit “Hunger Games” franchise.
“We offer our deepest compassion and sympathy to the families involved in this terrible tragedy,” the gunman’s family said in a statement released to the media through an attorney.
Police officers contacted Rodger, 22, for the first time in July 2013, Brown said. They approached him in a hospital, where Rodger claimed he’d been the victim of an assault. On further investigation, officers came to believe that Rodger “may have actually been the aggressor in the incident” and turned it over to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney. The case was later suspended.
The second incident happened in January. Rodger called sheriff’s deputies to report that a roommate had stolen three candles worth $22. “Rodger made a citizen’s arrest,” Brown said, and the roommate was booked into jail on theft charges and released.
The third visit from sheriff’s deputies came in January. Rodger’s family called the sheriff’s office and asked them to check on him. Deputies “found him to be polite and courteous, and he downplayed the concerns for his welfare,” Brown said.
Rodger told officers in the visit earlier this year he was having trouble with his social life and probably wouldn’t be returning to Santa Barbara City College, where he was a student, next fall. The officers told him about “resources” that were available, Brown said, but “determined he did not meet the criteria for an involuntary mental health hold.”
“You have to understand that this is a fairly routine call,” Brown said.
All of those calls happened after Rodger had bought his firearms. They were purchased at three separate stores in Goleta, Oxnard and Burbank. “All of these firearms were legally purchased through federally licensed firearms dealers, and all of them were registered to the suspect,” Brown said.
Brown said that his office didn’t become aware of a manifesto written by Rodger or a video until after the killing rampage. “In reading the 141-page rambling [document] … it’s very apparent how disturbed Mr. Rodger was,” Brown said, noting that Rodger had received mental health treatment. He described Rodger’s final video as “a particularly chilling one in which he looks into the camera and describes what he’s about to do,” Brown said.
In that video, Rodgers describes himself as a sexually frustrated virgin who had been repeatedly rebuffed or ignored by women.
Stephen Kaminski, direct of trauma services at Cottage Health System, said that four patients were treated and released at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital. Seven patients were sent to the trauma center at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where two were in good condition, three were in fair condition and two remained in serious condition. All told, four people were injured by Rodger’s vehicle, eight people suffered gunshot wounds and one person had a minor injury of unknown origin.
The sheriff’s office has said it is working with multiple other law enforcement agencies, including UCSB campus police and the Santa Barbara Police Department, on the investigation, which involves at least nine separate crime scenes.
Richard Martinez, father of shooting victim Chris Martinez, said that his son’s death underscored the need for stricter controls on gun ownership. His son, who was born and raised on the Central Coast, was studying English at UCSB and hoped to go on to law school, said Richard Martinez, an attorney in Santa Maria. “He was a very good student,” a distraught Richard Martinez told reporters.
• Business Times intern and Daily Nexus editor Marissa Wenzke contributed reporting to this story.
[This story was significantly updated with additional quotes and information from law enforcement, witnesses and the community at 8:10 p.m. on May 24. It was again updated at 5:55 p.m on May 25 following the release of the names of the first three victims.]
Martinez was born and raised on the Central Coast, his father said. He was studying English at UCSB and planned to go to law school, his father, Santa Maria attorney Richard Martinez, told the Business Times. “He was a very good student,” he said.
— Business Times staff writers Erika Martin and Marlize van Romburgh and contributing writers Marissa Wenzke and Patrick Kulp contributed reporting.
Watch a portion of the sheriff’s press conference, below.