In the aftermath of a terrible tragedy, we always look for someone or something to blame. In the case of the Isla Vista massacre in which six college students were murdered and 13 others wounded, the blame game started almost immediately. Most of the criticism was misdirected.
This mass murder was not due to the lack of strict gun laws. It was not the fault of violent video games. It wasn’t that the killer had an uncaring or inattentive family. It didn’t happen because the killer’s therapist or school counselor failed to decipher a madman’s inner turmoil. And it wasn’t because law enforcement somehow failed.
There is only one reason so many people died — 22-year-old Elliot Rodger was a young man of privileged means who was possessed by a demented, murderous and conniving mind. Period. For three years he meticulously concocted his hideous plan and documented it in a lengthy manifesto. All the while, he appeared weird and standoffish, according to classmates, but never dangerous.
Evil is sometimes like that. It can hide in plain sight.
The father of one of the dead, Christopher Michaels-Martinez, tearfully declared that the carnage was the fault of “craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA.”
My heart goes out to that man, but, respectfully, that conclusion is nonsense. California politicians have passed some of the nation’s toughest, most restrictive gun and ammunition laws — despite intense lobbying from the National Rifle Association.
Besides, Rodger didn’t rely on just his three (legally obtained) guns as he carried out his sick strategy. He began the spasm of violence by rendering his two roommates and a visitor defenseless with hammer blows to the head. He is then believed to have slit their throats with a knife and a machete, just as he had outlined in his manifesto. Evidence bags bearing these three weapons were seen being carried from his apartment. Elliot then jumped in his late-model BMW and used it as a weapon, terrorizing pedestrians and bicyclists, injuring four.
To blame just one of the various weapons Rodger used — the guns — while ignoring the others overlooks the fact that it was his demented blood lust that drove the action and not any particular weapon. Were the guns an expeditious means to his awful endgame? Yes. But I’ll bet if Rodger had somehow been denied firearms he would have devised other fast-acting weapons to use such as explosives or poison.
There will always be those who must find fault after such a murderous spree, as if to say all horrible incidents can be avoided if we just pass enough laws. We all know that’s not true because those possessed of a mentally disturbed and criminal mind are obsessed. They let nothing stop them from their goal. Think Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski or Eric Rudolph, three delusional killers who used bombs to blast their way into infamy.
Many of the critical comments I’ve heard since the California killings have been directed at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department. They should have done more; they should have searched Rodger’s apartment; they should have watched his online videos, goes the criticism. Let’s use our common sense here.
Rodger had three contacts with the department over the years. He once called deputies complaining that his roommate had taken $22 worth of candles from his room. No charges were filed. Officers were once called in after a drunken Rodger provoked an incident in a bar. In an area where many of the 22,000 UC Santa Barbara students routinely drink too much and cause a scene, Rodger’s actions hardly made him a standout. And finally, about a month ago, his mother became concerned about disturbing videos her son had posted on the Internet and called for help.
A source inside the Sheriff’s Department tells me they get welfare calls from worried parents “all the time ... and from locations across the country,” and officers dutifully follow up on each call.
In Rodger’s case, deputies reported that when they located and spoke to him he was “courteous and polite.” He calmly answered all their questions and gave them no reason to think he was a danger to himself or others. The officers had no warrant to enter and search the property and, even if they had found Rodger’s stash of guns and ammunition, so what? He was an adult and he owned them legally. Can you imagine the outcry if sheriff’s deputies pushed their way into people’s homes on a whim?
As the Sheriff’s Department source told me, “We can’t violate someone’s rights because we have a feeling. It doesn’t work that way.” Nor can a deputy arrest someone for posting free speech online.
The fault for the Isla Vista massacre lies not with the weapons used but with the man involved. The arrogant and delusional Rodgers had been festering and plotting toward this point for years. His hatred for the human race apparently began in middle school. It was there, this 22-year-old virgin wrote in his manifesto, that a younger classmate refused to return his affections. It was there he began to despise all the rest of us for our happiness. While his parents have indicated their son had been in therapy for many years, it was obviously not enough to ease his tortured mind.
Too bad we can’t channel all the energy that goes into finger pointing and demanding more laws and channel it into a way to help the truly sick who walk among us. They are the roots of the problem.
Until we can figure out a way to identify, isolate and treat sick minds like Rodgers’, we will continue to suffer the gut-wrenching and deadly aftereffects of their maniacal breaks with reality.
— Diane Dimond is the author of Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.