Zack Warburg was driving when he heard a Santa Barbara County fire captain come across emergency dispatch lines and issue a request he’ll never forget.
The captain had arrived at the scene of what was thought to be a single gunshot victim in Isla Vista on Friday night, the same incident Warburg was en route to.
The 24-year-old freelance photojournalist soon learned the incident was much bigger than a single victim.
“He said, ‘I need every available ambulance,’” Warburg recalled. “We have mass casualties.”
Those mass casualties claimed the lives of at least seven people by the time Friday night had turned into Saturday morning.
The rampage began just before 9:30 p.m., when many in the Isla Vista community heard a round of gunshots being fired. The suspect, who has been identified as Elliott Rodger, 22, an Isla Vista resident and sometime Santa Barbara City College student, allegedly began firing into crowds with a semi-automatic weapon from his vehicle, a black BMW 328i coupe.
According to authorities, Rodger died of a gunshot wound to the head after exchanging fire with Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies
The shooter was gone by the time Warburg arrived on the scene Friday night, but the aftermath was nothing short of chaotic.
Isla Vista was flooded with police cars and fire trucks, and it wasn’t clear whether it was an active shooting situation or not. The number of vicitms left behind proved otherwise.
About 20 minutes later, “they kept finding more victims,” he told Noozhawk.
Warburg saw two victims on Sabado Tarde Road, one of whom managed to crawl into the living room of a nearby residence. The victim later was carefully loaded into an ambulance and appeared to have a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
Another victim was lying in the gutter nearby, surrounded by numerous paramedics as well as several friends.
“There was blood everywhere,” Warburg recalled, adding that he saw several body bags in the street in the aftermath of the shooting.
Once authorities had the area more stabilized, Warburg walked over to the 7-Eleven at 6545 Trigo Road, where crime scene tape was being rolled out. He said it often was unclear which side of the tape the public should stay out of.
Later, he was walking down Sabado Tarde when he heard a metallic sound at his feet. Looking down, he saw a half-dozen shell casings, which he assumed where from a semi-automatic weapon.
Warburg spoke with Noozhawk on Saturday, just yards from Isla Vista Deli Mart at 6549 Pardall Road, where at least one victim was killed Friday night.
On Saturday morning, bullet holes riddled the glass and bloody rags could be seen just inside the locked glass doors of the shop selling sandwiches and snacks.
Blood was smeared all over the floor of the shop and a makeshift memorial of flowers had been set up outside as students milled by.
“I assumed this was a gang dispute,” Warburg said. “I did not think this was Virginia Tech again.”
Warburg mentioned the 2007 massacre because he is from northern Virginia and was applying to Virginia Tech when the shooting took place. He even had friends in one of the buildings where it occurred.
Although his friends were unhurt, “it hits very close to home,” he said. “In my wildest dreams I never thought this was a pre-meditated thing.”
Just outside the deli, situated in the heart of Isla Vista, students and other young people expressed shock at the carnage.
Stepping up to peer inside the store was Carrie Leonard, an SBCC student who lives just blocks from where the shootings occurred.
“I’ve never been around anything like this in my life,” the 20-year-old said.
Leonard works across the street from the deli at Blaze Pizza, and although she wasn’t working Friday night, she said the incident was too close for comfort.
“That could have been me,” she said. “My mom could have been getting the phone call that those other families are getting. That’s the first thing I thought of.”
Leonard watched several of the YouTube videos reportedly posted by Rodger, but didn’t recognize him from her own time at SBCC or as an Isla Vista resident.
“I’ve never seen him in my life,” she said.
She said she doesn’t feel safe closing up the store late and night “and now I really don’t feel safe,” she added.
Warburg, who also attended UCSB and lived in Isla Vista for four years, echoed similar sentiments about safety in the community.
“I wouldn’t walk alone in I.V., and I certainly would not as a young woman,” he said. “It’s sad that I have to say that ... During the day I.V. is fine, but once the sun goes down, the monsters really do come out.”