SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — A mentally disturbed 22-year-old man possibly bent on retribution sprayed bullets from a slow-moving car in a Southern California college town, killing six people in a rampage called “premeditated mass murder,” Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies said Saturday.
Based on what police told the family of Elliot Rodger, the parents believe he is the shooter, attorney Alan Shifman, a family spokesman, told reporters. He is the son of Peter Rodger, who is identified as an assistant director of the 2012 film “The Hunger Games,” according to IMDb.com.
The younger Rodger died from a gunshot wound after his car crashed Friday night, police said. It was unclear whether the fatal head wound was self-inflicted or the result of a firefight with police.
Seven people also were being treated in a hospital for gunshot wounds or traumatic injuries, including at least one who was in surgery, said sheriff’s office spokeswoman Kelly Hoover.
“The sheriff’s office has obtained and is currently analyzing written and video evidence that suggests this was a premeditated mass murder,” Hoover said.
Hoover was referring to a YouTube video titled “Retribution” posted by the young man. In the nearly seven-minute video, Rodger rants about women who ignored or rejected him over the past eight years and warns that he will “punish you all for it.”
“Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge,” he says on the video.
The shootings occurred in Isla Vista near the University of California, Santa Barbara, in a crowded area bustling with activity on Memorial Day weekend.
A life and death situation
Kyle Sullivan, 19, a student at Santa Barbara City College, said he came upon three young women — all shot — on a lawn in front of the Alpha Phi sorority in Isla Vista.
One woman appeared to be dead. Another was struggling and “just barely able to move her eyes,” he said. A third, with a kidney wound, was on the phone with her mother, saying she probably wasn’t going to make and “how much she loved her,” Sullivan said.
“I really wasn’t able to sleep at all,” Sullivan told CNN. “It was heartbreaking that something would happen in our community like this.”
Nikolaus Becker, a high school senior visiting Isla Vista, was eating a burger in a restaurant with friends. They heard pops and thought fireworks. Some students were doing homework.
“We were actually joking around about it,” he said of the crackling sound. “People were riding their bikes around outside, and parties were still going on.”
Then Becker and friends heard two more sets of bangs. Police were running. A speeding car — moving at least 50 mph — screeched around a corner. When Becker finally went outside a half hour later, he saw body bags on the street.
Robert Johnson told CNN he didn’t hear screams when the gunman opened fire outside a deli.
“I turned and ran in the opposite direction,” he said. “There’s a lot of confusion. Even shortly after this whole ordeal had ended, I think a lot of people didn’t realize the magnitude of the situation.”
Johnson told CNN he was standing on a corner when he heard what he thought were fireworks. Then a black BMW with tinted windows drove by and either slowed down or stopped outside a deli where as many as eight people were eating outside. Someone in the car opened fire.
“It all happened very quickly, but I think this happened to be the largest group on the street,” he said. “It think it was just targeted because it was the largest group in the area.”
People jumped up and ran, Johnson recalled.
One victim, Nick Pasichuke, told CNN he was struck by the gunman’s car.
“There are six other people currently hospitalized with me right now. … There was a guy driving a BMW. I was on a long board and he aimed his car at our group of friends and gunned it into us. I have two broken legs and need surgery. The police said I flew roughly 50 feet into a busy intersection. This is all so crazy.”
Ian Papa said he was inches away on the street when the gunman’s car sped up and struck two bicyclists.
“It happened so fast,” he said. “I had no time to react. I jumped on the sidewalk and I see a man on a BMW, his body inside the windshield and glass broken everywhere … I almost wanted to break into tears. It was a life and death situation.
Gunman talked to victims
The violence began and ended within minutes, from 9:27 p.m. when shots were reported to around 10 minutes later when police discovered the body of the suspected gunman, CNN affiliate KEYT-TV said. Authorities said there were nine separate crime scenes.
“Sheriff’s deputies responded and found several victims suffering from gunshot wounds. As sheriff’s deputies were attending to the victims and performing first aid, they were also receiving suspect information. Only minutes later, there were additional reports of shots fired in several other areas of Isla Vista,” Hoover said.
U.S. law enforcement officials said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and FBI were assisting local police in the investigation, including trying to trace the handgun used and where the suspect obtained it. Agents were on the scene to offer firearms expertise in tracing all details about the weapon using ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, according to the agency.
KEYT reporter John Palminteri told CNN that some witnesses reported hearing the gunman talk to some of his victims as he fired. Outside a 7-11 convenience store, he said, workers came out amid the gunfire to pull to safety a girl who had been shot in the leg. Another victim, a bicyclist, apparently sustained massive head injuries after being struck by the gunman’s car.
“I heard some pops, but I just assumed they were fireworks,” said Daniel Slovinsky, who was eating at a restaurant. “Contrary to what you might expect, there wasn’t a whole lot of chaos immediately. I didn’t hear any screaming. A few people were running. … It wasn’t really until police started yelling at people to get inside that we realized something big went down. But even then people didn’t know what.”
KEYT reported that “witnesses described seeing a black BMW speeding through the streets, spraying bullets at people and various targets.” Six minutes after the first emergency call, the suspected gunman traded fire with sheriff’s deputies, and the vehicle plowed into a parked vehicle, said Hoover, the sheriff’s office spokeswoman.
In a statement on its website Saturday, UC Santa Barbara said several students were taken to local hospitals after the shooting.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the family and friends of those affected,” the statement said.
Santa Barbara City College also reacted Saturday.
“There are no words to express the sadness we have for the victims and their families and for all the residents of Isla Vista,” the statement said. “We know our students co-mingle with UCSB students and Isla Vista residents as part of our greater community and we all, as an extended family, are impacted by this unimaginable event.”
College President Lori Gaskin added, “In times of tragedy, we need to turn to each other for support, care for each other as we grieve for the victims, and pull together in compassion and strength.”
Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said in a statement, “My heart goes out to the victims, their families, loved ones and friends. I know the Santa Barbara community joins me in hoping for a quick and full recovery of those victims currently receiving medical care.”
The suspected gunman was found dead from an apparent gunshot wound, Hoover said. A semiautomatic handgun was recovered. It appears he acted alone, Hoover said.
Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown called the suspect “severely mentally disturbed,” according to KEYT.
The identities of the victims won’t be released until the next of kin are notified, she said.