Crime & Justice

Isla Vista shootings: Deputies knew about killer Elliot Rodger's videos, didn't watch them

A black BMW from which an alleged shooter killed six near the University of California, Santa Barbara in Isla Vista before the shooter's own death, as seen on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
A black BMW from which an alleged shooter killed six near the University of California, Santa Barbara in Isla Vista before the shooter's own death, as seen on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Gaudry Puéchavy

Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office deputies checking on Elliot Rodgerthree weeks before he killed six college students were aware of, but didn't view, disturbing videos that prompted calls about his well-being, the agency disclosed Thursday.

A statement from the sheriff's office provides new details on the sequence of events during that pivotal visit, a time when Rodger was planning the rampage that would also leave 13 wounded. The guns he would use in the killings were stashed inside his apartment at the time.

RELATED: Congress focusing on mental health bills instead of gun control in wake of Isla Vista

The office was not aware of and did not receive his manifesto and final video, in which he details plans to kill people, until an hour after the shooting, the statement said.

On April 30, four deputies, a police officer and a dispatcher in training were sent to Rodger'sapartment after being informed by the county's mental health hotline that Rodger's therapist and mother were concerned about videos he posted online.

The visit lasted about 10 minutes, during which officers found him shy and polite. The deputies questioned him about what the statement described as "disturbing" videos, but Rodger told them he was having trouble fitting in socially and the videos were "merely a way of expressing himself," the statement said.

Because the deputies concluded he was not a threat to himself or others, they never viewed the videos.

That sequence of events is different from a statement Sunday from spokeswoman Kelly Hoover, who said "the sheriff's office was not aware of any videos until after the shooting rampage occurred."

In a typical mental health check, only two deputies would be dispatched. But deputies who were familiar with Rodger as a victim in a January petty theft case also went to his apartment.

There still are many other questions and missing details about events surrounding the May 23 attacks.

The death of his roommates

In his writings, Rodger voiced contempt for his roommates. His killing spree began at his apartment in Isla Vista, where he stabbed to death Cheng Yuan Hong, 20, and George Chen, 19, along with Weihan Wang, 20, who either lived there or was visiting. It's not clear how the slightly built Rodger was able to kill three people without attracting attention in a crowded apartment complex. Rodger wrote in his manifesto that he would start his rampage at his apartment to establish "my personal torture and killing chamber." At another point he envisions stabbing his roommates to death while they slept. Police have released no information about how they believe the stabbings were carried out.

The therapists

Officials and his family have said Rodger was in mental health therapy for many years, though apparently no official diagnosis of a mental illness was ever made. Rodger referenced in his manifesto the "useless advice that every other psychiatrist, psychologist and counsellor had given me." The family spokesman told ABC's "Good Morning America" in an interview aired Thursday that he was told Rodger was taking the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in the past six months after previously refusing to take medication. Beyond that, little is known about the details of the therapy, and it's not clear if or when that information will be disclosed, given medical privacy laws.

The interview

Rodger wrote that when deputies visited him on April 30 they spoke for only a few minutes and they asked him if he had suicidal thoughts. "I tactfully told them that it was all a misunderstanding and they finally left," he wrote. California has a law that allows authorities to confine people for up to 72 hours to judge their mental stability, but authorities have said that during the interrogation he did not exhibit any signs of trouble. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Rodger "was able to make a very convincing story that there was no problem." The statement Thursday said five officers and a trainee went to Rodger's apartment and were there about 10 minutes. Since they concluded he posed no threat, they did not search the apartment or conduct a check to determine if he owned firearms, the statement said. His handguns were stashed in the apartment.

The weapons and the videos

Rodger used a Glock 34 and two Sig Sauer P226s during his rampage. The guns were purchased individually from licensed dealers in Goleta, Oxnard and Burbank, and Rodger registered them. He wrote that they were in his apartment when police visited on April 30. Had police taken him into protective custody for a psychiatric evaluation they could have seized the weapons. Rodger posted at least 22 YouTube videos. He uploaded most in the week leading up to April 26, when he initially planned to carry out his attacks. He postponed his plan after catching a cold. After he was interrogated by deputies, Rodger wrote that he removed the videos from YouTube. He re-posted at least some in the week leading up to the killings. It's unclear if other videos exist that were not restored to YouTube.

This story has been updated.