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Santa Barbara murderer shared characteristics with other spree killers

Elliot Rodger shared many traits with other recent spree killers.
Elliot Rodger shared many traits with other recent spree killers.
Photo by Spencer Weiner/Getty Images

By now, most are familiar with the story of Elliot Rodger, the Santa Barbara mass murderer who killed six people last weekend before turning his gun on himself. Rodger’s loneliness, angst and longing for meaningless sex are now well known. What may be less well known is that Rodger shared many characteristics with a number of other recent spree killers.

As Examiner reported last year, a number of features are common in the random mass killings that seem prevalent in recent years. First, almost all of the mass killers are known to be habitual players of violent video games. Second, the killer often comes from a broken family. Finally, in most cases, the killer can be reasonably determined to have undiagnosed or untreated mental illness. Elliot Rodger fits into all three categories.

Rodger’s own writings, excerpted here in the Daily Mail, say that he was “immersed entirely” in “online games like World of Warcraft.” Other reports, including this one from World Net Daily, suggest that Rodger used phrases from the game in his manifesto.

Frequent use of video games alone does not explain Rodger’s actions. Millions of people around the world play video games, even the most violent games, without descending into madness. There is the possibility, however, that violent video games can trigger violent behavior in some people. Lt. Col. (ret.) Dave Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor, has long studied the phenomenon in a field that he calls “killology.”

Two other factors that may act as triggers are broken families and mental illness. CNN reports that Rodger’s parents had divorced in 1999 when he was seven years old. While the specifics of Rodger’s family life are not known, it is well established that children, particularly boys, do not fare well in single parent families for reasons that vary from economic insecurity to inadequate supervision and time with their parents.

Mental illness was also a factor in Rodger’s actions. According to Hollywood Life, his mother said that he had Asperger’s syndrome, the same form of autism that Sandy Hook murderer Adam Lanza was known to have. A friend of the family told Radar Online that Elliot had “heard voices” and suffered from “extreme paranoia.” The source also said that Rodger had been prescribed a psychiatric medication, but refused to take it. Before moving to Santa Barbara, Rodger had been under the care of a psychologist.

There were warning signs. Rodger had posted violent threats on the internet before. About a month before the killing spree, the videos prompted his mother to send the police to his apartment. According to the Washington Post, the murders were not his first brush with violence. He had splashed hot coffee on girls who didn’t smile at him, shot people in a park with a Super Soaker filled with orange juice, and, shortly before his last birthday, tried to push girls off a 10 foot high ledge at a party.

Culture, like video games, cannot bear the brunt of the blame, but also likely played a role. Cultural icons have spent decades giving children and teenagers the message through movies and television that sex can – and perhaps should - be free of love and commitment. The normalization of pornography and the hookup culture, while seen as empowering to women by some feminists, does much to dehumanize and objectify women. This may be especially true to boys from broken homes who lack positive male role models to show them how women should be treated.

Rodger’s ramblings show that his sense of entitlement was complementary to his view of women as nothing more than sexual playthings. He believed that his family status and connections entitled him to sex with beautiful girls and he resented the boys that were chosen over him. He viewed wealth as a means to attract girls and blamed his parents for not providing him with the money he needed for a lavish lifestyle. He felt that his mother should have remarried to a wealthy man and was angry that his father’s failed documentary, “Oh My God,” had caused the family financial hardship.

The easiest solutions to the problems that created Elliot Rodger and the other spree murders deal with reforming how we treat mental illness. After the Sandy Hook massacre, psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey described the federal mental health failure in the Wall St. Journal. Speaking on the May 28 episode of Michael Medved’s radio show, Torrey listed several reforms that would make future spree killings by the mentally ill less likely. First, he cited the need to reform commitment laws for those who are mentally ill and refuse voluntary treatment. Second, HIPAA privacy laws need to be reformed to make it easier for doctors and government officials to communicate about potentially threatening patients. Third, more beds are needed in mental health facilities to treat patients. Finally, mental health experts should perform evaluations. Currently, police who are not trained in mental health make field determinations about whether someone is potentially dangerous.

As the list of mass murders by the untreated mentally ill grows, it should be possible to get a bipartisan agreement on mental health reform. In a time of close scrutiny of federal spending, most Americans would probably agree that preventing the violently ill from arming themselves and committing mass murder would be money well spent.