SANTA BARBARA, United States (AFP) - The gunman who killed six people when he opened fire from his car in a bustling California college town was the mentally disturbed son of a Hollywood director, police and reports said on Saturday.
At least seven people were injured and the suspect also died during the drive-by shooting on Friday in Isla Vista, near the campus of the University of California Santa Barbara. It was unclear whether the fatal shot was self-inflicted or delivered by police.
Peter Rodger, an assistant director of the 2012 Hollywood blockbuster The Hunger Games, believes the attacker was his 22-year-old son Elliot, lawyer Alan Shifman told reporters, although that was not immediately confirmed by police.
On the eve of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the gunman sprayed bullets from his black BMW on pedestrians at multiple locations in the small oceanfront town, starting around 9:30 pm (0430 GMT Saturday).
“The problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told a news conference.
“We have obtained and we are currently analysing both written and videotaped evidence that suggests that this atrocity was a premeditated mass murder.”
Authorities said there were nine separate crime scenes in what was a “chaotic” situation.
Shifman, the family attorney, said Elliot Rodger had been diagnosed as being a “highly functional Asperger’s Syndrome child” and was being treated by “multiple” professionals.
Police are investigating a video entitled “Retribution” apparently posted on YouTube by Rodger in which a man sitting in a car rants about women who rejected and ignored him for the past eight years, vowing to “punish you all for it.” ABC News also identified the shooter as Elliot Rodger.
Ambulances and police cars swarmed the streets after the shooting – just the latest in a string of gun massacres that have rocked the United States in recent years.
Mr Andrew Jun, a third year economics and accounting student, told AFP the situation was “pretty surreal.”
“It’s unbelievable that this kind of thing can happen,” he said.
Other witnesses said they initially mistook the gunshots for fireworks or firecrackers.
Ms Sienna Schwartz, her voice breaking, recalled how she came face-to-face with the gunman.
At first, she mistook the attacker’s “little black pistol” for an airsoft gun.
“I turned around, and I started walking the other way. He shot, and I felt like – I just felt, like, the wind pass right by my face,” Schwartz told CNN as she choked back tears.
By grisly coincidence, in 2001, the son of Ally McBeal and The Wire television series director Daniel Attias ran down four pedestrians with his car on a crowded street just a block away from the scene of Friday’s assault.
Witnesses said that part-time college student David Attias got out of the car after his deed and shouted “I am the angel of death.” He was ruled insane and locked up in a state hospital after being initially convicted of second-degree murder.
Authorities, who say Friday’s shooter acted alone but have not released details on a possible motive, also are investigating the YouTube video.
In it, the man believed to be Rodger speaks of a “day of retribution” for his life of “loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires.”
“I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blonde s*** I see inside there. All those girls that I’ve desired so much, they have all rejected me and looked down upon me as an inferior man,” he says.
The shooter twice exchanged gunfire with police from his car before crashing into a parked vehicle.
When officers approached him, the suspect “was dead of an apparent gunshot wound to the head,” according to the county sheriff Brown.
Police said they recovered a handgun from the car.
The shooting came just weeks before the end of the academic year, with some students preparing for graduation ceremonies while others were about to take final exams.
Located about 160km north-west of Los Angeles, the University of California Santa Barbara is home to over 20,000 undergraduate students, according to the institution’s website.
School shootings have become a tragic periodic occurrence in the United States in recent years, from the December 2012 massacre at Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 small children dead to the Virginia Tech college shooting in April 2007 in which 33 people, including the lone gunman, lost their lives.