Investigators weren't sure what they were dealing with. Was is someone acting erratically, or someone truly capable of gunning down hundreds of people at Soka University?
Orange County Sheriff's Department investigators say it was Nov. 1 when a call came in from someone at the Aliso Viejo campus. Authorities knew 39-year-old David Kenneth Smith had been a student at the small liberal arts college, but that was nine years ago.
Smith had been emailing a staff member back and forth. What started off as "cordial" exchanges escalated and became more "threatening," said OCSD Lt. John Macpherson.
On YouTube, Smith posted rants about dorm life, about his job as a journalist and, oddly, about mass shootings. In one video, Smith is inside a bathtub, a handgun resting on his chest.
"Every day I wake up the same way. Am I going to go on a killing spree with you f-----g people? Man, I don't know," Smith says in another video, shirtless and staring at the camera. "Every time there's a shooting it's black and white evidence that your society is failing and has failed because people wouldn't be killing people otherwise, you see."
For the next 48 hours, the investigation moved quickly and at times around the clock. Terrorism and intelligence experts were brought in. Authorities learned Smith was unemployed and lived with his mother. He had no criminal record.
Crucially, they also learned Smith had a cache of weapons, all legally registered to him. A judge issued an arrest warrant and Smith was arrested Nov. 3 at his West Hollywood apartment.
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"If he had followed through, it could have been tragic," Macpherson said. "Maybe it wasn't Soka; maybe he was angry at somebody else. It could have been tragic, and it could have been much worse."
Investigators are currently looking at Smith's phone and computer records for more possible evidence. They applaud the university for calling them and not ignoring what could have turned out very differently.
"Because everybody took it seriously and did a great job, a tragedy was averted," Macpherson said.