Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Sunday that deputies were convinced that the gunman who killed six innocent people and himself during a shooting rampage in Isla Vista on Friday wasn't a threat following a welfare check at his home last month.
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Concerned family members of gunman Elliot Rodger contacted mental health professionals in April, Brown said. When his agency was notified, deputies were sent to check on Rodger.
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"He convinced them that it was all a misunderstanding," Brown told NBC4. Though Rodger told deputies that he was having social problems and was likely going to leave school, "he was able to convince them that he was not a threat to himself or to anyone else at the time."
On Friday, Rodger stabbed three people in his apartment and then killed three more in a killing spree that stretched for several blocks in the small beachside community.
Authorities hope to learn from the miscues between Santa Barbara County's mental health services and law enforcement to prevent tragedies like this from happening again, Brown said.
Dr. Judy Ho, a licensed clinical psychologist who did not treat Rodger, said this tragedy points to the serious flaws of expecting law enforcement and gun store owners to recognize mental health issues.
"I think they have the broad picture but they're not mental health specialists, and that's the difficult part," she said. "The system expects the police to actually have that burden, and I don't know if they're the ones who should be ultimately responsible for making that decision."
In Ventura County, the sheriff's office has spearheaded a unique program called the Crisis Intervention Team, which trains its deputies to better recognize individuals who may be in need of a mental health help when responding to welfare checks.
"It's more of a conversation, more of a lengthier interview," said Capt. Don Aguilar of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office. "They're a useful resource for other deputies out there. They can call the Crisis Intervention Team out to the scene and have a little more in-depth assessment of what's going on."
- Timeline: Isla Vista Mass Shooting
The CIT program has been in place in Ventura County since 2001 and is the only one of its kind in the state, according to authorities.
“It’s a delicate balance that has to be achieved because you want to be able to intervene, you want to be able to prevent something like this,” Brown said. “You also want to encourage people to seek mental health treatment, and if you stigmatize people by placing restrictions on them... that actually serves as a deterrent for people seeking mental health treatment.”
Prior to the rampage, Rodger recounted his life in detail, dwelling on rejection by women and laying out his plans for vengeance. His plans for the rampage are detailed in the manifesto, including steps to kill people first at his apartment, then throughout Isla Vista before taking his own life.