The gunman who has 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, reports say.
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.
“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 lawyer, 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”.
Ambulances and police cars swarmed the streets after the shooting.
Andrew Jun, a third-year economics and accounting student, said 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.
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 slut 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.
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.