In California, a Nightmare with a Familiar Ring

by Rich Lowry

From the Treatment Advocacy Center: 

The deadly consequences of failing to heed threats of violence from young men known by their families to be psychiatrically unstable and dangerous are on tragic display in the mass shooting of 13 men and women near the University of California Santa Barbara on Friday night, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center.

Six victims and shooter Elliot Rodger, 22, were left dead; seven others were wounded, one with life-threatening injuries. Santa Barbara police have characterized the shootings as a “planned mass murder.”

“Once again, we are grieving over deaths and devastation caused by a young man who was sending up red flags for danger that failed to produce intervention in time to avert tragedy,” said Doris A. Fuller, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. “In this case, the red flags were so big the killer’s parents had called police – a desperate step of last resort for any parent – and yet the system failed.” 

California state law has provisions for emergency psychiatric evaluation of individuals who pose a serious threat of harm to self or others under qualifying conditions. Rodger’s father said through his attorney that his son was being seen by “multiple therapists.” The Rodger family had contacted law enforcement because of videos their son posted to YouTube “regarding suicide and the killing of people,” their lawyer told media. A social worker also had contacted police about him. A subsequent police interview found Rodger shy but a “perfectly polite, kind and wonderful human.” Officers previously had responded to two other calls involving Rodger this year.

“We cannot predict who will be violent, and we will never prevent all violence,” said Fuller. “But nobody knows better than family members when a loved one is unstable and dangerous. We have laws – like California’s  Laura’s Law – that are designed to protect individuals at risk and those around them. As long as we persist in overlooking the crucial input of families, misreading or ignoring red flags and not using our protective laws, innocent people will continue to suffer and die.”

Rodger’s family says mental illness issues are crucial to preventing tragedies like this one. “My client’s mission in life will be to try to prevent any such tragedies from ever happening again,” according to the family attorney. “This country, this world, needs to address mental illness and the ramifications from not recognizing these conditions.”

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