It’s been over a week since John Doe (name withheld in order to protect the privacy of the accused) went on a rage-fueled killing spree in Isla Vista, leaving lives and families destroyed in his wake. The incident has left the public with quite a few questions, especially since it is now known that his parents were aware of the melancholy and violent videos he’d posted on YouTube. More importantly, law enforcement officials spoke to him 3 weeks before the attacks and his subsequent suicide. Based on a report in SFGate, the sheriff’s deputies that spoke to him did not check to see whether he owned guns, 2 guns were registered to him at that time. Additionally, the police did not bother to check out the YouTube videos posted by him, even though his parents had alerted them to their existence.
Could this terrible string of senseless murders have been prevented? Californians are asking the same questions that they did in 1969 when Tatiana Tarasoff was murdered by a fellow student (CA Penal Code 187), Prosenjit Poddar, after the police were instructed twice to pick him up and take him into custody so that he could be involuntarily hospitalized in a psychiatric ward. The issues are clearly a bit different in this new case, but the actions of the police are similar. The police spoke to Poddar as well and he was able to convince them, just like John Doe, that there was nothing for them to worry about. They were convinced, but they were also wrong to take the word of an individual over the evidence or behest of a professional or parent.
The deputies questioned him about the videos, though they had not seen them and accepted his explanation that he was simply a disgruntled college student blowing off some steam. However, clearly he was serious as he stabbed his three roommates to death and then drove off in his BMW toward a local sorority house, killing 6 people total by the time he shot himself. California citizens and lawmakers are now considering, not only a full review of what occurred in this particular case, but also changes in how such situations are managed. They ask whether or not the subjective viewpoints of one or two police officers are good enough. What real changes will result remains to be seen.