SANTA BARBARA, California (Reuters) - A gunman killed six people and wounded seven others in a drive-by shooting in a Southern California college town, spraying bullets from his car until it crashed and he was found dead inside, authorities said on Saturday.
Authorities were investigating a possible link between the Friday night shooting in the town of Isla Vista near the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara and a threatening video posted online.
In the YouTube video, which Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown said appears to have been made by the suspected gunman, a young man bitterly complains of loneliness and rejection by women and says he plans to kill people.
Witnesses to the violence reported seeing someone driving a black BMW through the streets and shooting at people in Isla Vista, a beachside community where many college students live.
“It’s obviously the work of a madman,” Brown told a news conference. “There’s going to be a lot more information that will come out that will give a clearer picture of just how disturbed this individual was.”
Seven people died in the rampage, including the suspect, Brown said. Brown has not publicly named the suspect but a lawyer for the suspected gunman’s family tentatively identified him as Elliot Rodger, son of a Hollywood director.
“I cannot confirm that but we believe it,” the attorney, Alan Shifman, told reporters outside the family home in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. “But the police would not give us 100 percent (certainty).”
“We offer our deepest, compassionate sympathy to the families involved in this terrible tragedy,” Shifman told reporters, reading from a prepared statement on behalf of the family. “We are experiencing the most inconceivable pain and our hearts go out to everyone involved.”
The suspected gunman’s father was Peter Rodger, an assistant director on 2012 film “The Hunger Games.”
The New York Times quoted Shifman as saying that Rodger’s parents had called the police about a month ago to express concerns about his YouTube videos “regarding suicide and the killing of people.” The newspaper quoted Shifman as saying police officers had interviewed Rodger but concluded he posed no danger. Shifman said they had found him to be a “perfectly polite, kind and wonderful human,” the Times said.
Brown said deputies had twice exchanged fire with the suspected gunman on Friday night before his vehicle crashed and the suspect was found dead inside of a gunshot wound to the head. Brown could not say if he was killed by deputies or died of a self-inflicted wound.
A semi-automatic handgun was recovered from the scene, Brown said.
California’s KEYT-TV reported that the suspected gunman’s apartment complex was also a crime scene and that three bodies had been removed from the site. Authorities could not immediately confirm the report and there was no immediate word whether the bodies were included in the existing death toll.
The YouTube video police were studying showed a young man who identified himself as Elliot Rodger pouring out his hatred of women who have rejected him and “popular kids,” and threatening to kill people out of loneliness and sexual frustration.
“You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime,” he said in the video, his speech punctuated by bursts of laughter.
The video appeared to have been uploaded to YouTube on Friday night, shortly before the shooting. “It would appear that is connected,” Brown said.
YouTube has since removed the video, posting in its place a notice saying it violated its terms of service. A spokeswoman for Google, which owns YouTube, was not available for comment.
The identities of those killed in the rampage were withheld pending notification of their families, and there was no immediate word on the condition of the wounded.
But Richard Martinez told reporters that his 20-year-old son Christopher, a UCSB English major who wanted to go to law school, was killed while buying his dinner in a deli store that came under fire by the gunman.
“Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA,” an emotional Martinez told reporters outside the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. “They talk about gun rights, what about Chris’ right to live? When will this insanity stop?”
Robert Johnson, a 21-year-old UCSB student, said he first noticed trouble after a car drove past him at a busy Isla Vista intersection and he then heard “popping noises” that he originally mistook for firecrackers or the car backfiring.
“Then the sound came again, and by that point it had pulled up in front of a convenience store deli, and someone in the car was firing into a crowd of about eight, 10 people that were gathered in front of the store,” he said.
“Everyone that was being fired upon, they all jumped and scrambled to run inside the store,” he said.
The car had darkly tinted windows and the occupant was not visible, Johnson said.
College student Brad Martin told a UCSB student newspaper that his girlfriend was “absolutely hysterical” after being approached by the gunman with a weapon she initially was not sure was real.
“She said the next second he raised it up to her face ... and she turned around and started running,” Martin told the Daily Nexus. “That’s when she heard ‘bang, bang, bang’ right behind her as she was running.”
University of California President Janet Napolitano, formerly U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, said she was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the shooting near the campus.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this tragedy, their families and the entire Santa Barbara community,” she said in a statement.
The incident was the latest mass shooting in the United States, where schools, shopping malls and military bases have been scenes of such crimes.
Last month, a gunman killed three people and himself at the Fort Hood U.S. Army base in Texas, where another gunman killed 13 people in 2009.
In December 2012, 20 children and six adults were killed in a mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Six months before that, a gunman killed 14 people in a Denver-area movie theater.
The deadliest U.S. mass shooting in modern times was in 2007, when a student at Virginia Tech killed 32 people in a shooting spree.
Some 23,000 people live in Isla Vista. Many are students at UCSB, which has an enrollment of about 22,000, or at Santa Barbara City College.
Additional reporting by Cynthia Johnston, Peter Cooney, Jonathan Allen and Jonathan Alcorn, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Frances Kerry and Bill Trott