It was Friday evening when the parents of Elliot Rodger clicked open the 140-page manifesto emailed to them from their son and learned of his plans for mass-murder and suicide. Frightened and alarmed, they called 911 and then raced north to Isla Vista, Calif., in separate cars from Los Angeles, desperate to stop him.
It was too late.
By the time they arrived, Rodger had killed six people, police said, and had died of a self-inflicted gunshot -- a display of violence that stunned the quiet ocean-side college town near Santa Barbara.
In truth, Rodger had been planning his "Day of Retribution," as he called it in that manifesto, for three years, from the summer day when he moved into a small apartment with two roommates, the first time he lived away from home. He had come hoping to escape the sexual rejections that he raged against through adolescence, but as he simmered at the happy couples walking down the streets, his thoughts turned from starting a new life to exacting revenge.
"I couldn't believe how wrong everything was turning out," Rodger, 22, wrote in the manifesto he sent out shortly before stabbing to death three people in his apartment, including his two roommates, who he described as "repulsive."
His parents' frantic trip to Isla Vista was just one missed chance to avert the tragedy. In this case, the parents' emergency call to the police and their arrival came well after the killing spree was over.
Only weeks earlier, in late April, deputies from the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office had stopped by Rodger's apartment at the request of state mental health officials, acting on an expression of concern by his mother. They left after being assured by a calm and polite Rodger that there was nothing to worry about. The officers reported that Rodger was shy and said that he was having difficulties in his social life, but that he did not need to be taken in for mental health reasons.
That left them little ground to act under California law. Because Rodger was never institutionalized because of his emotional problems, he was able to legally purchase the weaponry he used in the shooting.
Sometime after the police visit, Rodger -- who had already amassed a stockpile of weapons and ammunition in the apartment -- added a note to his manifesto: "If they had demanded to search my room that would have ended everything. For a few horrible seconds I thought it was all over."
His killing rampage was meticulously laid out, moving from an angry fantasy to a detailed mission over the course of three years. Rodger visited a shooting range for target practice in Oxnard, purchased three semi-automatic handguns (in case two of them jammed) at different gun stores, and scheduled and postponed the day of reckoning for the most logistical of reasons. At one point, he wanted to do it on Halloween 2013 but pulled back after determining police were out in extra force on that night.
"May 24th, 2014 was the final date," he wrote. "There is no postponing it anymore, no backing out. If I don't do this, then I only have a future filled with more loneliness and rejection ahead of me, devoid of sex, love, and enjoyment."
The sheriff's office identified the three remaining victims Sunday evening, all students at University of California, Santa Barbara. The first two were Rodger's roommates, Cheng Yuan Hong, 20, and George Chen, 19, both of San Jose, Calif. The third was Weiham Wang, 20, of Fremont, Calif. Two women killed in front of a sorority during Rodger's subsequent shooting spree were Katherine Breann Cooper, 22, of Chino Hills, Calif, and Veronika Elizabeth Weiss, 19, of Westlake Village, Calif. The sixth fatal attack was against Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, 20, of Los Osos, Calif.
Simon Astaire, who described himself as a longtime friend of Rodger's parents, who are divorced, described the parents as devastated. The father, Peter Rodger, is a Hollywood director.
"It's like everyone's unbearable nightmare," he said Sunday.
Mr. Astaire said Rodger's mother, Li Chin, opened an email from her son at 9:17 p.m. Friday, about 10 minutes before the shooting started, after getting an alarmed call from Rodger's therapist. Mr. Astaire said that she read the first four lines and went to Rodger's YouTube page, where she found a video pledging retribution that her son had posted the day before.
Mr. Astaire said she called her ex-husband -- who was at dinner with his wife and two friends in Los Angeles -- and then called 911. He said the two parents both began racing up to Isla Vista, which is about 13 miles from downtown Santa Barbara, arriving to learn of the killing spree.