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‘Virgin Killer’ Tragedy: Who Will ‘Own’ it? The PR Race Is On…
By: Jeannine Wheeler
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The UC Santa Barbara killings by a deranged young man were the ugly, senseless murder of six people and the injury of 13. No disagreement there. But who is to blame for this senseless tragedy? The 'PR blame game' is in full throttle.

Twenty-two-year-old perpetrator Elliot Rodger rampaged through the Southern California seaside town of Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara on Friday, May 23. In addition to his victims, he left behind a vile collection of YouTube videos and a 141-page Retribution Manifesto that promised to exact revenge on “the females of the human species who were incapable of seeing the value in me.”

Said Rodger, “For the last eight years of my life, ever since I’ve hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires — all because girls have never been attracted to me. In those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness.”

His revenge: the Isla Vista killings

“On the day of retribution,” seethed Rodger, “I am going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see inside there.”

He killed six, injured more and then shot himself.

Besides the pain and suffering of his victims’ friends and families, he leaves behind a wide-ranging debate over just who is to blame for the tragedy.  

The Blame Game

Many have joined in the hunt to identify the political pressure group or social anomaly that may have led to the killings, including:
  • The anti-gun lobby
  • The open-carry lobby
  • The violence-against-women lobby
  • The mental health-reform lobby
  • The police-bashing lobby
  • The anti-violence-in-movies-and-games lobby, and finally
  • The let’s-bash-the-parents lobby
First, a few of the widely reported facts: Elliot Rodger had Asperger's Syndrome and had been receiving mental health treatment since the age of eight; Rodger’s divorced parents Chin and Peter were aware of his increasingly agitated state and some of his angry video manifestos; Rodger had been visited in April by the Santa Barbara police after his mother reported strange behavior; the police visited but said they found a “perfectly polite, kind and wonderful human”; Rodger killed three of his victims with a knife, three with a gun and injured others with his car; Rodger was able to purchase his guns legally; Rodger’s manifesto included his desire to put women into concentration camps, with the vast majority “deliberately starved to death”; Rodger said he was a virgin and railed against “blond women who had caused him so much pain”; and finally, California is not a traditional open-carry state, with open carry generally prohibited (with some exceptions).

Pointing fingers

For those striving to use the killings for their own PR benefit, the facts of this case involve so many implications that they may not present a clear line of blame for any one advocacy group.

Proponents on either side have simply got yet one more devastating case study to support their views. For those observing the tragedy, where you stood before the killings is probably where exactly where you will stand after the killings.

Here’s just a sampling from the advocacy battlefield:

Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday wrote an editorial criticizing frat-boy films, which she says might have exacerbated Rodger’s stated frustration that he was still a virgin and had yet not even been kissed by a girl. 

"How many students watch outsized frat-boy fantasies like Neighbors and feel, as Rodger did, unjustly shut out of college life that should be full of 'sex and fun and pleasure'?” asked Hornaday.

“How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies, in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, 'It's not fair'?”

Concluded Hornaday: "Movies may not reflect reality, but they powerfully condition what we desire, expect and feel we deserve from it."

Hollywood shot right back. Comedic actor Seth Rogen called Hornaday’s piece "horribly insulting and misinformed" after she called out his latest hit for fueling the disenchantment felt by the ‘virgin son’ of Hunger Games second-unit director Peter Rodger.

Judd Apatow, producer and director of such hits as Bridesmaids and Knocked Up, called the editorial “self-promotional and idiotic,” saying: "Why is it always everything but mental illness? Because that doesn't sell papers."

Guns and violence debate

Richard Martinez’s 20-year-old son, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, was one of the six people killed in the rampage. Martinez spoke out strongly against rampant gun ownership and vowed to join the fight to curtail gun-owners’ rights.

“Nobody needs to own three semi-automatic handguns,” he said. “It doesn't make sense. We don't let people have nuclear bombs in their basements. Why? Because it's too dangerous.

“Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA,” Martinez told reporters outside the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, appearing on the verge of collapse. “They talk about gun rights, what about Chris’ right to live? When will this insanity stop?”

And he didn’t just blame gun violence.

“We don't think there's a magic cure for the problem of gun violence in America. The solution to the problem of gun violence in America will take a lot of people working on different aspects of the problem: mental health, violence and the intimidation of women. Our son was killed, but we haven't lost sight of the fact that the shooter's anger was directed at young women. What happened has become another shameful part of a history of violence against women and needs to be addressed,” said Martinez.

What started as a single tweet has exploded into a powerful social media campaign to fight the misogyny Rodger displayed in his chilling manifesto.

The #YesAllWomen hashtag campaign is still trending on Twitter and includes comments by both women and men, calling for an end to violence and misogyny.

Others speculated that ‘the virgin killer’ had been addicted to the muscle-building supplement Creatine; others that he was witness to pornography at a young age and violent movies throughout.

Where were the caretakers?

Others think the parents and others could have done more to prevent Rodger’s actions.

According to the family’s lawyer, Rodger’s father and other family members had seen his disturbing, suicide-and-murder-referencing videos online weeks before the spree. His mother had reportedly warned the police, prompting a visit to his apartment on April 30.

The police, however, did not act. “They determined that he did not meet the criteria for an involuntary mental health hold,” said Deputy Sheriff Bill Brown.

Said Rodger in his manifesto following the visit: “If they had demanded to search my room, that would have ended everything.”

If the police could not have prevented the murders, could the killings have been stopped by mental health officials?

Under California law, psychotherapists have a ‘duty to protect’ and are required to report ‘a serious threat of physical violence against a reasonably identifiable victim’ to local law enforcement within 24 hours. The law, which used to require therapists to ‘immediately report’ the identity of a threatening patient, was amended in October 2013 to better define the timeline to one full day.

Investigators are working to determine communication between Rodger’s therapist, his parents and authorities to get a complete picture of what took place before the killings.

How about other gun owners?

“While we deeply sympathize with Richard Martinez in his grief,” wrote Bob Owens of the advocacy group Bearing Arms, “his blame-shifting and scapegoating of the NRA is absurd. Blaming the NRA for the deaths of the three victims that were shot to death makes about as much sense as blaming the National Knife Collectors Association for the stabbing deaths of Rodger’s first three victims, or the National Automotive Dealers Association for those four innocent souls injured because Rodger plowed through crowds with his car.”

Added Owens, “When will Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown stop his de facto ban on issuing concealed carry permits, which ensured that everyone in the path of Elliot Rodger was a disarmed victim?”

Rodger himself didn’t seem to care how or with which weapon he killed his victims.

“I had already planned to use the Mercedes SUV as one of my weapons on the Day of Retribution,” he says in his Retribution Manifesto, “since Isla Vista on weekend nights was always filled with my enemies walking right in the middle of the road. They would be easy targets.”

Whether knife, gun or car; movies, misogyny or mental health; Creatine, pornography or Hollywood — for the primary proponents of this debate — the PR war is only just heating up.

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About the Author
Jeannine Wheeler is a PR Director who has worked in three countries, including Russia, the US and the UK. She is currently Sr. Vice President of Pure Energy PR, a full-service boutique communications firm with a focus on the energy, healthcare, technology, construction, real estate & land development, tourism & hospitality and food & beverage industries. Jeannine is in the firm's Austin, Texas office.
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