California shootings: Elliot Rodger's revealed as a cripplingly shy boy whose sense of alienation drove him over the edge
Elliot Rodger’s own musings shed light on the mental deterioration that culminated in his shooting spree
Staring calmly at the camera, a smile playing across his lips and blonde highlights in his elfin hair, Elliot Rodger looks much like any other carefree, innocent child. But according to “My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger” – the 137-page document that the 22-year-old is believed to have written in the weeks leading up to Friday’s horrific killing spree – by the time the childhood photograph was taken, he was already tormented by profound loneliness, and by the nagging feeling that he was destined to be an outcast.
Born into a wealthy family in south London, Rodger had what appears to have been an idyllic start in life, moving to the Sussex countryside where he attended Dorset House, a fee-paying school on the South Downs. In his writing, he described the area fondly, recalling time spent with his grandparents, and the day he learned to fly a kite on the rolling hills with his father, Peter. Sussex, he wrote, “was where I spent my early childhood the first five years of my life, and it was beautiful”.
Yet even in the midst of happiness he developed a sense of social exclusion that would intensify in later years. Describing his time at Dorset House, he complained that the school was “too strict”. He recalled: “My least favourite part of it was the football sessions. I never understood the game and I could never keep up with the other boys…”
It was to this period that he frequently returned in his thoughts, describing his experiences on the school sports field as “the first inkling of my shortcomings”. Those shortcomings would eventually give way to feelings of alienation and self-pity, which came to manifest themselves in a hatred of women, whom Rodger believed had slighted and ignored him.
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His time in England ended abruptly when his father’s film-making career took the family to the US west coast. According to his manifesto, it was a transition with which he never really came to terms: “I have no memories of what happened on my fifth birthday,” he wrote. “Shortly after it, we were making plans to permanently move to the United States… On my last day at Dorset House… my mother came to pick me up early. I said goodbye to all the friends I had there. That was the last time I saw them.”
Rodger’s parents’ divorce, shortly after his seventh birthday, appeared to affect him deeply. “I believe it was my mother who told me that she and my father were getting a divorce; my mother, who only a few months before told me that such a thing will never happen,” he recalled. “I was absolutely shocked, outraged, and above all, overwhelmed. This was a huge life-changing event... a very sad day.”
His “last period of contentment”, he claimed, came in the years before he entered his teens. Elliot Rodger, far left, with his film director father, second from left, at a premiere
But by then he had already been scarred by the divorce. “The family I grew up with has split in half,” he wrote, “and from then on I would grow up in two different households. I remember crying. All the happy times I spent with my mother and father as a family were gone.”
After his father remarried, Rodger wrote that his relationship with his step-mother, the Moroccan-born French actress Soumaya Akaaboune, became increasingly tense. He also began to find social interaction difficult. His paranoia left him adrift from society and unable to forge meaningful friendships.
Feeling rejected by his peers and, later, most markedly, by young women, a quiet hatred grew inside him. “I was like a nomad, moving from group to group and trying to fit in with each one, but never fully integrating,” he wrote. “I feared the cool kids didn’t regard me as one of them. Despite all of my attempts to be cool, I didn’t feel as if the other kids respected me as such. I was still quite the outcast, as I always will be.”
One of the most unusual elements of the lengthy document is the record of his encounters with a girl of around his own age, who is understood to be the daughter of a British musician. She would, he wrote, “eventually come to represent everything I hate and despise; everything that is against me, everything that I’m against. I was playing innocently with this girl. We even took baths together; it was the only time in my life that I would see a girl my age naked.”
By 13, Rodger stated, he was known as the “weird kid” at his school. He saw all girls as “mean, cruel, and heartless creatures that took pleasure in my suffering”. He retreated deeper and deeper into the world of online role-playing games, his favourite being World of Warcraft, which he would play for hours, according to the manifesto.
His account of his later teen years reveals a descent into utter inner turmoil, as he fixates on his lack of opportunity, relative to his peers. “I loved attending exclusive events; it made me feel special,” he wrote of a Katy Perry concert he went to in 2012, adding that he felt a “bitter form of envy at all of the rich kids at concert… They grew up in lavish mansions, indulged in excessive opulence, and will never have to worry about anything in their pleasurable, hedonistic lives. I would take great pleasure in watching all of those rich families burn alive.”
Rodger recalled how he had worried at the time that the police would discover his mass-killing plans. “I had the striking and devastating fear that someone had somehow discovered what I was planning to do, and reported me for it. If that was the case, the police would have searched my room, found all of my guns and weapons, along with my writings about what I plan to do with them. I would have been thrown in jail, denied the chance to exact revenge on my enemies. I can’t imagine a hell darker than that. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, but it was so close,” he wrote.
Yet officers did go to his flat – to check on his personal welfare at the request of his concerned family: “The police interrogated me outside for a few minutes, asking me if I had suicidal thoughts. I tactfully told them that it was all a misunderstanding, and they finally left,” he wrote. “For a few horrible seconds I thought it was all over. When they left, the biggest wave of relief swept over me. It was so scary.”
Rodger also wrote that he had originally considered carrying out his murderous plan on Valentine’s Day. He then chose 26 April, but was forced to postpone his rampage when he came down with a cold.
His parting words betray no suggestion of last-minute reflection. Pages and pages of violent, misogynistic ramblings end with a promise to follow through: “I didn’t start this war. I wasn’t the one who struck first. But I will finish it by striking back. I will punish everyone. And it will be beautiful. Finally, at long last, I can show the world my true worth.”
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