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Ten years after the Isla Vista mass shooting, the killer's mother breaks her silence

The 10th anniversary of the tragic attack on Isla Vista is approaching
Zekai Wu
The 10th anniversary of the tragic attack on Isla Vista is approaching

The killer took the lives of six people and injured 14 others, by shooting, stabbing and ramming his victims with a car before fatally shooting himself.

Isla Vista California is a community which enjoys a Mediterranean climate, spectacular coastal views, and has a large student population.

"Isla Vista is kind of a unique place. It's right on the coast. It's a bluff top college town. I think it's about a square mile hugging up right against UC Santa Barbara's campus. You know, a little town center, kind of a village feel to it. And it's full of college students, about 23,000 students there," explained Mark Follman. He's a journalist who has spent years looking into mass shootings in America, including the one that shattered the community of Isla Vista in May 2014, and claimed the lives of six people and injured 14 others.

"The crime actually began with him stabbing three victims to death inside his apartment, and then he went out in his car with guns and a lot of ammunition, more than 500 rounds, and he drove to various locations in Isla Vista and opened fire," he said.

"The question of motive with mass shootings is almost always complicated. In these cases, it can be very difficult to explain in simple terms why a person does something so horrific. But I would say that the components that tie this together the most, as is the case in many mass shootings, is suicidality and extreme isolation, despair, anger and loneliness and kind of a perfect storm of circumstances around those things that build over time. But ultimately, this is an act of suicide," said Follman.

The killer’s mother has given an interview for the first time to Follman for Sunday's Reveal program.

"If you think about a person in the position of Chin Roger, his mother, and try to imagine what that would be like, especially for a parent who was trying so hard to help her son, along with his father, Peter. They were long divorced since he was a young child, but they were very aware of the significant problems he had throughout his life, and they did a lot to try to help him," said Follman.

"So imagine what it would feel like to be the parent who's tried to do that for so many years and who loves her son, and yet this happens and had not been able to see it coming at the time. She was very, very reluctant to speak about this and that was because she was very fearful that it could cause additional harm for the victims families. In some ways, she wouldn't even allow herself to grieve in the early going, because I think she felt that wasn't her right in light of the suffering of all the victims," he said.

It’s hoped that by talking about details of his life, there can be a new understanding of the attack and prevent similar violence in the future.

"If she shared her experience with threat assessment experts, which is what she has done in more recent years, that information could help build their knowledge," he said.

"We have significant systemic problems with mental health care in the United States. Obviously, we have major questions about regulating firearms or the lack of doing so that enables attacks like this so easily. And then there's also the cultural questions that come up. Is this about graphic violent entertainment or Hollywood, that's been around for decades as well, going back to the Columbine mass shooting in 1999, we've always had this kind of blame on cultural factors like violent entertainment. So it's a complex mix of answers or reasons, I think, as to why America has so much more of this problem than the rest of the world," said Follman.

You can hear the interview with Chin Rodger on Sunday’s Reveal, from 8-9pm.

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award in 2022 and 2023.

Since joining the station she's won 10 Golden Mike Awards, 5 Los Angeles Press Club Awards, 2 National Arts & Entertainment Awards and a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Writing.

She started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007.

She has lived in California for eleven years and is both an American and British citizen - and a very proud mom to her daughter, Elsie.