Seattle Pacific shooting: Despite 'rage inside,' Aaron Ybarra found 'not detainable'

New details about the attack at Seattle Pacific University indicate that Aaron Ybarra had long struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues. Still, authorities did not find reason to detain him.

Elaine Thompson/AP
Shooting suspect Aaron Ybarra is led in chains to a court hearing at a King County Jail courtroom Friday in Seattle. Ybarra was arrested in the killing of a 19-year-old student and wounding of two other young people Thursday at Seattle Pacific University.

Aaron Ybarra, the young man charged with leaving a violent trail at Seattle Pacific University on Thursday, told a police dispatcher in 2010 that he had a “rage inside” – the first recorded evidence of what police say became a plan to take as many lives as he could before killing himself.

As it was, Mr. Ybarra, police allege, killed one student and injured two others – one very seriously – before a fast-thinking student, 22-year-old Jon Meis, took advantage of Ybarra reloading the weapon and pepper-sprayed him. Meis and other students then pounced on the shooter, disarming him. Ybarra had brought 50 shotgun shells.

New details emerging about the build-up to the attack indicate Ybarra had long struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues, although the former community college student, his friends said, had seemed to be turning his life around. He was twice evaluated by psychiatrists, but was found “not detainable” after his mother refused to have him admitted.

Ybarra had in 2010 called 911 in a drunken stupor, telling a dispatcher that he had a “rage inside” and wanted to commit suicide. “He wanted to hurt himself and others,” according to a Mountlake Terrace police report. In 2012, police found him drunk in the street where Ybarra said he hoped a “SWAT team would make him famous.”

In 2011, Ybarra took himself to an emergency room, telling staff that he got scared after hearing the voice of Columbine High School shooter Eric Harris in his head, telling him to hurt people. He was not detained.

He “feels he identifies with one of the Columbine killers, whom he identified as Eric Harris,” counselor Deldene J. Garner wrote later in a chemical dependency assessment filed in Edmonds Municipal Court, according to the Seattle Times.

The shooting was the second in a short span on the West Coast, coming only days after college student Elliot Rodger stabbed to death three people in his apartment before going on a drive-by shooting rampage near the University of California’s Santa Barbara campus, killing three more college students before shooting himself.

Mr. Rodger had written a long manifesto titled “A Day of Retribution” in which he vowed to take vengeance against the world for a variety of societal wrongs he perceived had been levied against him, including being ignored by women. Like Ybarra, police had investigated Rodger, but found no reason to have him detained for psychological evaluation.

It’s impossible to draw any kind of firm connections between the perpetrators in a series of shootings on college campuses and by college students in recent years. But patterns of narcissism, mental instability, and a building, often undefined “rage” against the world are often factors in school shooting situations.

Peter Langman, author of “Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters,” told Lehigh University last year that school shooters often face a “slow build” to violence that’s eventually precipitated by a single event, such as being “rejected by a girl.”

“They are planning it, and it builds and builds,” he said. “Sometimes the shooters have role models for violence. They look at Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine High School as a role model or Charles Manson or Hitler. They get into various ideologies that would support violence as appropriate. There are a lot of things coming together.”

“But you don’t have an ordinary kid who wakes up one day and becomes a mass murderer.”

Ramonda Brandes, Ybarra's lawyer, said in a statement after Friday's court hearing that "Mr. Ybarra suffers from significant and long-standing mental health issues, including delusions, that were in play during yesterday's tragedy."

The statement went on: "I do not know at this point in time why Mr. Ybarra's illness brought him to Seattle Pacific University, but I can tell you that he recognizes the suffering of the victims and their families. He is sorry for their pain."

The fact that American colleges and their 20-something charges again and again become the focus of school shooting situations has begun to stir questions among at least some college students about what’s going on. Southern California college student Haylee Barber wrote in USA Today on Saturday that she can’t help but “wonder if a new type of civil war is upon us.” 

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