What made a student mow down five people, leaving bloodshed and tragedy in his wake?


It was a typical Friday night in Isla Vista, USA. The little town was rife with students from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Youngsters were out, having a good time.

But at around 11pm on 23 February 2001, the bustling Sabado Tarde Road descended into carnage.

A black Saab car sped along the street at 60mph, ploughing into pedestrians.

Bodies went flying.

One man was knocked out of his shoes and socks.

When the car finally came to a standstill, it was a mangled, crumpled mess.

In its wake it’d left twisted metal, blood and bodies… Five innocent people had been hit.

Nicholas Shaw Bourdakis, Christopher Divis, Ruth Levy, all 20, and 27-year-old Ellie Israel were all killed.

Albert Levy, 27, Ruth’s brother, was injured permanently.

People rushed to help, and when they approached the vehicle, the driver jumped out.

Leaping onto the car, he put up his arms in a boxing stance.

‘I am the angel of death!’ he screamed.

A crowd managed to stop him fleeing – and when police arrived, he was arrested.

But who was this ‘angel of death’? And what had made him carry out such a brutal massacre?

Ellie Israel

The killer was David Attias, 18, a student at the nearby college.

Son of TV director Daniel Attias and book editor Diana Attias, he’d had a privileged upbringing.

His father worked on well-known US shows such as The Sopranos and Homeland.

But it seemed David had been troubled from a young age.

He struggled to walk, and saw a speech therapist at 4. Yet it was another three years before David could speak properly.

According to his mother, he’d frequently lick other kids and stare into space.

David later received many diagnoses, ranging from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar, to budding schizophrenia.

He was given medication to control his behaviour.

Nicholas Bourdakis (Photo: Getty Images)

Then, aged 13, he reportedly attempted to strangle his sister.

At their wits’ end, Attias’ parents sent him to the UCLA Medical Centre to receive some specialist help.

On his release, David Attias got good grades at high school and passed his exams. His future finally looked promising…

Though, as he got older he found it difficult to make friends, have relationships.

He began experimenting with illegal drugs, too.

At college, his peers labelled him ‘Crazy Dave’ and ‘Tweaker’ because of his weird, erratic behaviour.

They said he’d bang on the doors of women in his dormitory in the middle of the night.

‘He seemed to always be bouncing off the walls,’ one of his peers said in a Press interview after his arrest. ‘When he was excited, he would flail his arms and his whole body would shake…You could really tell he wasn’t really with it.’

Some said he had a strained relationship with his father.

Christopher Divis (Photo: Getty Images)

Another of his peers recalled an incident when David Attias had read her a letter from his father.

She described Attias as agitated, and said he repeated, ‘My dad’s a f****** a*******.’

Apparently the letter from Attias’ father said he wasn’t happy about his son having the Saab, was worried about his safety, and was concerned he wasn’t taking his medication.

It also said that Attias could keep the car on the condition he saw a psychiatrist.

The letter seemed to anger David Attias. And, just weeks later, he sped his Saab along a busy street, stealing the lives of innocent people, and declaring himself the ‘angel of death’.

But had his anger towards his parents really triggered the outburst? Was he a spoilt teen, rebelling? Or was he a deeply troubled individual who needed help?

In May 2002, David Attias appeared in court charged with murder.

Ruth Levy (Photo: Getty Images)

His defence claimed he was insane at the time of the fatal incident and didn’t know what he was doing.

Just before the massacre, his dorm mates reportedly noticed Attias was deluded, believing he was a prophet and that the rap lyrics he listened to contained messages from God.

Apparently, on that February night, he was convinced he had to lose his virginity or he’d die.

But prosecutors argued David Attias was a violent drug addict who intentionally knocked down his victims.

The jury had to decide…

Attias was found not guilty by reasons of insanity and was sent to a state mental health hospital.

The jury’s insanity verdict outraged many of the relatives of the people killed.

They’d hoped for life in jail and expressed fear that Attias would get out of a mental hospital much sooner.

In 2012, their fears were realised when Attias was granted conditional release from Patton State Mental Hospital to an outpatient treatment programme.

Because Attias was found not guilty, he’s not classified as a felon or required by

law to notify prospective employers of his past.

Doubts still persist among the victims’ families about whether Attias was ever insane, whether his time in an institution changed him, or if the ‘angel of death’ will strike once more…