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Gamer’s Deadly Carjacking Spree Mirrors Popular Video Game

Authorities say Ali Syed of Ladera Ranch was a gaming "freak." His lethal behavior may have mimicked Grand Theft Auto.

MISSION VIEJO, CA -- To video game aficionados, Tuesday morning's deadly carjacking rampage was eerily familiar.

A man shoots a woman several times in his home in the early morning hours and flees the scene in an SUV. After his tire goes flat in a parking lot, he exits with a shotgun.

Seeing the threat, another driver guns it, gets shot in the head, but still manages to drive away.

The shooter runs to a nearby gas station and steals a pickup. He takes the truck onto the freeway, blasting three vehicles with his gun before crashing on an off-ramp.

Finding an elderly man inside a luxury car, the shooter forces him from the vehicle at gunpoint, then shoots him three times.

The killer steals the luxury car, drives to another parking lot, fatally shoots another man in the head, then steals his car and heads back to the freeway.

The police alert is high. Once authorities close in, the killer shoots himself in the head.

Game over.

All of these events, which took place Tuesday morning in Orange County, can also happen in the open-world video game Grand Theft Auto.

‘Gamer Freak’

In the aftermath of Ali Syed's deadly rampage, investigators seized the computer in his Ladera Ranch bedroom, according to Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino. The device is now waiting in line behind Christopher Dorner's computer at the Orange County Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory in Orange, he said.

In the absence of a suicide note or obvious motive, investigators hope the computer holds clues. In particular, detectives are searching for connections between Syed, 20, and his first victim, Courtney Aoki, an aspiring actress from Buena Park who also worked for an escort service, according to KTLA News. They're also trying to piece together why Syed might have gone on a murderous carjacking rampage that left four dead, including himself.

Part of the answer could involve video games such as Grand Theft Auto. Amormino wouldn't say which video games were stored on Syed's computer, but said there were several. He also described Syed as a "gamer freak" who studied computers at Saddleback College.

Rockstar Controversy

Grand Theft Auto is one of the most popular and violent video games of the last decade.

"It’s basically a game where you run around a city like L.A. or San Francisco, and you’re a hitman type of guy working for different gangs," said Ross Watters, a 25-year-old Costa Mesa resident who played the game as a teenager, when it debuted.

There are prostitutes, murders, violence and carjackings, Watters said. Although the plotline bears a close resemblance to Syed's crime spree, Watters said, he thinks it’s a stretch to imply a violent video game could lead to real-life violence.

"I grew up playing all that kind of stuff, and I don’t go around shooting people," Watters said. "I think someone who would do that has underlying mental issues."

A spokesman for Take Two Interactive Software Inc., the company behind the video game, did not return calls for comment.

The company has long been a target for critics of videogame violence. In 2009, lawyers for an 18-year-old accused of killing police officers in an Alabama shooting spree blamed Grand Theft Auto for the teen’s actions. The National Institute Of Media And The Family issued a warning about violence in the game.

In 2005, hackers discovered an otherwise inaccessible mini-game in GTA San Andreas, the bestselling video game in the U.S. in 2004. The hack allowed players to simulate sex with the main character's girlfriends.

Called the "hot coffee mod" controversy, the discovery led lawmakers to take a closer look at the video game industry. Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton said, "The widespread availability of sexually explicit and graphically violent video games makes the challenge of parenting much harder."

She called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the game.

Grand Theft Auto V, a new version of the game set in a fictional Southern California city called Los Santos, will be ready for release this year, according to a press release by Rockstar Games.

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK IN THE COMMENTS

is it fair to link video game violence with real life crimes?

OC Patch staff contributed to this report.

JustUs February 23, 2013 at 07:31 PM
" We should blame the person at fault." Most people do blame Syed, Daisy. I do. But I will not be willfully blind and not consider the fact that a violent video game may have sparked a fuse inside this sick individual to act out his demented fantasies on society. Listen, Syed's criminal rampage was very similar to what one might see on popular violent video games. The similarities are eerie. You must acknowledge that. All of us need to be honest here. I am not saying all violent video games should be banned. All I am saying is let's face the truth....that Syed may have been acting out his sick fantasies that he learned from a violent video game, okay??? Please, denial is a terrible thing.
Darkanuon February 23, 2013 at 07:36 PM
I'm sorry for those that lost their life. But let’s cut the c$@p people Grand Theft Auto did not me this guy go crazy and do horrible things his mental illness did. I am 31 and have been a fan of video games ever since the NES. I am sick of people blaming games for the horrors of life. This is what happens when the mentally ill are not given the help they need. I have A.D.H.D. and have been a fan of the G.T.A. sires and other controversial games like Carmageddon, DOOM, Duke Nukem 3D. I have never had the urge to shoot, run-over or otherwise harm another living soul. So let’s all grow up and place the responsibility where it belongs. In the families of those with mental illness for falling to take the responsibility and making sure they get the proper treatment and making sure they stick to their medical treatment.
JustUs February 23, 2013 at 07:40 PM
As usual, you make good solid points, Leah P. I commend you for being such a deep thinker, btw. Most people fail to think and go through life like automotons. You actually think and use the brainpower that God gave you. I like that. I am not blaming violent video games, Leah P. If you read my previous comments you would see that. I said that people like Syed were probably very damaged goods before they ever watched a violent video. The violent video just gives them sick ideas. And as sick individuals a certain percentage may act those sick ideas out in everyday society. I supposed there are convicted rapists (perhaps many) who got hooked on violent pornographic materials and acted their fantasies out in real life causing incredibly damage to innocent humans and then ending up in jail. Now these rapists may have been very damaged goods from the time that they were children from troubled upbringings. But viewing the violent pornographic images sparked something inside to unleash their sick fantasies on innocent people. I make perfect sense, Leah P. I am not saying that we should ban all violent videos. I am only saying let's be honest and acknowledge what may have given Syed some ideas and lit his sick fuse. Ok? Can we agree on that?
Rick McGrath February 23, 2013 at 07:57 PM
Violence on another human is the most obscene thing a person can do. As a society, we agree that sexual images are harmful to impressionable young minds. We can't we see that the glorification of violence is also harmful?
JustUs February 23, 2013 at 08:05 PM
"Alleging a capitalist conspiracy that protects animation studios, Hollywood, and the video game industry is sort of the opposite of neutrality." The fact of the matter is that Hollywood contributed MANY MANY MILLIONS of dollars to politicians in form of political campaign contributions to get what they want. The last thing Hollywood wants is for our lawmakers to restrict violence on the screen. And their payoffs guarantee that. Again, you can accept or reject that....but it is the truth. Think about this. The lawmakers enacted laws against child pornography. They did this for a specific reason - not to encourage pedophiles to act out their fantasies on children. These are good solid laws and any respectable human would support them. Now, if a pedophile viewing child pornography would increase the likelihood that he would assault children, why would violent images on a violent video not encourage SICK INDIVIDUALS from unleashing their sick fantasies on society? Again, this might be a small percentage of people who watch violent videos - remember, they must be EMOTIONAL BASKETCASES from the start - but the violent video may have lit his fuse. Politicians certainly protect those who give them MILLIONS AND MILLIONS in political contributions. Anyone who believes otherwise is a fool. Sorry. I must be honest.
JustUs February 23, 2013 at 08:13 PM
"I am 31 and have been a fan of video games ever since the NES. I am sick of people blaming games for the horrors of life." The violent video games many not have affected (infected) you like they infected Syed. Certain people are going to act their fantasies out after viewing this garbage. That's the absolute truth. That is one of the primary reason that child pornography is unlawful. Very sick individuals watch it and act their fantasies out. This is simply undeniable. Again, I do not necessarily support an outright ban on all violent video games. But that will not preclude me from acknowledging the facts and the truth.
That Guy February 23, 2013 at 08:22 PM
I live in Ca, its filled over the top with shady characters. But there are bad people everywhere. Take Notice America, Ca is supposed to be one of the most tightly regulated gun law states. All the laws did was allow others to die, before police responce (10-15min average). I am a young firearm owner & in most cases I have my trunk gun for this kind of madness that plauges our society today. Although in CA with my gun in the trunk I can not say I could have stopped it if i were there. Only because it is ca law that I store Ammo & Guns seperate in a vehicle. If I were on scene and saw a shooter i would then have to grab ammo from the front, hop out of my car, pop the trunk & load my rifle. If I was in a life death situation such as this one, Rest Assured America I would be DEAD... For the sake of gun control... Good Day
Mech February 23, 2013 at 08:32 PM
I can only dare to guess but if we were to look at the 'family' unity here in the states as compared to that of the rest of the world we might get a glimpse into the making of the unstable mental collapses we witness when one of these events occurs. The divorce rate in the states on average is about 55% today which far outpaces other countries. With broken homes comes broken psyches. Single parents have far less time than couples have to become engaged with, and reenforce positive behavior coming from their children. Violence in the medias that children are allowed to watch, play or listen to is probably neutralized in other countries through the family cohesion. Here in the states each generation is more and more spoiled; finding themselves with vast amounts of idle time which in itself can be destructive in an already weakened mind. The violence in the media most likely plays its part in perpetuating these events but in my opinion it can be compared to the fuse on a firework, without the tightly wrapped explosive charge the fuse is harmless.
JustUs February 23, 2013 at 08:33 PM
"Ca is supposed to be one of the most tightly regulated gun law states. All the laws did was allow others to die, before police responce (10-15min average)." Absolutely, That Guy. You nailed it. The City of Chicago has the most restrictive firearm laws in the nation. Yet last year over 500 died there from gun violence. Many of those were probably innocent law-abiding citizens who were not allowed to carry a concealed weapon and were murdered by a criminal who disregarded the gun laws. Simple minded people cannot understand this. And there's virtually nothing that you or I could do to convince them otherwise. They will continue to live in denial either due to ignorance or willful blindness. God bless, That Guy. It pleases me that there are people out there like you who understand what the problem is and what solutions make sense.
glenn February 23, 2013 at 08:48 PM
I agree partly with your arguement, but you failed to mention that it is ultimately the PARENTS responsibilty to control and/or limit what their children see and watch. Violent videogames are rated "M" for mature and violent movies are rated "R" for restricted, inboth cases it means you cannot purchase the games or movies unless you are 17 years of age. However, as a gamer I have seen all to often parents that just want their children out of their faces so they buy them the latest Call of Duty, and they dont even care enough to look into what their children are doing. We as Americans have become a lazy society that would rather push blame off onto something that is actually not the underlying cause of the violence rather than to look in the mirror at our own reflections, and realize that if we want our children to be upright people we have to RAISE them as upright people. Quit being lazy by letting the videogames parent your children, and do the Job yourself. If you make the decision to have children why would you expect to have to be active in their life right? That's just to much work. I am a father of two boys, I am also a gamer, I've played GTA, and COD, and Halo, and God of War, and I've enjoyed a peaceful life(I've never so much as been in a single fist fight) I do not allow my sons to watch me play the games that are violent nor do I allow them to play games that are violent. When they have grown into mature young men I will reasses what they can play. Be parents!!!
Gary February 23, 2013 at 08:51 PM
Everyone knows that plays these type of games is you will at least die once before getting to the end. To me he wanted to die from the get go. He related himself with the character someone who has nothing to lose. So by copying someone he relate himself is fulling a personal fantasy.
Jon Wax February 23, 2013 at 08:52 PM
you people suck. you suck as parents. that's why your kids suck. it's not the games, the music, the movies or tv. it's you. you lazy incompetent sack of crap. you suck as a parent and your kids suck as humans. because you suck as a parent. Peace Bassmeant
JustUs February 23, 2013 at 08:59 PM
Gary, of course. In fact Syed was reported to tell someone during his rampage that he'd already killed someone and had nothing to lose. IMO Syed was playing out the fantasy that he mimicked from the violent video game(s). Like the little bot in his video game, he knew that his time was up. This is not brain science.
JustUs February 23, 2013 at 09:02 PM
Jon, that's not really fair. The kid may have had some organic brain disease. It might have been physiological. And sometimes parents do all the right things and end up with bad kids. It happens more than you would think. So I think you are jumping the gun on your accusations.
shygirl February 23, 2013 at 09:04 PM
video games are just that games just like movies are just movies.if that was the case then war movies and military them self if a contribute and police forces too they all show shooting and killing only difference is they show more skills and and teach how to do from distant locations its not being a single parent either a single parent can raise a child without them going crazy. a lot of parents are scared to do anything when kids act out fear of being arrested so they wont give their kids a whooping they need cause they can go to jail for abuse and yes there is a difference. i had a friend who died playing D&D mentally illness does play a very big roll in these. but if they don't have this and the parents are straight out with truth about everything no matter what it is and actually involved with their kids in someway they wouldn't grow up so pampered and believe in false things. if they do have this still enforce the right and wrong fake from real truth from lies.I have 4 kids and one is M.R and autistic and unknown classified but i enforce the rules to her as i do to any of my other kids. and is up on what they do where they go who they talk to and no matter what tell them the truth. I grew up in a very hard life. and i never seen inside a jail cell or anything like that cause i chose not to let me be what i grew up to see.
kaidurrell February 23, 2013 at 11:07 PM
At the end of the day, it's just a game. Truth to be told. Look how crazy stuff went on in our own history. You don't people running around doing crazy azz stuff. If the person can't decipher a game from reality. Then something is wrong with that person or peson's. I know it hard for a single parent to raise kids. But it has been done, with no negative stuff to follow. People are going to do what they do for whatever reason. Should the blame fall onto a game. Hell you can watch cable and see some crazy stuff late at night.You don't see people coping that. And there is more violent shyt on tv, then there are in games. Face it, we are a country that like's violence. And that's a stem from our past. Can't wait to live like mad max! Yeah right.
glenn February 23, 2013 at 11:17 PM
I believe that some of the arguements you raised are legit,but we will never know if it was the videogame that pushed him over the edge because clearly there were larger issues that Syed dealt with. Videogames offer a lot of people a way to unwind after a long days work(I'm a carpenter who plays videogames daily)so to ban certain videogames is not the answerin my humble opinion. Instead, we need to have more studies on what is causing this generation to lose control, and discover better ways to deal with mental illnesses instead of all these different medications. Medications that I feel cause more problems than any form of violent entertainment( my father tried to commit suicide while taking anti-depression medication and after he quit taking it he couldn't believe how much better he felt) It always struck me as odd as to how a medication that is supposed to make you not as depressed can actually lead to suicidal tendencies, and have other neurological disorders. Anyway, that's my two cents.
Dillon Peden February 23, 2013 at 11:49 PM
That is a lot of BS, games don't make people kill, people kill cause they make the choice. People just need something to blame it on.
J. Ann February 24, 2013 at 12:07 AM
We need an expert on this---is there a psychiatrist in the house?
BMH February 24, 2013 at 12:16 AM
The game played a part, as did a firearm in this event. We don’t want to however throw out the baby with the bath water. The real problem is the few mentally deficient persons out there that can’t separate game from reality. There were in 2011 about 223 million video gamers in the US, there were also about 200 million privately owned firearms in the US. That same year there were a total of 12,664 people killed and 8.583 of those killings were done with firearms. The numbers don’t add up to banning either video games or guns. The problem is finding and treating those with mental deficiencies, Make sure a phycologist/ therapist reports a patient who may be a threat to himself or others. Parents also need to be observant of their kids and recognize when they have become obsessed with a game.
Peter Schelden (Editor) February 25, 2013 at 06:04 PM
Rfirefly and others, thank you for your interesting and constructive comments.
Peter Schelden (Editor) February 25, 2013 at 06:09 PM
That's an interesting point, Saint. But are there really stiff consequences for killing innocent people in the GTA universe? If you're arrested or "killed" in the game, you lose your weapons but are otherwise unaffected and reappear without your other rewards missing. Isn't that so?
Kathy DeLucio February 25, 2013 at 06:34 PM
They are simply "murder simulation games." In the hands of children and young, they are powerful visuals which can enforce improper conflict resolution tactics. Add the violent content of television and movies, and it paints the new "normal" society for kids. It's not healthy.
fact checker February 25, 2013 at 06:51 PM
The primary reason that child porn is illegal is that children are used to make it.
Peter Schelden (Editor) February 25, 2013 at 06:58 PM
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, shygirl. Your friend died while playing Dungeons and Dragons? Did your friend have a history of mental illness?
Rich (That's my name, not my status) February 25, 2013 at 07:06 PM
"The primary reason that child porn is illegal is that children are used to make it." Not only that, but it's also unlawful to make kiddy porn with adult actors who are portrayed as children, e.g., an 18 y/o actor playing the role of an underage child/teenager is still going to jail along with the producer. The same situation should also apply with these games.
JustUs February 25, 2013 at 07:20 PM
"The primary reason that child porn is illegal is that children are used to make it." Yes, that certainly is ONE primary reason. It is not only illegal to MAKE such a production - it is illegal to VIEW such a production. One of the PRIMARY reasons that it is illegal to VIEW such a production is because it may encourage certain pedophiles to 'act out' what they view on screen. Many rapists in jail were addicted to violent pornographic images and 'acted out' their fantasies found in books or videos in real life. I have seen documentaries where these sexual criminals said they started off on pornographic images and gradually lost their inhibitions and assaulted victims. If this was true of rapists, there is no reason NOT to believe that mentally unstable people who are addicted to violent video games could unleash their fantasies on society as well. My logic makes perfect sense, fact checker.
Peter Schelden (Editor) February 25, 2013 at 07:21 PM
I'd have to disagree, FU. The article wasn't written to manipulate people, but to better inform them about what happened and what's being discussed by those involved in the case. And it was written to foster a dialog for this community that is still grieving over what has happened.
Just Me February 25, 2013 at 08:13 PM
I guess that means that I'll be a future Football star as well since I'm playing Madden 12 Football? Maybe I'll switch to one of the dancing games so I can go on dancing with the stars as well?
Shawn Walsh March 03, 2013 at 09:17 PM
Michelle M - Very interesting link. Thanks for posting.

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