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Furious at YouTube, passionate about fitness and veganism: Shooter left warning signs, questions

It's the website investigators are looking at as they try to piece together the motive of a woman — identified as Nasim Najafi Aghdam, 39 — who stormed onto YouTube's sprawling San Bruno, Calif., campus with a 9-millimeter handgun and opened fire in a courtyard during lunchtime, wounding three people before turning the gun on herself.

In one video, Nasim Najafi Aghdam refers to herself as a "ninja" before making a series of odd, stunted motions spliced between clips from the reality series "America's Got Talent." In another video, she sports a blond pixie-cut wig while mocking people who choose to eat meat.

In yet another video, the rail-thin and raven-haired Aghdam says in Farsi that she has no "specific physical or mental illness," but says she lives "in a planet that is filled with illness, and disorder and perversion and injustice."

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Police are still trying to determine exactly what led the 39-year-old San Diego woman to bring a gun to YouTube's headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., where she shot and wounded three people Tuesday before killing herself. But the woman's fury with YouTube — which she believed was intentionally suppressing her quirky collection of dance, recipe and exercise clips — has emerged as the most likely motive, San Bruno Police Chief Ed Barberini told reporters Wednesday morning.

As the investigation unfolded, questions lingered about what, if any, chance law enforcement officials might have had to intervene before the attack. Some family members have said they told police she was angry with YouTube and might have planned on traveling to the company's headquarters when they filed a missing person's report earlier this week.

Few of Aghdam's videos remain available online, as her Facebook and Instagram accounts were deactivated within hours of the shooting. Her personal website, titled "Nasime Sabz," which roughly translates to "green breeze" or "Nasim the green" also vanished. Aghdam's YouTube account had been shut down "due to multiple or severe violations" of the company's policies, but it was unclear when that ban took effect.

Nearly four dozen of Aghdam's videos remained viewable on the website Daily Motion until they were removed Wednesday morning. The footage is a strange pastiche of parody clips, workout videos and vegan recipe suggestions, many of which are flagged by a warning not to steal her content.

Pulsing electronic music plays in the background of several of the clips, as Aghdam stares expressionless at the camera, almost giving off the vibe of a nervous karaoke performance. She sometimes refers to herself as a "vegan athlete" before flexing muscles and launching into a series of pushups. In one video, she can been seen dancing and wearing a sheep mask in front of a picture of a frowning cow before the words "Go Vegan, Go Healthy & Humane" appear across the screen.

In a screed posted to a website that has become a subject of the investigation, Aghdam complained that YouTube employees had purposefully limited the number of people who viewed her videos, and criticized the practice of paying for "likes" and views on other social media platforms such as Instagram.

Her complaints about unfair compensation were similar to those of some YouTube creators who have publicly criticized the platform.

"There is no equal growth opportunity on YOUTUBE or any other video sharing site, your channel will grow if they want to!!!!!" she wrote.

About two weeks ago, Aghdam vented to her family that YouTube had stopped compensating her for her videos, her father told the Bay Area News Group. Ismail Aghdam said the family had called police Monday to report his daughter missing because she hadn't answered her phone for two days. He said he told police she might be going to YouTube because she "hated" the company.

The father provided reporters with a statement saying Aghdam's family was in "absolute shock and can't make sense" of the violence. "Our family would like to express their utmost regret, sorrow for what happened to innocent victims. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families," the statement said. "We are praying for speedy recovery of the injured and ask God to bestow patience upon all persons hurt in this horrific senseless act."

"She never hurt one animal, one ant. I don't know how she did ... this," he said while handing out the statement. "I'm sorry. I can't believe it."

A woman who identified herself as a family member but would not give her name said Aghdam had been angry with YouTube for nearly a year because she felt the company was keeping her from spreading a message promoting a vegan lifestyle. Relatives called police to warn them about her frustrations.

"They said she was angry at YouTube, so be careful," the woman said, adding that police promised they would monitor Aghdam, "but they didn't."

"I'm so sorry for those people [she] shot," the woman said as she made her way through a throng of reporters to visit the family in Menifee, in Riverside County.

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Aghdam entered the country as a refugee roughly two decades ago, a family member said. In one of her videos, she said she was born in Urmia, Iran — where she and other members of her Baha'i faith face discrimination — and that her family had spent a year and a half in Turkey.

Lt. Karen Stubkjaer, the media relations director for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, confirmed that a deputy took a missing persons report from Ismail Aghdam and entered that information into a national missing persons database on April 2. Stubkjaer would not confirm the father's account that he warned the Sheriff's Department about his daughter's anger toward YouTube, and did not answer additional questions about the incident.

Mountain View, Calif., police made contact with Aghdam about 1:40 a.m. Tuesday, roughly 12 hours before the shooting, when they found her sleeping in a car with a license plate connected to the missing persons report. Officers contacted the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, which described Aghdam as "at risk" because she had never gone missing before, according to a statement issued by the Mountain View Police Department.

Aghdam told police she had left home due to family issues and was living out of her vehicle until she found a job. She did not "mention anything about YouTube, if she was upset with them, or that she had planned to harm herself or others," according to the statement.

"Throughout our entire interaction with her, she was calm and cooperative," the statement read.

Mountain View Police contacted Aghdam's father and brother after talking with her. The department said her relatives did not mention a potential threat against YouTube or the fact that Aghdam may have been armed. An hour later, Ismail Aghdam called police again to say that his daughter was upset that YouTube had "done something" to her videos, adding that the change might have been connected to her trip to the Bay Area.

"At no point did her father or brother mention anything about potential acts of violence or a possibility of Aghdam lashing out as a result of her issues with her videos," the statement read. "They remained calm throughout this second phone call."

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Barberini said police were executing search warrants at two Southern California residences connected to Aghdam. Agents with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were helping serve search warrants at several locations, including San Diego and Menifee. The warrants were obtained by the San Bruno Police Department, but the ATF was involved because of the "nexus of firearms," said Ginger Colbrun, ATF spokeswoman for Southern California.

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Barberini said police were also searching Aghdam's vehicle. Aghdam apparently went to a local gun range and fired the weapon used in the attack on Tuesday morning, Barberini said. He described the weapon as a Smith & Wesson 9-millimeter handgun, which Aghdam was legally allowed to possess.

Barberini said she entered the YouTube campus through a parking garage, after parking her vehicle near a business close to the company's headquarters. Police have not established a specific link between Aghdam and the victims in Tuesday's shooting, and it was unclear if she shot randomly when she opened fire in the courtyard.

Two of the victims have been released from Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, according to a statement issued by the hospital. A third victim, identified only as a male in his 30s, remains hospitalized in serious condition.

Foruzan Ghodrattolah, Aghdam's uncle, said he was shocked when he learned what his niece had done. Aghdam had dedicated her life to animals, according to her uncle, who said if she found an insect in her home she would not harm it.

"She would always take the insect outside and free it," Ghodrattolah said.

Authorities remove items from a San Diego residence as part of several searches of Southern California locations Wednesday in the investigation of YouTube shooter Nasim Najafi Aghdam.
Authorities remove items from a San Diego residence as part of several searches of Southern California locations Wednesday in the investigation of YouTube shooter Nasim Najafi Aghdam. (John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Lien reported from San Bruno, Esquivel reported from Menifee, Calif., and Queally, Winton and Parvini reported from Los Angeles. Staff writers Melissa Etehad, Joseph Serna and Alene Tchekmedyian in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

UPDATES:

2:30 p.m.: This article was updated with a family statement.

1:40 p.m.: This article was updated with additional statements from Nasim Aghdam's videos.

12:40 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information about the investigation.

11:35 a.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from one of Nasim Aghdam's relatives, the Mountain View Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

10:40 a.m.: This article was updated with details on search warrants being served.

10 a.m.: This article was updated with information from the San Bruno Police Department, hospital officials and comments from Nasim Aghdam's uncle.

8:30 a.m.: This article was updated with the removal of Nasim Aghdam's videos on Daily Motion.

This article was originally published at 8:05 a.m.

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