Experts say there was little reason for police to intercept Nasim Aghdam before YouTube shooting
In the days after Nasim Aghdam opened fire outside YouTube’s California headquarters, the woman’s relatives have insisted they gave police a chance to stop her from carrying out the attack.
Aghdam’s father said that when he filed a missing persons report with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department earlier this week, he told law enforcement officials his daughter might be headed toward San Bruno because she “hated” YouTube. Another relative echoed that claim Wednesday, contending police flat out ignored the family’s warnings.
Both the Sheriff’s Department and the Mountain View Police Department, which made contact with Aghdam less than 12 hours before the shooting, have rebutted those claims. Both agencies said the family did not say Aghdam might be violent, armed or a danger to the YouTube campus when they spoke with officers.
Without that information, law enforcement experts say, police officers would have had little reason to think of Aghdam as anything other than a routine missing persons call when they approached her Tuesday morning.
“She’s an adult, so when you talk about a missing persons case, she’s an adult who has absented herself, which she has a perfect right to do,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police officer and criminology professor at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice. “She has no obligation to stay in touch with her family.”
Mountain View police said they found Aghdam sleeping in her car about 1:40 a.m. the day of the shooting, and approached her based on the missing persons report.
Aghdam told police she had left home because of 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,” authorities said. Police described her as “calm and cooperative.”
Police spoke with Aghdam for 20 minutes, then called her father. Ismail Aghdam expressed concern that his daughter was upset with YouTube over the company’s treatment of her videos, but did not say she was armed or mention “anything about potential acts of violence or a possibility of Aghdam lashing out as a result of her issues with her videos,” Mountain View Police said in a statement.
Aghdam was legally permitted to own the Smith & Wesson 9-millimeter handgun used in the shooting, which left three people wounded. It is unclear whether Aghdam’s family knew she owned a firearm.
Mention of the weapon might have changed the officers’ handling of the stop, according to Sam Walker, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
“I just don’t see anything here that would give police cause to go back and look for her again, or to do a more searching inquiry. I don’t hear any indication of a threat, a weapon or mental illness,” Walker said. “I mean, these are the keywords … if the family had communicated initially that she does have a weapon, that would alter it completely.”
Aghdam and her relatives both mentioned the family was having “issues,” which might have also given police some pause, O’Donnell said.
“You have a domestic relationship that is troubled, so you have to take that into consideration. You have an estrangement there,” he said. “Family members will allege things … they may circle the wagons against her and it wouldn’t be the first time the people circling the wagons are less rational than the people they are pointing their fingers at.”
Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in California.
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