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.


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

OC Patch staff contributed to this report.

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 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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