Jared Loughner's background reveals series of warning signs
Jared Lee Loughner, 22, had a documented history of brushes with school officials and law enforcement.
January 13th, 2011
09:26 PM ET

Jared Loughner's background reveals series of warning signs

For months, Jared Lee Loughner creeped out classmates and teachers with his odd behavior.

As a student at Aztec Middle College in Tucson, Arizona, Loughner was prone to sudden outbursts in class, teachers said. He'd ask "incoherent" questions and make inappropriate comments.

Other times, he would just stare into space.

"He had an intense stare, but he usually didn't stare at other people," said Kent Slinker, who taught an "Intro to Logic" class attended by Loughner. "He would have a focused stare some place else in the room, and almost as if he was viewing another scene or intensely thinking about something."

Loughner often spoke out of turn and asked questions unrelated to the class topic, leading Slinker to assume the student had Tourette Syndrome.

"I was never able to talk to him on a one-to-one basis and I did worry about him a lot," he said. "I do recall thinking I hope his parents know what's going on and that they have a handle on things."

Loughner was arrested in Saturday's shooting at a constituents gathering held by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in front of a Tucson Safeway grocery store. Six people died and more than a dozen were wounded. Federal authorities have charged Loughner with first-degree murder, attempted murder counts and attempting to kill a member of Congress, counts that involve shooting federal employees. State prosecutors also could bring charges related to other victims.

Interviews with friends and former teachers and classmates provide a glimpse of how he appeared in public - a little off, but not necessarily threatening. Background checks reveal brushes with the law that alone did not set off any alarm bells, a law enforcement official told CNN. He was also suspended from community college in September with the understanding that he could return if he obtained a clean bill of mental health from a doctor, school officials said.

On their own, the incidents prompted as much action as school officials or law enforcement felt necessary, given the cirumstances. Whether anyone ever put them all together remains unclear.

Classmates from Mountain View High School in Marana, a Tucson suburb, saw a different side of Loughner. They described him as intense and intelligent, someone who kept to himself but was nice once you to know him. He was fixated on numbers and excelled at math, former girlfriend Ashley Figueroa told CNN affiliate KGUN.

"He was a very nice kid. He was very, very intelligent. He would help me out with like my math and that's how it started off," Figueroa told KGUN.

"He just seemed like one of those kids who kind of kept to himself. He was very, very quiet. I kind of made the effort to talk to him because he kind of kept to himself. He was actually a really nice kid when it came to it," added Figueroa. 

But his temper was too much for Figueroa, so she ended their relationship, she said.

"He used to scare me sometimes and that's why I left him. He kind of made me feel uncomfortable at times," she said. "He'd get really mad, clench his fist and then throw a kind of little tantrum. He'd flail his arms and walk off."

Loughner dropped out of Mountain View in 2006, after his junior year, the school district said. Near the end of his junior year, Loughner was taken to a hospital for alcohol poisoning, according to Sheriff's Department records. In 2007, he was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia, but the charge was dismissed after he completed a pretrial diversion program, according to court records.

In 2008, Loughner tried to enlist in the U.S. Army but was rejected for reasons that are protected by privacy laws, officials said. But an administration official told CNN on Sunday that Loughner had failed a drug test.

Loughner had most recently been taking classes at Aztec Middle College, a partnership between Tucson schools and Pima Community College that helps dropouts transition to community colleges.

Loughner took classes until September 2010, when he was suspended after five contacts with Aztec campus police "for classroom and library disruptions" between February and September, the school said.

To his college classmates, Loughner's presence was unnerving, drawing the attention of campus law enforcement.

"The first time I was really struck by him was because he used inappropriate reactions to people's emotional content. He would laugh at things that were sad. He just didn't seem to be aware of what was going on," Don Coorough, his classmate in advanced poetry, told CNN.

A report on Loughner's participation in the poetry class noted an instance of him responding inappropriately to a poem read in the class.

His comments "were a huge leap from the context of the poem and said things about abortion, wars, killing people, and 'why don't we just strap bombs to babies,' " according to a February report by the Pima College Department of Public Safety.

Loughner was kicked out of an algebra class in June after repeated interruptions that made classmates uncomfortable and left the impression that he clearly "needed psychological help," his algebra instructor Ben McGahee said.

Loughner sometimes shook, blurted things out in class and appeared to be under the influence of drugs at times, McGahee said.
"I was scared of what he could do," McGahee said.

"I wasn't scared of him physically, but I was scared of him bringing a weapon to class."

Loughner was suspended in September after authorities found a YouTube video in which he called the school "illegal according to the U.S. Constitution," the school said.

A follow-up letter warned that in order to return, Loughner had to present a doctor's note stating that "his presence at the college does not present a danger to himself or others."

Off campus, Loughner got into trouble with police for underage drinking and possession of a marijuana joint and a pipe. Pima County Sheriff's Bureau Chief Richard Kastigar described them as "very minor" incidents that failed to raise red flags ahead of Saturday's extreme violence.

"[They] do not add up in their totality to anything that would cause a police officer to say, 'This guy is going to go out there and shoot 20 people,'" Kastigar said.

Immediately after the shootings, law enforcement and the media went online to decipher Loughners digital footprint. They found a trove of confounding items in his profiles on MySpace, YouTube and other sites. Creating his own currency, lucid dreaming and distrust of the U.S. government were recurring themes in his online writings.

A December 30 posting states: "Dear Reader ... I'm searching. Today! With every concern, my shot is now ready for aim. The hunt, a mighty thought of mine."

One posting complained of a "second constitution," a term legal scholars sometimes use to describe post-Civil War amendments that ended slavery, extended voting rights and required equal protection under the law.

"In conclusion, reading the second United States constitution I can't trust the current government because of the ratifications: the government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar," he wrote in a December 15 video message on YouTube. "No! I won't pay debt with a currency that's not backed by gold and silver! No! I won't trust in God!"

Alan Lipman, director of the Center of the Study of Violence at Georgetown University, said the postings show "classic signs of psychosis."

"People were looking for whether he was on the left or the right. He was neither," Lipman told CNN. "He was incoherent. Those were signs, classic signs you'd see in a psychiatric unit of formal thought disorder."

Forensic psychologist Kathy Seifert called the postings "absolutely psychotic." Loughner should have been evaluated for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism or other mental illnesses, she said.

In an apparent reference to Giffords' congressional district, a posting stated: "The majority of people, who reside in District-8 are illiterate - hilarious."

The last message reportedly posted on his MySpace page read, "Dear friends ... Please don't be mad at me. The literacy rate is below 5%. I haven't talked to one person who is literate."

Authorities believe Loughner specifically targeted Giffords. Searches of the Loughner home turned up a 2007 letter from Giffords thanking Loughner for attending a 2007 event similar to Saturday's, Kastigar said.

Other alleged connections to Giffords: an envelope in a strongbox in his home was scrawled with phrases like "die bitch" and "assassination plans have been made," though officials have not drawn a direct link to Giffords.

Neighbor Steven Woods said Randy Loughner had complained to another neighbor that his son was "out of control."

The morning of the shooting, Loughner and his father had a confrontation in their front yard, Kastigar said. His father had asked him about a black bag he was carrying.

"Jared mumbled something back to his dad, and his dad said he didn't understand what was said. It was unintelligible," Kastigar said. "And then Jared left. The father followed. The father got in his vehicle and tried to locate his son and followed the direction that he went and he could not locate his son."

soundoff (795 Responses)
  1. Daniel

    I am 22 years old and unfortunately have known two brutal murderers (Andrew Ellmaker, Edwin Roy "Jack" Hall) in my lifetime. Were there signs? Yes, of course there were "signs" but nothing that seperated them from creepy or weird

    January 14, 2011 at 4:29 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. ronjayaz

    I want to repeat what I sed elsewhere. GG had won the election with her pre-electioneering idea Congresswoman on a Corner, There was no reason to repeat that AFTER winning. Once you win U go back to Congress and get to work. There is too much amateur politicking as noted above. We shud follow the English system–two weeks of electioneering and then the election. After all, the English voter knows what a party stands for. The whole American system is puerile and as crazy as the shooter.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Christopher

    Part of the problem with this guy going insane was most likely that.... well..... marginalized people of ANY stripe has a history of going bonkers. Whether they are 'geeks' or some other group, if you are marginalized and excluded, you can go mad in your isolation.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:46 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • needstobesaid

      sadly all of this media hype will only serve to isolate and marginalize many more people who need compassion

      January 14, 2011 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  4. ronjayaz

    The Jewish toast is "La chaim!" which literally means to life. And U don't have to be Jewish to know that. All U have to have done is to have seen or heard FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. But spouting out anti-Semetic remarks to this situation is simply unrelated and similar to what Lochner is supposed to have done in his classes at Pima.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:49 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. ZD8

    If his car has installed locationlock, his Dad would locate him. Go to locationlock.net to check.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:51 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Martin

    This guy should get the electric chair and anyone doing any crime of that kind doesn't deserve to live in a prison they just deserve a sentence to death.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:54 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Jamie

    First and foremost my prayers are with the families for those that lost their lives and also to the ones that were wounded. i hope they have a successful recovery! now for this insane person i say fry his ass!

    January 14, 2011 at 5:05 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Catie

    So what do you do when you think someone is weird? There is nothing anyone could have done. You stay away from the oddballs, which people did, and then you just wait. You cannot predict anyones behavior. Jeffrey Dahmer was a straight laced clean cut 'sweetheart' so what happened there? Get a grip people, this crap happens. You cant have someone follow him day and night. Thanks to the ACLU he had a lot more rights than any of his victims from the beginning.

    January 14, 2011 at 5:39 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Frustrated

    This is a horrible planned murder. I will not get into my thoughts on him because I'm not a Dr. or do I have much experience with mental illnesses. But I do know everything about Tourettes Syndrome. I'm shocked Kent Slinker assumed Loughner had Tourettes! Everything he mentioned has no association to Tourettes at all! Tourettes is not a mental illness....it's uncontrollable tics! So many people do not understand Tourettes. Slinker needs to keep his mouth shut and do his homework!!!!

    January 14, 2011 at 5:55 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Tess Case

    Warning signs – he "creeped out classmates." What is the scientific definition of creeping? Is there a tested creep magnitude scale that is taught to psychologists to predict behavior? Does lack of creeping mean everything is A-OK? This article and it's author useless. So are the majority of the inane comments from the armchair psychoanalysts. No one is doing what they should be doing: researching the basic chemical/neurological and enviromental factors that created this person. It has very little to do with God or Glenn Beck you Baffoons. He doesn't need to be punished; He needs to be kept away.

    January 14, 2011 at 5:56 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hoofleau

      We give that job to you. :)

      January 14, 2011 at 6:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Hoofleau

      Better still, take him home with you. Nurture him and see what makes him tick!

      January 14, 2011 at 6:23 am | Report abuse |
  11. Just-Me

    heya ~ isthatall

    While checking on other things,. I just realized I had not closed all the browser windows.

    You were right. Absolutely right. I have to admit, this gave me a great laugh! The funniest part to me was I didn't completely read Jeff's post and got egg all over my face ~

    [ isthatall @Just_Me
    You know if they r calling you by your name they are more real than anything else.
    This much is as True as the fact that You, Just_Me, did not reply to my comment by chance alone.]

    January 14, 2011 at 5:57 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Hoofleau

    This guy is a defective human being and should be disposed of. Lock, stock, and barrel.

    January 14, 2011 at 6:10 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. think smart

    Reading all of these comments. we can see that the U S has become the root of the crazy people, all this because of lock of educacion and the freedom everyone has to buy guns and to use drugs.

    January 14, 2011 at 6:19 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. tyler

    its unfortunate that this happened, i know that the law says u have a rite to a trial, but i dont think they should waste their time with this one. he doesnt contribute anything to soceity, but he did just contribute to 6 dead and many injured. that tells me that he doesnt deserve to live for another day no matter what his mental illness is, do it for the people that HE felt didnt deserve to live, sorry for the familys involved

    January 14, 2011 at 6:27 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. oil feilds

    i cant believe that it was said about the pipe and drinking part. dint send a red flag. oh i dont buy that for a dollar.that was the iceburg of his behavior

    January 14, 2011 at 6:41 am | Report abuse | Reply
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