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. Cenevia

    This murderer should not have a trial, they should just put him in a fenched filed and let people with 9mm take turns with him.... let see how many shots he would get before he drop down.

    January 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Heh

      See you at the cross burning Adolf.

      January 14, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. brooklynmc

    On his youtube page he talked about how important proper use of the English language is to him yet he spelled things wrong and sounded like an idiot. He was obviously delusional. He did however know what he was doing, dream state or not. He planned this thing out over time. String him up!

    January 14, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. nortel1

    When the SF homeless guy who screams obscenities at me when I don't give him $1 commits murder, yeah, I saw it coming. There's a guy who jaywalks on 6th who tries to make you hit him, when he assults a driver, I won't be surprised. But there is still nothing today I can do about it.

    January 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. boog

    I want to know why the Sheriff did nothing but point fingers. This nut was brought to his attention several times. I also want to know why the Community college did not report this guy. And if they did, why did the sheriff ignore it. Heck, the police were called out to his house several times prior to this tragedy. I guess it is just too much fun to point fingers and use a tragedy to gain political points. The left has made me sick though out this whole issue.

    January 14, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. kado

    I'm still having trouble figuring out why this shooting has gone viral when there have been so many instances of a crazy person shotting people. Why this ONE in Arizona? Not diminishing the tragedy...just wondering why the president spoke only to this one incident and why it is all over the news daily. I don't see mention in this article of steps the school took to report issues with this student that may have called for mental health intervention. Were there any? Or did he just get in trouble each time? As to the parents, its hard to know what they did without talking to them. It's not easy to get a non-compliant adult child into rehab or counseling or a mental health facility nor to involuntarily commit them. I assume they loved him and were appalled and hoping it would get better. Hard to know. But, I don't see a reason to torture them over this. They didn't shoot anyone. There are lots of nuts in the US and they all have parents. Again, however, why THIS ONE shooting? Why has this one garnered so much more attention than al the campus shootings put together????

    January 14, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • boog

      Because the left started trying to use it to win political points. Didnt even have the dignity to let the bodies cool down before they started to pontificate. Sick, sick , sick is what it is.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • JCS

      Because one of the victims (and the apparent intended target) was a member of the house of representatives.

      January 14, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Russell

    Palintwit you are an idiot! Palin had nothing to do with this, it's people like you that push people over the edge. It' is looking more and more like this guy is insane! Remember Hinkley another shooter, that all most killed the president, and was found to be insane.

    January 14, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Cenevia

    No one can't tell me that this is all happening because of that SARAH PALIN. This shooting happened happened because of her lack of potical advices, When you are a public figure you have to watch what comes out of your mouth.......She is no way someone you want as a leader for any community, state or country.

    January 14, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. tom

    nobody saw this coming....unbelievable

    January 14, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Shampoohorns

    Dear CNN:
    Can we quit with the psycho picture, already?

    January 14, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. KFed

    "He'd ask "incoherent" questions and make inappropriate comments." Wow.. hes like every other right wing republican

    January 14, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. nickstutz

    i think that there is no ecuse for his actions, howwver i do think that the lack of understanding mental illness how to dwal with it the stigma ininvolved and the access to adequate info and help even with insurance is appalling. i think he had a serious problem and needs help not prison. i also feel sorry for his parents who are probably saying how could we not have swen the signs what could we have done different. the truth is as parents ww do the best we can children dont come with manuals. but i think if mental healthcare was more accessible and didnt hold the stigma it does we as parents and friends would be better equipped to help those we love get the help we need so that some of these tradgedies could b prevented, instead of in hindsight saying yeah he needed help

    January 14, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. nickstutz

    sorry about typos im using my phone and its not showing my comment as i spell

    January 14, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. fsl

    I would not classify a person taking Algebra at a community college as being 'very, very, intelligent' or 'good at math'. That is a subject that the average person studies in middle school (age 12) and would suggest to me a lack of analytical ability, something this person obviously had problems with.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. joe

    I see lots of egg on lots of liberal faces. Of course, they will not acknowledge the in-depth psychoanalysis of this twisted guy...it's just easier to try and make political points by blaming the right. How sad of them to try and capitalize on the deaths of others.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mindful

      Amazing. There was an "in-depth psychoanlysis"? When, where, how come only you know about it? Is this your way of" making political points"?

      January 14, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Laura

    I wonder, who should have been responsible for the screening to identify his medical state? Himself? His psychotic parents? A better healthcare system could have prevented this.....

    January 14, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynne

      Yup. A better health care system might have been some help in treating this fellow earlier, that is for sure. Making the gun and the magazine less accessible would have helped as well. Yet again, innocent people have paid the price, and will again in the future. This will not be the last gun massacre unless drastic changes are made. What they need to be are pretty obvious. It's just implementing them that is the problem.

      January 15, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
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