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. Amina

    I blame his parents for not noticing his problems

    January 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Anne

    The kid is psychotic. Totally disconected from reality with no sense of right or wrong. Had he been diagnosed earlier and treated with medication and counseling we would not be discussing this issue, on the other hand we have not seen the last shooting (nightmare) event such as this one. Every few years we read again how someone, for whatever reason, uses a gun to solve a problem. It has nothing to do with music, guns, religous preferences or political beliefs. Jared Loughner was broken. Deranged. Reading the articles you can see how the behavior escallated over time. I am not even sure who we can blame as to why it went unnoticed. Psychotics are masters at imitating and lying. Up until the end he may have fooled just about everyone. Until he stepped on to the college campus, from there I think he fell through the cracks. Of course this means nothing to those who have lost faith is the failed system or a family member.

    January 15, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynne

      I agree with you. I also think the parents had some responsibility to see that their son got mental health treatment when he was in his teens. It is clear he had anger management issues then, but was trying to maintain a grasp on reality. His girlfriend said he was nice when you got to know him, but he was scary sometimes when he walked away clenching his fists in anger.

      January 15, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Larry Cohen

    In the 70's this kid would have had the crap beat out of him everyday at school just for being a punk. TODAY? The Politically Correct liberals tell their children to embrace the disenfranchised. This kid is an idiot and he should have been treated like an idiot from the day he entered high school.

    January 15, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. L. Rock

    This really scares me, 8 month ago I made my daughter come forward about a student in her school that is exactly like this. I had a teacher tell me that this student acts like this all the time, the parents know about the behavior and don't do anything about it, but try to cover it up and terrify any one who tries to come forward about it.

    My 14 yr old daughter has not been allowed to attend school at all this year because of threats that have been made against her. She is now to the understand that people like this have more rights than their victims. If this boy had not shot a public official, I am sure none of his past would have come to light.

    January 15, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lynne

    This is a fellow that should have had mental health treatment a long time ago. What are the chances his family did not have the health insurance to cover any treatment when he was in his teens? There is so much that was off about him. Why did his family not have him treated sooner for mental health issues. Well...betcha they didn't have the insurance to cover it?

    January 15, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hans

      Some insurance carriers don't cover treatments for mental deficits..

      January 16, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  6. Michael L

    Lie, lie, lie. We are putting together a nice story with interviews to try to fit into Loughner's shooting and behavior after the fact. Ask youself this - Haven't your kids, mother, wife, husband, brother, sister, cousins, uncle, or whoever ever said something stupid, incoherent, unrelated, troubling things??? Absolutely they have. Everyone has. Now we are selectively picking out something Loughner said or acted to fit a story is just sensational and making complete sense, of course. Oh, just shut up, stupid article.

    January 15, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. big AL

    Attention Attention. For all the people that are full of hate, racist, anti-gun, delusional or just want to twist and whine about the facts of what happened last week in Tucson, grab a bible and find the strength to find the truth. Liberalism is hurting this country! Got it?

    January 15, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Patricia H.

    And yet where have we seen this kind of neurotic, psychotic, and bizarre behavior before? Does anyone remember the Virginia Tech shooting, not that long ago? What will it take for the police and other peace keeping forces pick out the signs sooner, before the INNOCENT people have to die? These signs are plain - repeated offences and sure phsycosis displayed IN CLASS with multiple and repeated WITNESSES. So many people are dying now, because no one catches things in time.
    And on top of that, we still have people blaming the video games and music of this generation. I'm fifteen and a cadet in a military academy, people. I listen to music like "Bodies" and I play video games like Call of Duty and I watch movies like Doom and series' like the Pacific. I read books, I am an excellent student in class. I don't lash out physically towards people at random or otherwise, or even do things without reason. Therefore to associate that kind of screwed up and insane behavior with these rather benign activities is ridiculous I tell you. Honestly, people.

    And to the comment of crazy kids...C'mon. I know at least SOME of us read.

    January 15, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. big AL

    CNN reported he bought the gun "LEGALLY" and if it was sold to him ILLEGALLY, enforce the laws to punish the person or persons who violated the law. It's as simple as that. Quit trying to come up with more arguements and laws to control criminals. It just doesn't work. Make sense?

    January 16, 2011 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
  10. Hans

    It is too bad he w

    January 16, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  11. Hans

    It is too bad he was excuted last week for his crimes. If he had done the same thing in Russia or China, he be pushing up trees and bushes now...

    This is white trash from bad gene recombination.

    January 16, 2011 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  12. Hans

    America needs to have a generation that is free of white trash...

    January 16, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  13. J-Real

    He seems to me to just be another angry fed up bloke trying to find himself and his position in a world full of expectations, social status, wealth etc... Couple that with a un-diagnosed mental illness, trouble at school, relationship problems, drug issues and you've got yourself a time bomb waiting to explode. Blaming the music, video games and tv shows is just such a cop out. People can choose what they watch and it's up to parents to prevent children from seeing violent forms of media. Thank god i live in Australia, because every second news item we get over here from America is about another murder or shooting. You are portrayed as a country obsessed with guns and "my right to own one to protect myself" from other meaner people with guns (who also claim that same right!). It seems like it'd be easier to purchase a gun than get mental health care. Down under the only people with or needing guns are police, soldiers, hunters, farmers and then criminals, not your average city living middle age person waiting for someone to burst in through their door. I am neither left or right but have two comments on sarah palin; she's actually pretty hot! and any politician who could confuse North Korea as being an ally instead of the South is a joke. Cheers

    January 17, 2011 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  14. shugie

    Folks: dreaming up some secret lefty-liberal media scheme aimed at undermining those 'true americans' like Glen Beck and the tea party makes you sound a lot like the guy you are discussing.This looks like a good place to find our next paranoid psycho killer.

    January 17, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. NiNE

    he mad?

    January 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26