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. Eddie

    So... Who's winning the super bowl this year?

    January 14, 2011 at 3:37 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Josh

    I wonder if he was an NRA member????

    January 14, 2011 at 3:38 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Karloff

      Doesn't matter.

      January 14, 2011 at 6:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      Good question.... I also wonder whether or not he had a safeway grocery card.

      January 14, 2011 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. Dave Arlt

    This happens so very easily in a country when even the craziest people can buy guns & ammo anywhere. The laws must be changed. This is not the Wild Wild West any longer people!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 14, 2011 at 3:40 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Josh

      The right to keep and bear arms!!!!!
      It is our right, gun control will not do much for us, it would permit criminals to rule!!!!!

      January 14, 2011 at 3:48 am | Report abuse |
  4. Mark

    Dude looks/sounds weirder than Uncle Fester from the Addams Family.
    (Fester was the bald, barrel-shaped man with dark, sunken eyes and a devilish grin.)

    January 14, 2011 at 3:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Sue

    family -ISN'T IT HORRIFIC that you had NO CONVERSATIONS, CONTACT WITH YOUR SON, IN ALL OF THE TIME HE LIVED WITH you??? well, of courrse YOU wNT TO BE EXCUSED! nsd who the hell are you – what evil parents are you? do you have othert tragic children? who are you? what are YOUR backgroundsa???

    January 14, 2011 at 3:52 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Just-Me

      Sue, All those caps did was give you an illusion that you were yelling and someone out there took it as yelling. All the !!!!! and ???? look idiotic when overstating a point of view. Sorry but it does.

      Ever hear the quote, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink it"? We don't know the family's situation. They may have tried.

      G'night folks. The majority of this blog was destructive and yet we post thinking we don't look insane to others. I'll include myself because I just wasted my time.

      January 14, 2011 at 4:22 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      @Just-Me Who cares how we look to others? R they sane that their opinions should matter? g'nite.

      January 14, 2011 at 4:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      I mean... it's not like it was a kid. Once he's 18 he's an adult and there are too many external factors to even consider holding the family accountable for his actions. Sometimes, people just have messed up brain chemistry... Everyone wants to point the finger at any external factor that could have contributed... but ultimately, you have to look at the internal factors... and in his case, it was clearly mental instability. You can never completely stop it. It makes the most sense to not tollerate it, and educate people how to prevent it... not take away the rights of people to protect themselves in the name of security.

      January 14, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  6. Josh

    Looking at his picture, he is not insane, he wants you to think he is so he can claim insanity for his defence. He forgot about the premeditation of the act itself!!!!!!

    January 14, 2011 at 3:52 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. cadecker

    sick of seeing his face ...its been on all week >:(

    January 14, 2011 at 3:56 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. mateo

    Damn!

    January 14, 2011 at 4:03 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. joe d

    Stricter gun laws won't prevent these things from happening. Think about it like drugs. They are illegal, yet if someone really wants them they can find a way to get them. It would be the same thing with guns. Even with stricter laws, if someone wants it, they're going to find a way to get it.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:04 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Josh

      Well put, my thoughts exactly!!!!

      January 14, 2011 at 4:27 am | Report abuse |
  10. Ufia

    Typical tea bagger. There aren't enough straight jackets in the world for that bunch.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:04 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Peter

      Listen. Winguts on the right. Wingnuts on the left. KNOCK IT OFF! You people only have ONE explanation for EVERYTHING.....that it was :"the opposition's fault". You people are morons who don't even think. Here. Read this again (if you ever did to begin with): "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."

      January 14, 2011 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  11. Mj

    I have been attacked by a mentally ill person who wasnt on meds and some how wondered out of the house he looked perfectly normal i am not saying that any of the mentally ill have to be locked up or treated wrong im just saying as asafe gaurd, since u never know, that they should not be given the option to take meds seek evaluation or the necessary help i dont even need to have any extensive knowledge on the mentally ill to know that the those that are thought to be harmless and never a bother to anyone can unexpectedly become a harm to those around them due to experience for ex.....me getting beat up n a nix check cashing while im with my daughter for no apparent reason

    January 14, 2011 at 4:10 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Derek Klatt

      should not be given the option? I have worked with the mentally ill for some time and i see residents medicated to the point where they are delusional and have no awareness of their surrounding. You are a narrow minded @** that is basically trying to deny rights to a person, even if they are not as mentally adequate as we are. We can not deny these people their rights. I think we have become to reliable on medication rather than just working with a patient it seems like we just decide to up the dose or add a new medicine if something goes wrong, well sometimes its the medication that can bring out aggressiveness or other negative behaviors.

      January 14, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  12. Max Chartreuse

    CNN, please get rid of that hideous picture. This terrible SOB does not deserve this kind of glorification...

    January 14, 2011 at 4:16 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. PhilG

    It profoundly saddens me to see the egotisitcal masturbation you people engage in in a thread about one person that decided to get some money,go buy a gun,buy some ammo,buy large capacity ammo magazines,find out where a Congresswoman ( who,in the Loughner's twisted mind, made the mistake of showing Loughner some kindness in a letter)was speaking,get transportation over there,walk through the crown,right up to her, and try to kill her and everyone around her as long as the ammo held out and he could reload.

    This was one persons actions,whether you believe in God or you don't,the reality is,this idiot has destroyed alot of lives.

    He deserves to be swiftly put to death.

    Then God can deal with sending him right to Hell where he deserves to go.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:18 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • isthatall

      First one to use the word masturbation gets to turn in early for the night.

      January 14, 2011 at 4:45 am | Report abuse |
  14. Joker

    They should have killed that day,

    January 14, 2011 at 4:27 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Mmmolk

    "Man, I sure am tired of seeing this nut jobs face."

    ITS THE FACE OF RIGHT WING AMERICANS. Get used to it.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:29 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • DMan

      ITS THE FACE OF LEFT WING COMMIE RADICALS. So funny how idiots like you try to use tragic events like this to further your hate filled political agenda. Bible thumpers vs atheists, conversatives vs liberals. blah blah. Its pathetic and similar to trying to profit off of crime. This was a seriously sick individual who committed a horrendous act. Let the families and friends and all of America deal with the sorrow without the stupid name calling and self serving vitrolic propaganda.

      January 14, 2011 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • eleven

      I consider my self a member of the 'case by case' political party – maybe a little left. But, "Face of the right wing"?? That's idiotic.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
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