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. Sunny girl

    When it comes down to it, Loughner knew what he was going to do and did it. preplanned all the way. He may have several screws gone but this, He knew what he was doing and should have to pay for the crimes he committed. Full intent / Full price.

    January 14, 2011 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. Solracts

    This guy may have develop some type of mental sickness, but he was under demonic possession. I'm sure he heard voices telling him to commit such a heinous crime. What does it take to restrict fire arms in this country. I do not want to infringe on the right to bear arms but this is ridiculous.

    January 14, 2011 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
  3. karen


    January 14, 2011 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  4. Dan

    Not sure you are, but you tried to blame this on the academic culture because this man, jared, used syllogism in his writings. I just want to post here to clarify that because an insane man uses syllogism it does not follow that everyone who uses syllogism is insane. Take a course in logic, thank you.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
  5. NippsMcgee

    Sweet, athiest tards arguing with creationist tards on the internet, which has never been done before. Bringing up the same regurgitated points for a fresh argument!

    Surely this time, unlike the thousands of times before, someone will finally manage to convince the other person to abandon their staunch, burning-heart, life-long beliefs and jump ship to the other side!

    January 14, 2011 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  6. stormy81


    January 14, 2011 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  7. shoottweendaeyes

    Just looking into this psycho's eyes gives me tha creeps...I'd shoot a SOB like this on sight! Hell, kill tha SOB...why wasted money on trying to determine if he is nutz...anyone can see without a bunch of big shrink bills at taxpayer expense that this maniac needs to be fertilizer rather than sucking up oxygen!!! This country is a nutz as this maniac for all the frivolous crap that it wastes money after these nutz kill people!!!

    January 14, 2011 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
  8. fireybuddha

    The CNN headlined read he "creeped out" his classmates. ILanguage and thinking like that – perpetuated by a national news outlet – only reinforces that no one will talk w/"creepy people" because of fear and judgment. Isn't it nice, isn't it easy, to sit back and point fingers at everyone else? Doesn't it make ourselves feel so damned good? We all have a little creep in us – trust me. Stop being a snob, tap into your inner-creep, and next time, help out the creepy guy/girl. Maybe they won't go on a shooting rampage for years of stereotypical reinforcement.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
  9. Anothermuse

    Why is there always such clamoring for "why", "what could someone have done" etc. There are millions of very creepy irrational people, even outside of this blog. Very very few will ever commit an atrocity like this. Doubt even this guy knows why. Hindsight is 20/20 and everyone can now see the warning signs. In the end though, the guy is crazy, and commited a crazy, violent act, and beyond that it is unlikely there will be any other answer.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
  10. Rambo

    I asked "incoherent" questions, made inappropriate comments and sometimes just stared into space.
    I better turn myself in before I kill someone.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
  11. marianna68

    People who critize others who choose to believe in a God yet get angry when the same people critize them for being Athiests are just as hypocritical. I a Catholic, and I have friends who are athiests. It isn't up to me to judge these people. I see them as being contributing members to society unlike the sociopath in this article. Comments made about religion by those who don't believe in it yet trash those who do have faith are simply childish. Grow up. I believe in God, you don't so be it.

    January 14, 2011 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  12. tabatha

    Something that struck me from this article that is VERY sad is that the teachers "HOPED" the parents know that there was something wrong. Where is a simple phone call or parent-teacher conference? Why was this kid never brought to a Dr to be evaluated? People do not understand mental illness and parents do not like to admit that there is something wrong with their kids. Instead, we get spoiled bratty kids who are labled as "ADHD" (nothing against kids who REALLY HAVE IT!) and the kids that have serious issues are just 'odd' or 'creepy' – they are often ignored.
    I am a Christian myself, and I will say this ... God is a LOVING God. Anyone who does these horrific things in the 'name of God' – are really doing it out of Satan and hate. If you dont understand WHY God allows this stuff to happen – read the Bible and see that it is all for a reason.

    January 14, 2011 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
    • marianna68

      I agree that the parents should have stepped in a LONG time ago regarding the behavior of their son. SomeTHING should have clued them into their son's erratic and anti-social behavior. WHY they did not (or maybe we are missing something in this article) is beyond me because if I had a child who showed signs of a mental disorder I would be DOING something about it.

      January 14, 2011 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
    • sweet caroline

      Sometimes the law prohibits college professors from talking to an adult student's parents about grades, classroom behavior, etc because the parent is a 3rd party. That is probably why they didn't talk to the family.

      January 14, 2011 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
    • tabatha

      Caroline, I see your point ... I meant more in elementry/Jr high & high school years ... it seems like people saw something and did NOT say anything (and that is when they COULD say something!) College ... I agere thats a different story- and they did the right thing – kicking him out until he has a clean mental bill. I just get amazed that these things could have been addressed ... even as a child! I am sure he had strange symptoms when he was younger.
      I feel bad for his parents – but they seem like they knew something was off – bring him in to a Dr before a tragedy happens!

      January 14, 2011 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  13. Karl Yung

    Loughner 'creeped out' classmates

    What a surprise. Isn't this about the tenth time we've covered the same ground, CNN?

    January 14, 2011 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
  14. Tony

    If he was so good at math, why was he in a remedial algebra class?

    January 14, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  15. Karl Yung

    Loughner 'creeped out' classmates

    What a a surprise. Isn't this about the tenth time we've covered the same ground, CNN? Slow news day?

    January 14, 2011 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
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