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. Char

    He was crazy long before sarah palin came in the spotlight liberals owe her and the rest of America a apology

    January 14, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Stanley

      I dont like Sarah Palin.... But you have to be flat out stupid to blame her...

      January 31, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. brad

    2 things I hope will happen...prior to being sentenced to life in prison (not the death penalty) Loughner gets the help everyone seems to think he should have obviously been given....and all the people that are blaming the authorities, schools, parents, etc for not getting Loughner treatment, will donate, volunteer or in some other way directly help people with mental health issues (that way the folks that think someone should have done something can be rightfully indignant rather than pathetic monday morning QB's).

    January 14, 2011 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
  3. Stacy

    It sounds like this man has many signs of Asperger's syndrome. He should have had help years ago.

    January 14, 2011 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
    • agR|Ppa

      You know, I totally missed that when reading through the different situations he had been in, but I will have to agree. It is a logical assumption based on the information given.

      Nice work.

      January 15, 2011 at 5:13 am | Report abuse |
  4. Steve

    It is surprising that a mentally ill person is able to understand the inflationary and debt based nature of your current/banking system. What I can't understand is why you can't? Is not about the state anymore, the banks own it... wake up people... if a mad man can see that, then why you can't? Unless... the mad man is sane, and everyone else (you) are mad...

    January 14, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  5. Xavier

    Why is eveyone only blaming this guy. I bet he and his family lived in a life full of turmoil and discontent with authorities egged on by radio talk shows and others.

    January 14, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  6. Mark L.

    Just yesterday, someone here @ my job compared this monster's mug-shot to Uncle Fester from the original Adams Family TV series...LMAO...Well to be perfectly honest, I think that is a serious insult to poor Uncle Fester....ROFLMAO...{:o)

    January 14, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  7. Liza Null

    Oh. Yeah. Now CNN calls a mentally-ill person "creepy". REAL professional. What's next, an amputee is a "gimp", or "lame"? A MUTE person is "dumb"? Let's all go back about a hundred years and call ourselves "progressive".

    January 14, 2011 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  8. jim

    This young man was ill period. We know the causes of many illnesses. If your pancreas goes, you become diabetic. If your immune sytem attacks your nerve linings you get MS. ETC ETC ETC. The one organ system that doesnt poduce a physically measurable end.-point is the cerebral cortex. Its end result is the mind. Thought. Personality. And it is unbeleivable complex. We now know that if physical disease affects the cerebral cortex and the never pathways withing, disorders of thought occur. Schizophrenia. Depression. Bipolar disorder. ETC ETC. The fact is, this young man has a disease, the same as any physical disease we are more familiar with, with a physical (and probably treatable) cause. The symptooms were there, but were ignored, due to ignorance, prejudice and our fear of anything to do with the mind, because, after all, the mind is US, who we are, and diseases of it terrify us. If he had exhibited equiivalent phnusical symptoms, we would have called an ambulance. As it is we want to "fry the wack-fob.
    Very very very sad

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

    Interesting that he could not get into the Army. Those of you that never served but have a thing for young military men should join the Snipers Hide !

    January 14, 2011 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Stanley

      Anyone can get in the army.... hell they cant buy people to fight there stupid wars in the USA

      January 31, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Uraluni

    Many of the stories I hear/read about this guy and how many people around him thought he was "off" reminds me of this story from "The Onion"


    January 14, 2011 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
  11. chris

    hey CNN...

    it's "once you GOT to know him" Geez, spellcheck can't do everything!

    January 14, 2011 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
    • agR|Ppa


      And editors are human. That's why at work I have two or three other people read my stories before they are published. You hope they will catch the mistakes like that, but they always slip through one way or another.

      January 15, 2011 at 5:16 am | Report abuse |
  12. George

    This is a job for Captain Hindsight...

    January 14, 2011 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jordan

    Oh Lawdy! All of you talking about "God does this, God isn't that, blah blah blah..." get off your damn high horses. Those of you saying "God controls everything" or "God rules over us all" sound like zombies, and the people saying "God doesn't exist" do too. "Oh, we aren't trying to change your opinion", shut the hell up, yes you are. Religion IS used to control large groups of people, and it's almost cliche to say "God doesn't exist." You can't prove OR disprove God; it's just something that people aren't going to figure out until they die (or not figure out...however you want to word it). Personally, I believe in God; not some white robed dude in the sky, not a 27 armed elephant-man, but a creator. It doesn't seem logical that a group of nothings bumped into another group of nothings, and made a something. Yeah yeah, "but where did God come from!?"; I don't know, but God couldn't be part of the Universe we're a part of, or we would have some physical proof that a God exists. I don't believe God has control over us, or knows what, exactly, we'll be doing 4 hours from now...that's just ridiculous. We definitely have free will, complete choice over our lives. I'm done ranting about this. Both sides are just as militant as the other, and both sides sound just as close-minded; if you are fine believing that God controls everything you do in life...more power to ya, if you are fine with believing that by some crazy anti-events lead up to the Universe being created...good for you. But don't attack others' beliefs just because they are different from your own.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
    • myklds

      @Jordan...very well-said.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. W

    I like how every single time a white dude pulls one of these mass shootings its "he must be disturbed" or "Lets pray for him also." But as soon as any ethnic person kills anyone its "F there entire race!!!" Gotta love the good old USofA. Lol, what a joke.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  15. palintwit

    It's no surprise at all that Sarah Palin or someone just like her would be an influence in his life. She's right up his alley.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
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