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. Ralph

    What is really frightening for all of us is that there really is no TEST or indicators that will help us to weed out the people who will kill. Serial killers live among us and teach our children and preach to a congregation. We go to school side by side with spree killers. The mothers in our playgroups can murder her own children. I do, however, believe we need to put more money in the mental health sector and get students more counselors so they can talk out some of their problems. It's not a be all end all solution but a bandaid at least.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Mom of 3

      Ralph, I totally agree with your solution. We absolutely HAVE to eliminate the stigma that is attached to mental health, as well as increasing the money that is available for mental health care.

      If we are TOTALLY honest with ourselves, individually, I am sure we could ALL use a bit of mental health treatment.

      January 14, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      The stigma for mental health exists for reason. Whenever someone unbalanced does something like Laughner did it becomes a media money-making frenzy that does the job of stigmatizing the mentally ill. Help for the mentally ill will be set back because of this incident.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. damnyankee

    Again with gun control? Gun laws take guns from citizens not society! Criminals and freeks will get them anytime they want them. If you are so in favor of gun control maybe we start with ENFORCING current law. FYI there were three known firearms in that crowd including one of the subduers but only ONE was fired!

    January 14, 2011 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  3. sara

    I feel really sorry for his parents.. imagine having a pycho shooter for a son. how do you live with that?

    January 14, 2011 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Everett

      It was their responsibility to identify the abnormal behavior and take steps to correct it.

      January 14, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  4. DYBO

    He seems to be going for the Charles Manson stare.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  5. ghost walker

    Noise. Perhaps his "odd behavior" was a function of membership in one of the many fringe sub-population groups that thrive on getting attention by acting contrary to social norms. Or simply a consequence of being one more substance abuser. Fact is that acting inconsistent with social norms is not an indicator of anything particular, and particularly not an indicator of presenting a threat to others. He was an angry person who wanted attention. Society showed him he could get the attention – fame – he craved through a serious act of depravity. Now he too is famous.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  6. Wec03216

    The signs were there but no one reacted in the slightest bit. This is Columbine but with an older assailant and lesser body count. This conservative college student says wake the hell up to both the parents and anyone else who noticed his strange behavior.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  7. tiller in texas

    It's time to take this guys picture down.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  8. Buzz

    Wow! It doesn't take long to get off topic, does it?

    January 14, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |

    Patsy. Scapegoat.
    Believable invented culprit.
    Component in cover-up.
    Does this look like an assassin?

    January 14, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • trix

      A scapegoat? What, you mean the guy holding a gun who was wrestled down to the ground after shooting a bunch of people didn't do it? Yeah, that makes sense.

      And I don't know if we're looking at the same picture, and while the slightly ludicrous term "assassin" may be overstating it, dude definitely looks like he could kill someone.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shaz

      Actually, yes it does. And a pedo too

      January 14, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. 32

    @ T.M if he hadn't had a gun he would have just made a homemade bomb or found another way to kill someone. He is crazy, access to a gun or not he would've killed somebody!!!

    January 14, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  11. Randy

    The simple fact is that this individual is unable to control his actions and has become a menace to society, much like a rabid animal. And like a rabid animal, he needs to be humanely executed...not to punish him but to protect society.

    There is no amount of therapy, counseling, drugs, or anything else that could insure that he won't go off again. Imprisonment doesn't guarantee that he won't kill again either, as there is the chance of him attacking other inmates or guards.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • iceman

      Now that's what I call: A randy raunchy statement!

      January 14, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • paradoX187


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

    Now that's what I call: A DEEP FREEZE!

    January 14, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. LA

    Sarah Palin creeps me out.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  14. gale

    Why do they keep repeating this article. Everyone knows already that he creeped out his classmates. Go to the next thing.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. taz


    January 14, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • DaveinCincy

      Stupidity...in all CAPS.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
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