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. star

    Schizophrenia, people. Early signs in high school, exacerbates during early twenties and usually manifests itself to the outside world with a psychotic break-often a a tragic action that belies the twisted inner workings of a paranoid and disorganized mind. His parents knew, but no one wants to really believe that their kid is capable (even not in his right mind) of such a horrific act. Better screening and diagnoses, and more teeth in retention laws are needed. Better to unfairly screen a 19 year old immature brat and then release him (with hopefully a good scare about acting out anti-socially) than to miss a potentially homicidal one.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. Joshua A.D.

    You heard it here first folks. If you're not RIGHT or LEFT, you have formal thought disorder.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  3. bobby trendy

    my thought are with everyone...this is terrible and im nude

    January 14, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Zinah A. Mariscal

    What is unfortunate is that this young man wasn't sent for an evaluation by all these individuals that suspected odd behavior, especially in a school. You can sectioned someone to the hospital for an evaluation. If this young man was making incoherent statements, was having outbursts that is significant reason for a psychiatric evaluation to be done.

    We often hear of the aftermath of individuals like Loughner....If only the school instead of requiring him to have a clean bill of health follow with an actual referral or a section to the hospital based on poor judgement & insight that appeared to be evident....I hope we all learn from this.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. brandon

    the only people that could've been able to stop this is his parents, take a good hard look at your children and if you see any mental concerns get them the help they need, noone knows better than mom and dad, imangine how this world would be if parents where more involved

    January 14, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. pohpooh

    He looks like he needs an exorcist.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Nick

    You don't see any law abiding gun owners committing these crimes do you, and there are many many more law abidin gun owners out there than there are the few nuts who own them. So lets look correcting the real problems and take those who would misuse a firearm off the streets, and leave the law abiding who choose to own guns alone.

    My guns have killed less people than Ted Kennedy's car!

    January 14, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • vonspoo

      ummm he was pretty "law abiding" up till the point where he shot a bunch of people. lots of people who murder others are "law abiding" until they pull the trigger.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. taz

    This man have more sense than n 1 on this forum.....shaved his head n eyebrows 2 make himself look crazy...n simply watch you jack-azzes diagnose him...very clever I must say

    January 14, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Pliny

    And some slob in a gun-store sold this nut-job a gun.

    Thank you Charleton Heston. Thank you NRA. Thank you faceless American men who confuse their weapons with their genitalia.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brenton

      Oh but when a liquer store guys sells a drunk a fif of liquer then wrecks and kills someone we dont blame him. Oh but nevermind you were jus talkin out ur a$$. Somehow tying men and guns together. How close minde are you?

      January 14, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. classyferret

    A paranoid schizophrenic with lots of rage might certainly be influenced by vitriolic language and 'target the enemy' images. 'The self of the blind man includes the ground he is walking on.' Of course the mentally ill are influenced by emotional forces in their environment! Note: most paranoid schizophrenics manage to go through life without engaging in hateful, evil acts. A very small percentage of schizophrenics are, in addition to their psychosis, desparate for attention and willing to kill to make themselves central to what's going on in the world. They aspire to a place in history. This guy smiled during his hearing because he got what he wanted.

    The "expert" who suggested this guy might be bipolar doesn't understand thought disorders. His statements all point to schizophrenia, not a mood disorder such as bipolar (manic-depressive illness). He is still responsible for his actions, in my opinion, psychosis or not.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. the_dude

    I believe the parents need to accept some degree of responsibility. They should have been closer to him than anyone else.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      Being creepy and acting weird is not a crime. If it was, half the country would be in jail. Every individual who caused crimes like this can always be researched back and determined things that could have been done. But not all creepy people commit crimes. How do you not punish the creepy non violent individuals if you are going to punish the creepy ones that somehow you can determine they will after the fact?

      January 14, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  12. David

    A lot fo people in school creeped me out. And if they committed such a terrible deed as this one, I would think they even creeped me out more. So let's lock up all creepy people.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. sevresblue

    Yes, I can imagine how a teacher would 'never' have the chance to talk to a student in a year. Yet that teacher noted unusual behavior (could it be Asperberger's, a form of autism?). And this behavior alienated the student from other students, too. Also – Not My Problem. I'm not forgiving, or condoning this young man's actions. I am just saying here are people who encounter him on a daily basis, who notice unusual and disturbing behavior, and they just pass him along. I understand that schools have budgets, and the they can't look at every lonely student. But I will be you anything his teachers are all nodding now, and saying "yeah, he was an odd duck..." when he could've been getting help all along. Maybe those people wouldn't have gotten shot...

    January 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • sevresblue

      Meant to say "I will 'bet' you anything – sorry for the typo!

      January 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  14. wakeuponthebrightside

    After reading this I had two thoughts: The shooting was obviously a horrific event which saddened me but I was also disappointed that the article continued with the idea that anyone and everyone who has a mental illness is crazed lunatic. I am bipolar and have battled depression my entire life, but I would never harm let alone kill mass amounts of people. By placing a stigma on those of us dealing with emotional scars, The U.S is def. not helping reduce the likleyhood of these tragedies happening agian, However letting people know that there is help and that they don't need to feel guilty for battling their problems is key in helping heal these people. If we as a society make people feel shame when they need help, then we are doing this world an injustice. Reaching out to people is the only the way and until we let them know they're ok and loved... then devastation will continue.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. allinor

    Being weird is not a crime. People who are now coming forward to act like they knew something was going to happen are not being honest. Small minds long to be right.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tara

      Well said!

      January 14, 2011 at 12:28 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