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. Linda Lou

    In reading this, there were so many people that said, 'he scared me'. with the shootings that are on the news you usually get people saying 'he was so normal, he didn't bother anyone'. didn't warning bells go off with anyone? why wasn't he evaluated at some point?

    January 14, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Brian

    "How come a background check can not also look at if the would be gun purchaser has had any issues in school that should raise a red flag?".....

    We have over 300 million people in this country. If they were all examined by a psychiatrist at least ten million would be considered off the deep end and 50 million would be "creeps" – although "creep" is not a medical term.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. DBC

    People keep attacking Loghner's friends and family for not heeding the warning signs and getting him help. I agree that they should have spoken up but the bigger question is why Loghner didn't get himself help? He had to have realized as soon as he bought the gun (and I'm sure for years before that) with the thought of murder that he was losing his mind.

    So why not get help? Where was his outlet? Maybe he just didn't want to get it? What makes me sad about this country is how hard it actually is to get the mental help you need. Not only is there a stigma against it, but it is too expensive for most people with the costs of medication and therapy through the roof. Silly question, but did Loughner have health insurance? It is much cheaper to "self-medicate" which ironically can be more self-destructive.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Alf

    This looney tune read: the Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx, Mao Tse Zedong Little Red Book and Adolf Hitler's (National Socialist (NAZI)) Mine Kamph. ALL three books are socialist writings, and all three dictators believed in government owning or controlling everything. This guy had nothing to do with skin heads or any right wing nut job. He was more of a socialist than anything else.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. voiceofreason1

    Nancy Pelosi creeps me out...

    January 14, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • sevresblue

      Another crazy heard from....

      January 14, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. marcamp

    It's really time to let this go...This is sad all the way around. The story has turned into a politicizing, media money making grab bag...at the heart of the whole thing are so many devastated families....the parents of this man have been behind the walls of their homes probably reeling from the isolation and grief their child has caused. For anyone who has ever dealt with someone with mental/emotional issues, it is often hard to determine when the person crosses the border and, like everything else, most families cling to hope, are afraid of failure and suffer from guilt, confusion and a sense of fear. Really, is there a parent out there that hasn't questionned their choices, wondered if they caused the problems of their children. We've heard the most educated people out there quick to ridicule, prosecute and condemn, but at some point, we need to criticize the act and understand there is a very sick, mentally unstable peson with a family that will never recover either....one would hope none of our children would ever do such an unspeakable crime, but none of us really know how sickness affects someone or where it leads...it's time for the media to let go of this moneymaking, peprallying, headline making story and just move on....

    January 14, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Betty

    Want to meet men that could not get into the military? Snipers Hide.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Brian

    "This looney tune read: the Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx, Mao Tse Zedong Little Red Book and Adolf Hitler's (National Socialist (NAZI)) Mine Kamph. ALL three books are socialist writings".....

    Fascism (Nazi) is the exact opposite of socialism. I doubt that he "read" those books. Collecting these books is typical of the histrionic behavior of people with his condition.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. vt11

    Am I the only one who noticed the use of "kind of" in every sentence spoken by the ex-girlfriend?

    It was kind of annoying.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dizzyd

    @mykids – just for the record, a person's belief (or lack thereof) doesn't determine the kind of person they are. There are good ppl who are atheists, as well as Christians who are total buttholes. Sad but true. So be careful about making blanket statements like that.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. RG

    Why is there more security to get on a plane than there is to buy a gun?

    January 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jim fixit

    To all who think if Jared didn't have a gun he could not have killed anyone think again. McViegh didn't have a gun, he used a vehicle full of fertilizer. Face it the man was deranged. Sad but true. And from the news in so far he'd been plotting since 2007. People like that aren't stopped by a background check, they just plan alternate means many of which can in fact be far more deadly. Frankly, had even one person been armed in that crowd, they could have stopped him after the first several bullets, sooner if they'd been paying attention. Stop using this tragedy to promote your personal political agenda. If you need to blame someone or something, blame the darn laws that prevented his parents or anyone else from forcing him to seek help.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mark

    Thanks CNN. Now we get another round of every kid in school who is a little different being treated like terrorists. Way to go.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. joe

    Many peuple got shot last week in Tucson and six were dead. But base in politics view, journalists started blaming the shooter but in my opinion, I think America people and the government should blamed themselves no the shooter because many America people include the government allowed everyone to buy any kind of guns the want so I just them it is so stupid to blame someone who used his/ her gun to kill someone because I don't think anyone need guns except the police.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Alan


    January 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
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