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. Harry Calahan

    All this talk about his troubled past is useless. It's a moot point because the only reason to talk about it is to determine if he should have had access to guns. The NRA controls our gun rights and because of them, there is no system that can deny a "law-abiding citzen" the right to buy a gun, no matter how crazy he is, unless he is commited to a mental hostpital. That didn't happen, so he can have any gun he can get his hands on.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ladon Cowser

    Pray for the victims; their families & all of the people who have suffered because of this tragedy! Thank God this psycho is in police custody & hopefully won't ever be free! To all of the families: You are in my Prayers & You have my deepest sympathy! Blytheville, AR.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • OldArmyVet

      Here's an idea...

      Instead of thanking god for the survivors, ask him why he didn't help the victims.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
    • The Bops

      OldArmyVet, the problem with what you are saying is that you are equating the capability of the human mind to be on a level par with God. We dont have all the answers and we can't comprehend all of them even if we had access to them. Consider this: my cat looks up at me eagerly wanting me to give her treats all day long. She doesn't understand why I give her only a few at a time. If I am her loving master, then why am I not giving her the whole bag? You and I know it is so she doesn't become fat and unhealthy. My cat can't understand that (i.e., her brain is not capable of understanding it) just like human brains are not capable of understanding everything. I think it is quite arrogant just because humans can't experience something with the 5 senses that we just say with absolute certainly, "well it must not exist". Open your mind my friend. I don't want to turn the thread into a discussion on religion though, so I'll end here.

      I noticed you have like 1/2 the postings on this thread. Just wanted to say that I occasionally agree with you. Regular algebra is easy; I struggled with Linear Algebra in college so perhaps that is the class that Loughner had.

      January 14, 2011 at 2:31 am | Report abuse |
  3. John

    These "witnesses" are so unreliable it's hard to tell what is truth and what is just made up for media consumption.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jes

      You mean all those "unreliable witnesses" whom he shot from 3 feet away? Yeah, they're all about the hype right? The survivors are witnesses and I think the clearly recall what happened without embellishment.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nathan

      i think anyone who has taken any level of a psychology class would agree that witnesses are very unreliable

      January 14, 2011 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  4. vikingslost

    You all don't get too caught up into what the media is doing in this case. Sensationalizing the alleged killer as if we even care. Jared Lee Loughner is a cold blooded killer and he should get a very decisive death penalty for his crimes.

    One of the other posters I believe hit the nail on the head. We wouldn't even be seeing all these different articles about the alleged killer, if it was not for his race. One of their own caused these atrocities against all these people and yet the media wants us to feel pity for him because of so called outside influences. Just imagine if the alleged was an Arab or any other minority in Arizona and how the media would be calling for the hanging right along with the rest of us.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • OldArmyVet

      Wow. You've seen the evidence, rendered a verdict and arrived at a sentence.

      Why do we need a jury of 12 peers?

      January 14, 2011 at 1:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. Tivoli

    Well from reading this article, Id have to say that all the warning sighns were definently there. I mean, even even teachers of his stated that they thought he needed help, and one even said she was worried about him bringing a weapon and there being a shoot-out at the school. Warning sighns for sure! I mean its no-ones fault but his own and deserves swift justice but all these people speak up now, when they should've felt compelled to do so then. My thoughts and prayers r just with the victims and their families.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Speak

      I agree.. To think something and to say something are two different things. Speak Up People! If someone puts true fear in your heart you need to speak up. Don't wait for something like this to happen and then say I knew it... That teacher was in a position to do something to get this kid help and she/he did nothing. I'm not blaming any one person. I don't know what I would do in her/his situation but I like to think that I would o all I could to bring it to someones attention.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
    • OldArmyVet

      They could have spoken up until they were blue in the face.

      If he doesn't want to get treatment himself, he cannot be forced to get it absent a court order. It is hard to get that because if it were easy, we'd have neighbors getting revenge calling the white paddy wagon on someone whose dog crapped in their yard.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:55 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      the Gardens at Tivoli were lovely–R they still there?

      January 14, 2011 at 5:00 am | Report abuse |
  6. boud2437

    if this kid doesnt get the chair im ashamed to be a part of the american justice system

    January 13, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • OldArmyVet

      Since you are the Judge, jury and executioner, I think there is already something quite wrong with the system.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:53 am | Report abuse |
  7. Kite005

    The behavior definitely sounds like shrooms or something similar.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      If anyone knows about his drugs use, it would be good to come forward now. FBI would probably be interested in that. police. call them.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Lee Oates

    The percentage of the population that have severe mental health problems has risen sharply in the last 50 years. Part of that is the fast pace of change, the unequal distribution of wealth (rich vrs poor, creating enormous stresses), and the slow poisoning of our population by all the chemicals we have released into our food, water, and air, that might have affected our brain functions. We don't have near the Mental Health Services needed, and we are putting little effort into preventing the causes of Mental Health problems developing. So we will always have the occassional outburst of killing by someone with a mental health problem.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • OldArmyVet

      The frequency of mental illness has not risen.

      It is just harder to get away with ignoring it.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      Nope. Unhealthy levls of environmental toxins. Direct correlations everywhere but the all get swept under the rug...something to do with environmental justice. Apparently there isn't any.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:24 am | Report abuse |
  9. Floppy Penis

    He looks like Dr. Evil.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. GUnny420

    The right wing has been calling for civil war & blood since Obama took office.someone has finaly answerd there call...lets hope it stops here.the right wing would love to finish the job they started under bush(destruction of this country)so they can rebuild it in there greedy power mad style.the left is too weak to stop them.so at us all stand strong & be weary!!!

    January 13, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • lolasmama

      Be weary????? Your off the wall ideas make me weary. I am wary of people like you.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ROFL at your morons

    I don't think he was mad at all, he wanted to kill. He accomplished what he sort after....for his views to be posted around the world. Why is it when a soldier is a casualty of war, the us government can not make sure they have a peaceful funeral without offending the sick protestors rights (West B.). So,....the law changes when someone commits a crime of this magnitude. I think the government needs to look at this long and hard and see they can prevent forest fires by doing the right thing. I can not believe this church is trying to protest at her funeral...I think this is creating a "mob mentallity". Not good. oh,..Sarah Palin was the last person on earth to have anything to do with this you freaking trolls of nature.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      The protesting part makes me wonder if they are a real church or just some group parading as a church so they can get a tax break or something.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • jubilee shine

      well maybe palin's 2nd to last. i didnt put gifford in any crosshairs so i have less to do with gifford being targeted than does palin.

      January 14, 2011 at 2:13 am | Report abuse |
  12. Sandra B

    Key is that many people were scared of him or what he could do.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • lolasmama

      I am sure from what people are now saying there was good reason to fear him. I would bet that his parents were also afraid of him.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Travis

    First innocent or guillty this is america this is how things are in courts second you may what to look at our health care i had a schysofrenic freind and was unable to get help who know serves a life sentence he smoked a lot of pot but he was calm when he was out watch every move he makes

    January 13, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Louisianian

    I so agree with Sheron regarding that dumb mugshot that's floating around. Beyond that crazy a** look lurks a cowardly idiot. He was obviously 'high', hence the glazed over look in his eyes. I'm sure when he sobered up all of that arrogance went out the window. I agree with everyone praying for the families of all involved. They certainly have a long road ahead of them. This guy is getting alot more than the 15 minutes of fame. He so wants to go down in the history books as the wacko he is. I say stop circulating his photo so much and focus more on the victims.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sarah

    Once your child is an adult, unless you are appointed their legal guardian, you cannot force them to seek mental health treatment. Furthermore, unless he were involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, he, and all other people in this country, has a right to refuse treatment or medications. People aren't locked up for mental health reasons unless there is cause to believe they're a danger to themself or others. Of course, it's easy to say its obvious he had all there warning signs and everyone should have known. However, when you spend your life around that person, you become so wrapped up in the day to day that it isn't as obvious. Clearly, he was dangerous, and this possibly could have been avoided, but many people who are mentally ill go through life never harming anyone except perhaps themself. How do you know unless they do something to show they're dangerous? You don't. When something like this happens, everyone that person has ever met says they could see it coming, in this case apparently because he stares and has a temper. These are pretty common traits, but if they are so sure they saw it coming, why did they not mention it before now?

    January 13, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • lolasmama

      The college took action against him, didn't they?

      January 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
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