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. Cynical Randy

    Here's the cruel irony. This event was a Gun Free zone. Had every citizen that attended been able to carry concealed or open per the law, the lunatic might've gotten three or four people before he was dropped like a mad dog. The liberals and Politically Correct got things their way and almost two dozen people were killed or injured. THIS, others knowing what's best for me and the country, is why I'm always armed when I go out and I stay away from places that prohibit firearms. Those are murder zones. To make the irony even more vicious is that Rep. Giffords is pro gun.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
    • ROFL at you morons

      I did not know that. This zone must have been created by females,...sigh.....I swear to god I am not joking,...they mess everything up. Yeah women are fun and awesome for a while,...but then they get all fat and start having babies that have a "feed me" sign for 18 years. Men across the nation need to start realizing we are losing this country. I ask all men to join together, like the good old 1800's mob mentallity days.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Bryan

      And that is why I try stay away from places that don't ban guns...because people under the dillusion are more likely to kill me than a criminal. Guns caused this....ban them now.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
    • CTYank

      You're deranged. The OK corral is long since gone.
      You can't make the world into a free-fire zone. And, your version of various facts is quite twisted.
      Maybe you'd be happier in Somalia?

      January 14, 2011 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      Bryan: paranoid people are going to find a way to protect themselves. even if its not a gun...they will find some type of weaponry. It doesn't seem like he was scared for himself though...more that he hated other people. anger turned outward. I wonder if he ever expressed being scared that people were after him or anything like that? scared, not mad. (are there similarities to mercury poisoning? mad hatter types of things?)

      January 14, 2011 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      Bryan: That doesn't rule out schizophrenia though. I would think that they have forensic psychiatrists that will evaluate him (not sure if someone has to ask for that or not). And when they find out, we won't be allowed to know...as a family member that had to deal with this type of thing...I didn't find that helpful.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:39 am | Report abuse |
    • OldArmyVet

      It is more likely that there would have been a lot more friendly fire casualties in the ensuing firefight. When a group of people in a roughly circular formation start shooting at a target in the middle, more bullets hit friendlies than the intended target.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
  2. Greek the jimmy

    it.s a well known fact,an african americans rear is higher than a caucassions.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
    • OldArmyVet

      It is also well known that the uneducated have trouble spelling...

      January 14, 2011 at 1:37 am | Report abuse |
  3. big AL

    @Harry Calahan you stated the NRA controls our " gun rights"? Guess again oh confused one. The government controls our "gun rights" and It's the NRA and It's members help defend our "gun rights"! Now are we on the same page? Get informed and get educated because someone has either lied to you or you are not clear on the subject.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  4. Abe Froman

    The real scary thing that should bother any reasonable person the most is how amazingly easy someone like this can obtain guns and ammo by walking right into a gun shop. Despite all his problems and brushes with the law etc, a wackjob like this can buy guns. Why? Because the NRA and the right wing gun loving wackos make it so easy. Why? Because they are clueless. As long as our legislators quiver and quake and bow down to the right wing gun nuts in this country, senseless mass murder shootings like this will keep occurring. The gun lobby is to blame for this one, for Oklahoma, for Va Tech, for Waco, etc etc

    January 14, 2011 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
    • OldArmyVet

      So ....

      Billy Bob behind the counter at WalMart is supposed to administer a quick blood test that reveals who is and who is not insane before he completes the transaction?

      January 14, 2011 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Your being racist against ugly white people. No offense but how many pretty blacks chics do you see?

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

    It is a scary world that this country has become.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. Female and Proud!!!!

    Ok rofl or whatever your name is. I am a female and I am very proud of it, one day we will run this country. One day we will become Mrs. President of the United States thank you very much! You guys think having a baby is easy?! You think women can just squirt them out like an every day bowel movement?! huh? Women need to have higher paying jobs and higher positions within companies becuase we can do just the same or even better job than a male can. If a woman was president right now, none of this crap would have ever happened....there would be no war! NO WAR!

    January 14, 2011 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
    • OldArmyVet

      "Men and women are equal - women are just more equal" kinda thing you have going on there ...

      January 14, 2011 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Sally Li

      Where have you been? We've already had de facto woman Presidents, the latest being Hillary Clinton.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:01 am | Report abuse |
  7. David B.

    ? What the hell are you talking about?

    January 14, 2011 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
  8. dj

    Reading this makes me think he was infected by a deamon.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
    • OldArmyVet

      He's running in the background?

      January 14, 2011 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
  9. Scott

    Question? So if everyone is in agreeing that this guy had a mental disease and was a little off the wall, won't that lead eventually to him and his lawyer to declare him mentally insane. Just curious if this is a possibility and what the consequences would come from this?

    January 14, 2011 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      Doesn't mean insane. That has a special meaning in the legal world. Many years ago they changed the law because they didn't want people to get off on that. He very well could get the death penalty. (To have schizophrenia is no excuse. It just is what it is. And how we as a society decide to deal with those is the question we are probably looking at. There will be plenty of people that think the death penalty is right. I'm questioning that, but...its late in the process. After they kill people, you are dealing with a much more complicated issue. I would love to know how to catch this stuff before it every gets to that. I have a LOT of questions about this. If it turns out to be schizophrenia. To me, as a sib of one with the disease...it looks like the monster smiling back at me. I would like to see us wrestle that monster to the ground. Catch it early. Before it ever gets to something like this.)

      January 14, 2011 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
    • kpete

      Watching what I believe was CNN tv, Arizona is one the the few states in the country that allows the verdict of guilty, BUT insane, while many others only have "not guilty by reason of insanity." he would serve part of his term in a mental facility until he is deemed well enough to carry out the rest of his sentence in a regular penitentiary.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
  10. big AL

    @Abe Froman CNN should forward your comment to the authorities for your rant on the NRA and I quote "right-wing gun loving wacos".

    January 14, 2011 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
  11. The masterbater

    I think after reading all these posts, I am going to jump into a frezzing pool to make sure that I am not dreaming. I can not believe some of the responses here...I must be losing my mind.He did the crime, he will do the time. No crying, no whinning, no hacks. He truth is, he is going down, and there is nothing the best damn lawyer can do for him.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
  12. tim swire

    say what you will about micheal moore films,but in bowling 4 columbine, did walmart not vow 2 take bullets off their shelves.....Tucson? Walmart


    January 14, 2011 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
  13. taz


    January 14, 2011 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
    • brian davis

      You must be a democrat. BOOOOOOOO!

      January 14, 2011 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
    • andy

      very very true

      January 14, 2011 at 1:22 am | Report abuse |
    • holritye

      I agree with you Taz–100%
      any minority would not be thought of as mentally ill but as evil degenerates

      January 14, 2011 at 1:24 am | Report abuse |
  14. Kate

    alot of really out there ppl on the right also call black ppl "fourteenth amendment citizens"
    because they were granted that status until after the war.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
  15. erner golders

    I am willing to bet there are many many people lik this guy in the country ready to snap at any minute. And sadly most people wouldn't give a damn because people don't care about their fellow human beings anymore. Most people are more interested in what celeb losers are doing than what their neighbors or even THEIR OWN CHILDREN or other relatives are doing.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
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