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. james

    @Greg.. Hahahahaha could not agree more!

    January 14, 2011 at 1:59 am | Report abuse |
  2. Dave

    I wish they'd stop showing this picture.... nice way to become celebate & lose weight, just tape it to your refrigerator door.........

    January 14, 2011 at 2:03 am | Report abuse |
  3. dani

    There's good and evil in the world army vet...everything happens for a reason.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:03 am | Report abuse |
    • OldArmyVet

      "Everything happens for a reason" is a nice teddy bear to hang on to. It's a frightening world and we sometimes need our little binkies to help us through the night.

      January 14, 2011 at 2:07 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      What;s a 'binki'?

      January 14, 2011 at 3:33 am | Report abuse |
    • myklds

      @OldArmyVet and the rests of the Atheist...It's really "a frightening world" to think what a man could do if he "don't trust God". And such a horror to imagine what people capable of doing when they don't BELIEVE God.

      January 14, 2011 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  4. Scooby Doo

    I can't believe this isn't happening more often. I don't want it to but there sure seems there are enough "candidates" in stressed situations to "snap in a second" just like this one did. God bless those innocent people – makes no sense whatsoever!!

    January 14, 2011 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
  5. LissaGA02

    I personally think he had a severe hatred for this congresswoman, wanted everyone to believe he was mentally ill (so he could, of course, say he was mentally ill and NOT go to prison) and planned this whole thing out exactly the way he wanted. Did anyone stop to think that maybe he was intelligent, researching so much of psychology and sociology just to CLAIM he was unstable only because he had something against that congresswoman? And why, like so many other that commit crimes as this one, did he not turn the gun on himself? Because he knew exactly what he was doing. As far as the black/white thing, I live in the deep south. A 22 year old black male just murdered his own 92 year old grandmother and then called his mother to tell her what he had done. Reports state he was also mentally unstable, not taking his medication. Will he have a fair trail? I guess my point is I don't feel that race should be an issue here at all. And neither is religion. No one can determine his fate right now. All of us have to wait and see what happens next..and as for the gentleman who made those comments about females, well darlin' you wouldn't be on this earth right now if it weren't for a woman and until you walk a mile in MY shoes or any other woman's, I'd think twice about putting down the gender.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      It wouldn't work. Prisons are full of mentally ill people.

      January 14, 2011 at 2:22 am | Report abuse |
  6. Kenny

    Why did they shaved his head, to make him looked more like a skinhead?

    January 14, 2011 at 2:16 am | Report abuse |
  7. PaulC

    Yep...He's a Republican for sure.
    I don't care what you say but Palin and Beck must share responsibility for the violence with their "reload", "second amendment remedy", terrorist in the White House", "We came unloaded, this time" rantings.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:18 am | Report abuse |
  8. isthatall

    For the rather verbose treatise expounding such depth of knowledge about mental illness and how much trust to put in the treating physicians hands here is one from the archives. A woman shows up with classic symptoms of migraines and complains of pain for protracted period of time, about 3 years, which she ties to having had a toxic exposure at work from 'sick building' that OSHA has ruled out mass hysteria since statistically enough other people got sick but she happened to get just sick enough to present as 'crazy' since every med she is given causes severe reactions and doctors deny there is such a thing as toxic exposure due to sick buidling syndrome despite her abnormal lab results and other flags that anyone with 1 year of medical school can diagnose including triggering her asthma from breathing asphyxians and mold spores found in the building. The admitting physicians gets all this history on her and asks her what meds she had been given which she had reactions to which included everything from jaundice to excreting ketones in her urine and that's just what can be mentioned in mixed company. She, thinking he would avoid giving her this host of trial and error meds, tells him and he adroitly mixes a coctail of the 4 most recent meds she had allergic reactions/unacceptable side effects to and administers one hypodermic full of this to her after which she passes out. When she is finally 'released' from the psych ward she discovers that there is about 2 days missing period between the time she is transported from the ER to the psych ward, so she requests her medical records. The medical records go missing for a period of 8 years, but she does not give up and finally gets a hold of them where she findsout that she was basically OD'd by the ER doctor with his chosen concoction. UCLA Harbor medical Center denies all culpability. Are they still in operation? You really thing psychiatrists and/or so called medical professionals always work to help a patient or is their a hidden agenda that produces these types of Loughners in our Society?

    January 14, 2011 at 2:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      The whole story sounds fake. But, if I were to guess I would say the medical record is locked up in the Director of the Hospitals office somewhere that could be retrieved if it was actually supoenaed. Just a guess.

      January 14, 2011 at 2:30 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      Wrong. The facts are as stated.

      January 14, 2011 at 2:34 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      ...besides, why worry about a subpeona; nobody was getting sued, she went for treatment to the ER, pretty much par for the course. people's records don't get locked up for routine admits, we're talking about a middle of the road working grunt with kids and a less than stellar wardrobe–oh, and no unmanageable debt.

      January 14, 2011 at 2:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      Allergy testing isn't done in the ER and wouldn't be tested that way anyway.

      January 14, 2011 at 2:47 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      @Sandra B
      Who said anything about allergy testing she already stated upon interview that she had been reacting to the stated meds, the doctor knowing gave not just 1 but all 4 of the meds she already knew she had adverse reactions to. It is what it is. You are talking to a Ghost.

      January 14, 2011 at 2:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      oh...i see. sleepy doctor?

      January 14, 2011 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      Trying to get an admit for the hospital? so they could make money off of her? and they could see her bank account first?

      January 14, 2011 at 3:10 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      her bank account was as lackluster as her wardrobe <$36K per year gross income for a family of 4; she was just a smart shopper

      January 14, 2011 at 3:20 am | Report abuse |
  9. Collin

    I couldn't agree more. With the more than typical crazy mugshot, a lot of help from CNN, and cliches like 'he was a quiet kid who kept to himself' and attributing talking out of turn or making innapropriate comments in college class (which would sum up just about every college student) I'm sure he'll get off pretty easy and not what he really deserves.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:23 am | Report abuse |
  10. Eddie

    Anyone notice that Loughner looks like Sloth from Goonies?

    January 14, 2011 at 2:24 am | Report abuse |
  11. ElvisinTucson

    I also believe he smirked at the camera on purpose, that he knew exactly what he was doing. The parents should be on trial along with him for creating a monster. How did he get $600. to buy guns and ammunition?

    January 14, 2011 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall


      January 14, 2011 at 2:28 am | Report abuse |
  12. Jay

    Ok he looks like he has mental issues in that photo. He tried to assassinate a political official, killed six individuals, and wounded others. Those where his actions bottom line. He will be judged in a court of law although he has been found guilty.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:28 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      So far he has been found Crazy and the parents got the blame. Good work, Men!

      January 14, 2011 at 2:29 am | Report abuse |
  13. gristle

    mentally ill? sure. but doesn't anyone else see our culture in this man's acts? violence, violence, everywhere violence. Jared is a human being. He is ill, but he still has eyes and ears. why point fingers elsewhere? everyone's actions, and inactions, contribute to the violence in our nation. take this time to think about what YOU are doing to prevent illnesses and violent acts. If we do nothing to change it within ourselves, we stand in the shadows of these acts, just watching time, waiting for it to happen again. everyone should blame themselves. shame on us for allowing our society to deteriorate to the poing of this actions, for providing a culture of war and filth through which we all, Jared included, breathe this air. To just dismiss the man as crazy? we all let this happen. shame on us.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:29 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      Yup. That's why we make every effort to have our surviving 'sane' children be able to 'travel through it.'

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

    whats wrong with this sentence CNN? do you have 3rd graders writing this stuff??

    ". They described him as intense and intelligent, someone who kept to himself but was nice once you to know him."

    January 14, 2011 at 2:30 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      Apparently that was Loughner's problem, too, that less than 5% of Gabrielle's consituents were literate. Grammar Nazi!

      January 14, 2011 at 2:32 am | Report abuse |
  15. Just_me

    I feel terribly sorry for his parents; my prayers go to both of them. God be with both of you and help you be in peace during this difficult moment...

    January 14, 2011 at 2:34 am | Report abuse |
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