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. ConcernedNetizen

    Dick Cheney is just about as creepy looking, more or less..

    January 14, 2011 at 3:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Catie

      You're an idiot

      January 14, 2011 at 5:42 am | Report abuse |
    • PaulC

      I agree and Catie probably has covered all the mirror in the house.

      January 14, 2011 at 5:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      . . . and has similar expressions!

      January 14, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  2. hf74

    I myself have had to struggle with mental illness most of my life.
    I do not like the way this psycho is re-kindling the stigma against mentally ill people.
    I myself have social interaction problems that cause me to be a loaner, and communication problems that makes me seem weird to people.
    I will barely kill bugs, let alone a crowd of people.

    There are MILLIONS of mentally ill people in America, and millions more who will not admit that they have a mental problem, truth be told so called "normal" people are probably a minority.

    Out of millions of mentally ill few ever harm anyone.
    The vast majority of murders are committed by those who are deemed "normal".

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

      Nicely Said. I have a really bad social phobia which causes me to avoid people in most cases. When I have to speak I shake and do not look at anyone. I'm actually extremely nice but it takes me a while to warm up to people. After this nonsense and the media hype about the "odd kid" I'm concerned about returning to school after this incident. The last thing anyone that has communication problems or any type of mental illness needs is more stares/comments from people. Talk about singling out those who are already isolated :(.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
    • some emo kid

      I myself wear my underwear on the outside and carry a duck. Why does society stigmatize us and call us nuts?

      January 14, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. rmtaks

    Warning signs? Just look at him! If you had showed me that picture even before this had happened, I would say "that guy is going to shoot a bunch of people, no question."

    January 14, 2011 at 3:15 am | Report abuse |
    • hf74

      He didn't look that way until just before the shooting.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:18 am | Report abuse |
    • PaulC

      What do you mean? I thought all rightwing bible thumpers looked like that.

      January 14, 2011 at 5:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Lecter, Ph D.

      PaulC, Loughner was more of a pot smoker, so can we say that he is the face of all pot users?

      January 14, 2011 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
  4. Mj

    I believe that all of those in the gov't who have made a decision to put all who are Sane in danger by saying that the Insane walking around with us do not have to be forced to take their meds should be BLAMED because all of a sudden when things go wrong every one wants to jump on the parents or try to take the insanity plea if this wasnt a law Jared would not have had the option to seek mental help when he was told he would have been forced to do so and evreyone including himself would be safe also because we dont know the depth of any mental illness on any of the various/millions of different people/personalities all mentally ill should be considered dangerous if they r not medicated

    January 14, 2011 at 3:17 am | Report abuse |
    • hf74

      Loughner was never on meds nor was he ever treated for mental problems.

      I say we need to force EVERYONE to take meds that they need for EVERYTHING.
      While we are at it we need to make laws against cigarettes, alcohol and fatty foods.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:19 am | Report abuse |
    • hf74

      BTW, you are a moron.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:20 am | Report abuse |
    • hf74

      BTW, if you ever had any experience with mental illness you would know that meds are dangerous and sometimes do not work.
      The mental health medicine system is a big scam.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      I went to a meeting about some of those drugs. The medical profession didn't seem overly thrilled with them either. lots of side effects...resolved to the idea that they don't have much to offer people, but they don't want people to suffer either. another one of those walking the tightrope problems.

      January 14, 2011 at 4:34 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      side effects which include meningitis and complete organ failure are unacceptable regardless of any benefit they may impart. the age of nazi medicine was supposed to have ended when we won the war (ww 2), so who exactly are these 'new fangled drug' developers and what's their agenda

      January 14, 2011 at 4:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Catie

      What are we supposed to do, go back to forced lobotomy's?

      January 14, 2011 at 5:42 am | Report abuse |
    • eleven

      Are you saying that if six lives would be saved by forcing him to have a lobotomy, you wouldn't want that to happen? No I don't agree with forced labotomies (sp?). I'm just saying that argument doesn't really relate to this case.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jay In Florida

    Reading CNN should be considered another sign of being a complete nutcase.

    January 14, 2011 at 3:18 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      Ishtaknah wa izmiknah, all at once!

      January 14, 2011 at 4:39 am | Report abuse |
  6. Iraq War Vet

    Who ever said "guns did this" you are retarded. A person did this and should be punished the correct way through the American Justice system. I feel sorry for the people that try to take my guns away from me.

    January 14, 2011 at 3:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Lecter, Ph D.

      In the US, 43,000 people a year die from car crashes, yet I see no efforts to curb the sale of cars.

      January 14, 2011 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
    • CTL

      is that a threat? "i feel sorry for the people who try to take me guns away from me". sounds to me like one... anyways (sorry for bad grammar, my phone has issues with caps) in terms of guns i agree with the notion of owning one, but with limits. i see no reason to have more than a few rounds at any one time unless you're in a war zone. and on the topic of social stigma towards mentally ill: it needs to stop. i myself suffer from mental illness and experience all sorts of reactions. threats, coldness, hostility, avoidance... this behavior doesnt help them (us), it makes it worse. the day society stops being prejudice against mentally ill is the day these senseless massacres stop. of course massacres will still occur, but at least they'll have a motive

      January 14, 2011 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
    • gianinatio

      Cars serve a useful and necessary purpose on a daily basis. People do not hunt food in urban setting therefore access to GUNS on a daily basis is no longer a necessity of life. I expect better from a PhD...

      January 14, 2011 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. albert

    everyone wants their 5 minutes of fame. Former teachers, students & friends, everyone had a sense he would do something like this. Bla bla bla!

    January 14, 2011 at 3:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Angel

      I agree with you. Everyone in retrospect just saw it coming. I call B.S. Nobody saw it coming. I'm not saying that it was all lies, that there were no signs, but hindsight is 20/20, and it's so easy to isolate one incident and attach it to another when you really want to. If even half of the stuff all these people are saying about him is true I'll eat my hat. Everyone is eager to either get their fifteen minutes, or to distance themselves from this guy as much as possible by claiming they thought he was totally insane all along.

      I mean I'm not saying anything about whether or not this guy was healthy, I just feel like so many people are totally fabricating or blowing out of proportion little incidents or facts so they can be on the news, and I'm more disillusioned with some news outlets than usual just for taking everything some random person says as law. I realize that lots of these things can never be fact checked, but come on.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      As the sib of a schizophrenic, I would say that its probably true that they sensed danger. Not like a typical college student on a venting spree, but actual danger. That would be consistent with what I know to be true about schizophrenia. It's not casual...you know. Something isn't right there. Red flags go up. Like the algebra teacher and evidently students stated. His behavior seems appropriate to me. And probably correct. He may not present that way to everyone all the time though.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      Sorry...I mean that the algebra teacher seems appropriate to me. It's not casual when you see it...red flags definitely go up. You sense that you are not dealing with "normal" and that they can harm people. He defined it well on cnn.

      January 14, 2011 at 4:01 am | Report abuse |
  8. SATT


    January 14, 2011 at 3:21 am | Report abuse |
  9. SATT

    if loughne was jewish, he sure as hell broke their desire to maintain that image ;). l

    January 14, 2011 at 3:25 am | Report abuse |
  10. Sandra B

    I used to work in neuro many years ago and one thing that struck me as a nursing assistant is that I could talk to people with a brain injury and they seemed to be having a normal conversation with several friends in their room, but when it came time to ask orientation questions like what is your name?...they couldn't answer me. That strikes me. People are capable of having normal conversations, but not really be [lucid – not sure what the right word is...reluctant to use "normal"]. I think in the case of a disease...that would really throw people. But, if you work that backwards...can't we tell what part of the brain controls what? Would we be able to develop instruments to pick up on this type of thing? Has anyone tried?

    January 14, 2011 at 3:29 am | Report abuse |
  11. hf74

    The truth is that he didn't seem any more psycho than millions of other odd-ball loaner young people these days.
    Everyone just wants to chime in with their experience interacting with him, just so they can say "I told you so".

    The vast majority of people who behave like Loughner wouldn't harm a fly.

    There has also been plenty normal acting psychos.

    January 14, 2011 at 3:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Just-Me

      Sandra B – You asked a few questions that I may be able to help answer.

      You asked, "But, if you work that backwards...can't we tell what part of the brain controls what? Would we be able to develop instruments to pick up on this type of thing? Has anyone tried?"

      Yes, yes and yes. There are areas in the brain that specifically control/work particular parts of the body along with emotions and so on. However, the brain is far more complex that a person realizes. It is possible for a part of the brain to compensate for an injured part of the body even if a particular part of the brain is supposed to control another part of the body. In a sense it shares a part of the brain.
      They can test for electrical impulses, temperature sensations, reflexes and I can't begin to tell you all of them. You did state "used to work in neuro many years ago". I'm going safely say you know how complex the Nervous system is.

      I am answering because I have some personal familiarity. I've been through many assorted tests due to having several types of seizures, TN, TIA and more. I will not presume to be able to diagnose a person but I can tell you that medications cause side effects and doctors give medication to help the side effect and not interfere with the intent of the original medication.

      To make a very elongated explanation short, what will cause the same things you describe are; seizure disorders, traumas, tumors, lesions, nerve damage, dna, pinched veins or arteries, along with a very long list of other possibilities.

      Frustrating isn't it?

      January 14, 2011 at 3:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      Just me: Extremely. I worked in neurosurgery, not neurology. or psych. My knowledge is more toward structural. Dermatomes. The obvious. This is not obvious. And i want some light on this one.

      Do you mean something like dolman delcato (controversial) where the brain would re-learn things that it lost? or that one part helps when another part is offline for some reason? i think it's complex when you don't know it, but it seems like it should be able to know this now. Are we still in the structural stages? Are we any farther along on hormones? Can hormones affect behavior (thinking of oxytocin, testosterone, adrenaline)? And what happens there...hormone soup?

      I wish I could see maps of what goes on there. (like dermatomes that tell what part of the brain controls what part of the body) Interesting that "controlling" seems to come up in some schizophrenics...i've met non-violent ones that were all about controlling the water tables and that a little bit here would completely mess up something in wisconsin. it was quite the elaborate story actually. what parts of the brain are affected for what parts? and/or what hormone or lack thereof controls what types of thoughts? why adult onset? why the delay? is there some physiological change that took place? They said that something changed two years ago...so say around 20-ish. How can you tell if a process is disintegrating? what are the signs? is it some myelin sheath type of breakdown? not enough fat? not enough vitamins? what is this thing? and how do we get rid of it? i would wrestle this one to the ground if i could. dog with a bone. chew it up and bury it in the yard. what is this thing? where does it come from? how do we prevent it? how do we intervene?

      January 14, 2011 at 4:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      Is it some type of mercury poisoning? (thinking of mad hatters that got into mercury) why clenched fists? possible focal seizures?

      January 14, 2011 at 4:48 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      @Sandra Interesting angle, Hg poisoning–too much gefelte fish, maybe?

      January 14, 2011 at 4:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      clenched fists remind me of neuro problems. it has been too many years now, but is that from brain stem damage? toxins? metals?

      January 14, 2011 at 5:11 am | Report abuse |
  12. Jeff Bunting

    I would like to say by reading a lot of the comments on here that I can tell people are pretty ignorant of mental illness and don't have any understanding of what its like being trapped in your mind. You think killing him would be punishment but the reality most of us seek death because we're tired of living like a prisoner in our own mind. Voices telling us to do things that we wouldn't normally do. Sure it sounds funny and comical to the ignorant or to those who have never been through these things but I am telling you that death feels so much better than having to hear the voices in your head jibber and jabber for the rest of your life.

    Being on medication also is laughable yes it makes them go away sometimes but not all the time and sure it makes things more manageable but its hardly some 'cure' that the misinformed believe it is. I am also sick and tired of how the media loves to paint the mentally ill. As if we're something lesser to be thrown in cages and mocked or thrown in some prison cell. How in the hell can that help anyone? Especially someone that doesn't even know why they are there?

    January 14, 2011 at 3:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra B

      well said.

      stay with us. we care.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:32 am | Report abuse |
    • hf74

      I am with you.

      Although I don't get voices I have had to struggle with being BiPolar and emotional instabilities most of my life.
      Meds do not work well for me.

      I won't harm a fly and am actually a nice person who will go out of my way to help someone.

      You just have to grab happiness as it comes by, think of yourself as being stronger instead of weaker than a so called "normal" person.
      Truth is that everyone is a little bit off, just the smart ones will admit it.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:40 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      You R pre-empted from killing yourself, but if they call you by your name You have to listen.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Just-Me

      [ isthatall You R pre-empted from killing yourself, but if they call you by your name You have to listen. ]

      Not necessarily true.

      January 14, 2011 at 4:06 am | Report abuse |
    • isthatall

      You know if they r calling you by your name they are more real than anything else.
      This much is as True as the fact that You, Just_Me, did not reply to my comment by chance alone.

      January 14, 2011 at 4:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. albert

    everyone had a laugh of the school district shooting in Florida, just because no one was hurt and because of the woman that swung her purse at the shooter. It was not a laughing matter, the actions taken by the woman could have agravated and triggered the gunman to shoot at everyone in the room. Now why don't we laugh at the Arizona shooting.... because there were casualties? Truth is, no shooting incident, whether there are victims or not, whether it is has a happy ending or not, should be taken serious not laughed upon.

    January 14, 2011 at 3:32 am | Report abuse |
    • hf74

      She was trying to save everyone, she just did not have the physical ability to do so.
      Now if she had been some big burly chick that came out of there and broke his arm with a chair she would have gotten a medal, but she is being laughed at instead.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:35 am | Report abuse |
    • runmom

      You correct Albert – any shooting incident could always end up worse that it did, regardless of the specifics of what happened. None of them are laughable.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Steven Brown

    This monster should hang at the end of a rope, along with the Fort Hood killer Nidal Hassan. The point of lethal injection is to be kind and merciful to the condemned person? That doesn't make sense.

    January 14, 2011 at 3:32 am | Report abuse |
  15. Josh

    I think he looks like a fast food employee of the month!!!!!!

    January 14, 2011 at 3:35 am | Report abuse |
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