Ariz. gunman Loughner's descent to madness unchecked
PHOENIX — Almost everyone who crossed paths with Jared Loughner in the year before he shot former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords described a man who was becoming more unhinged and delusional by the day.
He got fired from a clothing store and thrown out of college, shaved his head and got tattoos of bullets and a gun on his shoulder. He showed up at the apartment of a boyhood friend with a Glock 9 mm pistol, saying he needed it for “home protection.” He made dark comments about the government and, according to one acquaintance, appeared suicidal.
His spiral into madness hit bottom on Jan. 8, 2011. He broke down in tears when a wildlife agent pulled him over for a traffic stop. He went to a gas station and asked the clerk to call a cab as he paced nervously around the store. Gazing up at the clock, he said, “Nine twenty-five. I still got time.”
About 45 minutes later, Giffords lay bleeding on the sidewalk along with 11 others who were wounded. Six people were dead.
The information about Loughner's mental state — and the fact that no one did much to get him help — emerged as a key theme in roughly 2,700 pages of investigative papers released on Wednesday. Still, there was nothing to indicate exactly why he targeted Giffords.
The files also provided the first glimpse into Loughner's family and a look at parents dealing with a son who had grown nearly impossible to communicate with.
“I tried to talk to him. But you can't. He wouldn't let you,” his father, Randy Loughner, told police. “Lost, lost and just didn't want to communicate with me no more.”
His mother, Amy Loughner, recalled hearing her son alone in his room “having conversations” as if someone else were there.
Despite recommendations from officials at Pima Community College, which expelled Loughner, that he undergo a mental evaluation, his parents never followed up.
In a statement released by the gun control advocacy group she started with her husband, Giffords said that “no one piece of legislation” would have prevented the Tucson shooting.
“However, I hope that common-sense policies like universal background checks become part of our history, just like the Tucson shootings are — our communities will be safer because of it.”
While such checks may keep those with mental illnesses from obtaining guns, the 24-year-old Loughner had never been diagnosed with any conditions, meaning nothing would have stopped him from purchasing a weapon.
Friends and family interviewed by law enforcement after the shooting painted a picture of a young man who was deeply troubled in the weeks before the shooting.
Loughner visited Anthony George Kuck, who had known him since preschool. Kuck said he was alarmed to find he had shaved his head and was armed.
“I kicked him out of my house because he showed me his gun,” Kuck said.
Kuck told police he had seen Loughner's mental state deteriorate over time, starting with drinking problems in high school, trouble with authorities and being kicked out of college.
“I know he has some crazy thoughts where he ... just believes the government is corrupt, and he has all these assumptions on things, that he doesn't really know what he's talking about,” Kuck told investigators.
While he never heard him mention Giffords, “he just seemed to have some kind of ... hate for government,” Kuck added.
Kuck's roommate, Derek Andrew Heintz, who has known Loughner since he was about 12, said he was cooking when Loughner showed up with a gun and removed it from his belt. It was loaded with 32 rounds.
He asked Loughner why he had the weapon.
“I just want to show you,'” Loughner replied.
Loughner then left Heintz with a souvenir — one bullet.
His parents grew alarmed over his behavior on several occasions — at one point submitting him to drug testing. The results were negative, said Amy Loughner, who was particularly worried that her son might have been using methamphetamine.
The father said his son kept journals, but they were written in an indecipherable script. Loughner bought a 12-gauge shotgun in 2008, but his parents took it away from him after he was expelled from college and administrators recommended he not own weapons.
On the day of the shooting, he and his father got in an argument, and he chased Jared Loughner away from their house. Friend Bryce Tierney told investigators that Loughner called him early in the morning that day and left a cryptic voice mail that he believed was suicidal.
“He just said, ‘Hey, this is Jared. Um, we had some good times together. Uh, see you later.' And that's it,” Tierney said.
Onetime Loughner friend Zachary Osler explained how he worked in a sporting goods store where Loughner bought the handgun used in the shooting. He was questioned about seeing Loughner shopping there sometime before Thanksgiving and described an awkward encounter with the man.
“His response is nothing. Just a mute facial expression. And just like he, he didn't care,” Osler told authorities.
News organizations seeking the records were denied access in the months after the shooting and the arrest of Loughner, who was sentenced in November to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years, after he pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns cleared the way for the release of the records after Star Publishing Co., which publishes the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, joined by Phoenix Newspapers Inc., which publishes The Arizona Republic, and KPNX-TV, sought their release. The judge said Loughner's fair trial rights were no longer on the line now that his criminal case has resolved.
Loughner's guilty plea enabled him to avoid the death penalty. He is serving his sentence in a federal prison medical facility in Springfield, Mo., where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and forcibly given psychotropic drug treatments to make him fit for trial.
Loughner's attorney, Judy Clarke, did not return a call seeking comment on Wednesday. There was no listed telephone phone number for Randy and Amy Loughner.
Arizona's chief federal judge and a 9-year-old girl were among those killed in the rampage. Giffords was left partially blind, with a paralyzed right arm and brain injury. She resigned from Congress last year.
When he was arrested at the scene, Loughner was wearing peach-colored foam earplugs and had two loaded magazines in his left front pocket.
Giffords intern Daniel Hernandez described how constituents and others were lining up to see Giffords that morning. He helped people sign in and recalled handing the sheet on a clipboard to Loughner.
“The next thing I hear is someone yell, ‘Gun!'” said Hernandez, who rushed to tend to Giffords' gunshot wound to the head.
“She couldn't open her eyes. I tried to get any responses from her. It looked like her left side was the only side that was still mobile,” Hernandez told authorities. “She couldn't speak. It was mumbled. She was squeezing my hand.”
Hernandez explained how he had some training as a nurse and first checked for a pulse.
“She was still breathing. Her breathing was getting shallower,” he said. “I then lifted her up so that she wasn't flat on the ground.”
Today Giffords is still recovering. She struggles to speak in complete sentences and often walks with the help of her husband.