Loughner's friends, teachers tell of descent into madness

2011-01-15T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T17:13:22Z Loughner's friends, teachers tell of descent into madnessTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 15, 2011 12:00 am  • 

People all around Jared Lee Loughner - friends, teachers, classmates, co-workers, even fellow posters in online chat forums - saw signs that something was wrong.

From his late teens into his early 20s, Loughner grew stranger and stranger, shouting about his constitutional rights, getting fired from jobs and kicked out of classes, and posting nonsensical messages online.

Prosecutors allege he opened fire at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' Congress on Your Corner event last Saturday, killing six people and wounding Giffords and 12 others.

On Friday, Pima Community College released a video Loughner made in September that, for the first time since Saturday, gives a window into Loughner's world narrated by the suspect himself.

In the video, Loughner walks around the college's Northwest campus after dark, complaining about a grade to an apparent stranger and saying, "We're examining the torture of students."

"This is my genocide school," he says. "This is Pima Community College, one of the biggest scams in America. The students are so illiterate that it affects their daily lives."

The video, made Sept. 23 and viewed by the campus police chief on Sept. 29, came on top of five contacts with campus police for disturbing the library and his classes.

It led to his suspension by the school that day, and a later demand by the college that he receive a mental evaluation gauging whether he's a threat.

Until Saturday, it was one of the lowest points in the northwest-side youth's years-long descent into apparent madness. Interviews, public records and Internet postings trace the arc of a native Tucsonan's life until the disaster on Saturday.

mental illness in family

Mental illness is in Loughner's family tree, said Judy Wackt, a first cousin to Loughner's mother, Amy.

"There's a history in the family of what they used to call manic depression, which I guess they now call bipolar disorder," said Wackt, who lives in Texas. "My mother battled depression. One of her sisters had extreme bouts. She'd be OK, then she'd dissolve over time. Wouldn't leave the house. Wouldn't bathe. Wouldn't interact with her husband or children."

When Loughner was born in 1988, his mother had worked in Pima County parks for a year. His father, Randy, was not regularly employed but was known to work on cars and around the house.

Loughner seemed like a regular kid in his early years, when he attended Thornydale Elementary School, Tortolita Middle School and Mountain View High School.

"We'd stay at his house, play video games," said Tucsonan Joe Iosue, who knew him from second grade at Thornydale Elementary School through their years at Tortolita Middle School. "He was a normal kid - never angry."

The two would play wrestling games on PlayStation and build bicycle jumps to fly off.

Loughner's passion was music. He started on the saxophone around the fifth grade. By late middle school, he was a serious jazz buff, with John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker on his iPod.

In junior high and high school, Zach Millard took band class with Loughner, by then a skilled saxophone player. In high school, Loughner acted strange, Millard said.

"He would randomly go off on the teacher, being very rude and disruptive," Millard said via Facebook. "He would almost be obsessed with how the government was being ran. He didn't like it and would also try to start heated arguments with anyone who would listen."

Loughner dropped out of high school after junior year but got his diploma from an alternative school. He tried to enlist in the Army in 2008 but was rejected, said First Sgt. Brian Homme, who oversees Army recruiting in Tucson. He was sent to Phoenix to take a test and physical, but "he was found to be unqualified," Homme said.

Shaky job, school history

From his high school years forward, Loughner worked in a series of service jobs at restaurants and stores. In 2006, he spent three months working at a Peter Piper Pizza near his home.

He worked in a Red Robin restaurant at Tucson Mall from November 2006 to February 2008.

All the while he steadily took classes at Pima Community College, courses ranging from American Sign Language to pilates, and courses that eventually brought him into trouble with authority.

Loughner acted so odd in a Pima Community College math class last summer that fellow student Lynda Sorenson took to sitting by the door so she could flee quickly if Loughner exploded.

"We have a mentally unstable person in the class that scares the living crap out of me," Sorenson wrote in an e-mail to a friend on June 14. "He is one of those whose picture you see on the news, after he has come into class with an automatic weapon. Everyone interviewed would say, 'Yeah, he was in my math class and he was really weird.' "

Loughner seemed OK at first, said Ben McGahee, the elementary algebra instructor who taught the class. He said that he had left a job at a fast-food restaurant and wanted to study computer networking, said McGahee, 28.

"Once we started doing some math on the board, he started asking me questions," McGahee said. "He said, 'If you can learn math, can you unlearn math?' "

Bizarre internet posts

Loughner's online accounts contain some political comments but are dominated by bizarre discussions of his desire to establish a new currency and his disdain for what he considered the public's low literacy rates. He also wrote threatening and despairing messages.

"WOW! I'm glad i didn't kill myself. I'll see you on National T.v.! This is foreshadow .... why doesn't anyone talk to me?.." he posted on MySpace Dec. 14.

On Dec. 13, he wrote: "I don't feel good: I'm ready to kill a police officer! I can say it."

In a posting on YouTube, Loughner wrote repeatedly about a new currency.

"I'm thinking of creating a new currency," he wrote. "Therefore, I'm thinking of a design for my new coins size, shape, color, material, and image to start a new money system."

He also wrote repeatedly about literacy. In a message on YouTube, Loughner wrote: "The majority of people, who reside in District-8 are illiterate - hilarious. I don't control your English grammar structure, but you control your English grammar structure."

In a message posted on his MySpace account, titled "Goodbye friends," Loughner said: "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." It was unclear when it was posted.

In a MySpace profile, Loughner said "My favorite interest was reading, and I studied grammar. Conscience dreams were a great study in college."

Conscious dreaming is the process of trying to manipulate your dreams.

On the site Above Top Secret, a poster believed to be Loughner left dozens of posts with bizarre theories about U.S. currency, the Constitution and grammar. Finally, another regular on the site wrote back: "I think you're frankly schizophrenic, and no that's not an amateur opinion and not intended as an uninformed or insulting remark. I really do care. Seek help before you hurt yourself or others or start taking your medications again, please."

Loughner, known on the site as "erad3," responded, "Thank you for the concern."

Run-ins with authorities

Loughner has had at least two minor run-ins with police, court records show.

In October 2007, Loughner was cited by the Pima County Sheriff's Department for possession of drug paraphernalia - a small amount of marijuana and a pipe. The charge was dismissed in November 2007 when he completed a diversion program.

One year later, in October 2008, Loughner faced a "local charge" in Marana Municipal Court for defacing a stop sign. That charge was also dismissed after the completion of a diversion program in March 2009.

He had trouble getting and keeping a job. He was fired or walked off a string of retail and restaurant jobs. He sought help getting a job several times last year at a Pima County employment center, but the last visit turned into a familiar fiasco: He was ejected as he protested his constitutional rights.

On Sept. 29, Loughner made the last of at least four visits to the Pima County OneStop center at 340 N. Commerce Park Loop, just west of downtown Tucson. He came in carrying a video camera and recorded the staff in the office, according to an account written by a co-director of the center and obtained through a public-records request.

"He had a video camera with him and was taking pictures in the building," Mary Brodesky wrote to her supervisors. "Front desk staff asked him to turn off camera and he refused. When job developer went up front to greet him, he was using the camera. Job developer asked him to turn it off, and Mr. Loughner refused."

"He pulled a crumpled copy of the Constitution out of his pocket and waved it at me, saying it was his right. I attempted to calm him down but eventually had to ask him to leave the building, which he did."

Father yelled at neighbors

At the time of his arrest Loughner lived with his parents, Randy and Amy Loughner, on North Soledad Avenue on the northwest side. He had lived there his whole life.

Neighbors say Randy Loughner didn't have a paid job over the years, and that he seemed to be the primary child-rearer. Property records show he has lived there since 1977. He kept mainly to himself, neighbors say, and when he did interact with others, the results were often bad: He had tiffs about incursions onto his property; he yelled at people. Before long, some neighbors were telling their children to steer clear of the Loughner place.

The feeling was mutual: Some years back, Loughner surrounded his house with a wall that blocked views of his side porch.

In 1986, Loughner married Amy Totman, who neighbors say was quiet but more pleasant and approachable than her husband. Amy Loughner is the manager at Agua Caliente Park on the Tucson's northeast side, making $53,452 a year, said Gwyn Hatcher, Pima County's human-resources director.

Jason Johnson, who has been staying with his father across the street for two or three months, said he tried to greet both Randy and Jared Loughner at different times. Both turned and walked away without saying anything, Johnson said.

When he spoke to Jared Loughner, "it was like he wasn't home," Johnson said. "The lights were on, but nobody was in there."

Loughner's parents showed up at the doorstep of Roxanne and George Osler IV's house in 2008 looking for their son, who had left home about a week before and had broken off contact, the Oslers said. The Oslers' son, Zach Osler, told them the name of the local hotel where their son was staying, and Jared moved back in, Zach's father said.

Loughner "focused all his energy into understanding the mystery of man's existence on Earth," George Osler said. "He was desperately trying to escape from all the chaos and suffering in his world."

Loughner's favorite writer was Philip K. Dick, whose science-fiction tales traveled a mystical path in which omnipotent governments and businesses were the bad guys and the average man was often lost in an identity-shattering swirl of paranoia, schizophrenia and questions about whether the universe and the individual were real or part of some vast conspiracy.

Two years ago, Loughner texted his old friend Zach Osler: "I don't want to be your friend anymore."

"What Jared did was wrong," said Roxanne Osler, Zach's mother. "But … I feel bad for the kid. … I wish people would have taken a better notice of him and gotten him help."

Contributors: The Washington Post and Star reporters Carol Ann Alaimo, Brady McCombs, Alex Dalenberg, Fernanda Echavarri, Patrick Finley, Ernesto Portillo Jr., Kori Rumore and Sarah Trotto.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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