The young man who shot to death six people and wounded 13 more on Jan. 8, 2011, was not quiet about his rage aimed at the government and the police, nor about his desire to kill himself, at times, and others.
But no one was listening as he ranted on MySpace.com in the year leading up to committing mass murder in front of a Safeway. Or if someone saw his posts, they were ignored.
Jared Lee Loughner, now 25, is in a federal prison medical facility serving seven consecutive life sentences.
His postings are part of investigative records released last week by the FBI in response to public records requests filed by media outlets three years ago.
Sprinkled throughout the posts, which get increasingly nonsensical, strident and violent, especially after he was suspended from Pima Community College in October 2010, are statements of his isolation.
From Dec. 9, 2010: “WOW! I CAN’T FIND A FRIEND! F- — THE POLICE FOR SCAMMING EDUCATION!”
From Dec. 13, 2010: “I don’t feel good: I’m ready to kill a police officer! I can say it.”
And about an hour later: “WOW! I’m glad i didn’t kill myself. I’ll see you on National T.v! This is a foreshadow … why doesn’t anyone talk to me?”
It’s tempting to read his words hoping to answer the questions of why — but that’s seeking a rational answer to what could make sense, if we even can call it that, only to the murderer.
Loughner didn’t keep secret his desire to own and use guns. He wrote of wanting a tattoo of a gun on his back. Some of his posts:
From June 14, 2010: “Im looking for a semi automatic shotgun … don’t get in my way.”
From July 27, 2010: “Get the hand gun, fill the tank with gas, and haul ass to phoenix.”
On Sept. 19, 2010: “Ok! You need a new number other than 911, it isn’t the correct way to call for help; We should pull a gun!”
And from Dec. 20, 2010: “I HAVE THIS HUGE GOAL AT THE END OF MY LIFE: 165 Rounds fired in a minute!”
It’s impossible to know if anyone saw these postings, or if they were seen, if they were taken seriously. In hindsight they can be seen as red flags of escalation, just as it’s clear now that his public actions and statements were obvious warnings that he was in the grip of a severe mental illness. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and forcibly medicated while awaiting trial.
Dwelling on the shooter’s thoughts and state of mind is, in a way, wasted energy. He will die in prison, where he belongs.
But there are lessons we must learn.
Several of the people who were shot or witnessed the carnage have become strong advocates of sensible gun law changes. Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot point-blank through her brain, with her husband has started the organization Americans for Responsible Solutions to push for gun safety laws.
Reading through the FBI records — the descriptions of the shooting scene, the witness statements, the details of how Loughner was polite and calm in custody, the glimpses into his lonely and terrifying inner world — it’s impossible to ignore the urgent need to change how we think about mental illnesses, the availability of guns and how those pieces connect.
The bottom line is this: Gun violence is a public health crisis. Every gun purchase should require a background check. Clips that increase the firing capacity of guns, as Loughner used, should be barred.
The gun lobby is powerful. It has defeated these kind of practical measures before — and it assumes gun safety supporters will wear down and give up their push for common-sense public safety gun laws.
Gun supporters say that a weapon is only a tool, that it has no responsibility in the damage it helps to inflict. A gun does not make the decision to fire, but that doesn’t change its lethal capabilities in the wrong hands.