Jared Lee Loughner: A young man who lost his way, and left a tragic mark on his country

Troubled background of alleged mass killer Jared Lee Loughner

Tucson, Arizona

On Saturday morning, Jared Lee Loughner loaded 30 bullets into the magazine of a Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol. Then he drove to a branch of Safeway in the Catalina Foothills, a prosperous Tucson neighbourhood five miles from the family home he shared with his parents, Amy and Randy.



Shortly after 10am, Loughner walked up to a crowd meeting Democratic congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, and opened fire. Within minutes, six bystanders lay dead or dying, and 14 had been wounded. Giffords, his intended target, was rushed to hospital, barely clinging to life.

If everything had gone to plan, Loughner would no longer be around this morning. His MySpace page, updated hours earlier, included a “goodbye friends” message, which implored readers, “Please don’t be mad at me.” But Loughner never did turn that 9mm handgun on himself. Instead, two bystanders tackled the skinny 22-year-old and held him on the pavement until police arrived. He was last night at the Pima County Sheriff’s Office, refusing to speak with interrogators.

The events which led Loughner to that Safeway car park are still being investigated, and many of its twists and turns remain unmapped. But we know, already, that profile threw up many red flags. An unemployed loner with a drug habit and what police call “a mental issue” that sometimes saw him make death threats he’d entered paranoid postings on a section of social networking sites.

Neighbours on Soledad Avenue, an the unremarkable street populated by blue-collar workers where he grew up, describe the Loughner family as the local “hippies”, who would spend evenings on folded chairs on the porch. Their untidy habits had led to fallings-out, and at least one neighbour moved away in protest.

“There’d often be three or four people sitting out there smoking. It’s not the kind of thing you’d like to see in your neighbourhood,” Roger Whithed told The Independent, adding that Randy would spend evenings repairing old Chevrolet Camaro sports cars on the lawn.

“Since getting out of high school, you could tell that Jared had become disillusioned with life and having to take on responsibility,” added Whithed, 52, who has lived on the street for six years. “He never looked like the sort of person who could hold down a job. You’d see him walking around and think, ‘That’s not someone I really want to know.’ He was a little rough around the edges.”

Younger neighbours knew Jared from local schools. He attended nearby Thornydale Elementary and Mountain View High, and was occasionally bullied. “My sister Jessica was in his chemistry class, and says he was a creep,” Jake Richardson, 18, told The Independent. “He’d stare at people, and occasionally say weird, quite opinionated stuff. You’d also see him walking dogs around the neighbourhood, muttering to himself.”

In recent years, he became a heavy smoker of marijuana and was rumoured to have sampled LSD. “His parents were very laid-back, like hippies,” said Jesse Martinez, 17. “They were live-and-let-live people, but not exactly in a good way, and so he grew up doing more or less what he liked.”

After leaving school, Loughner attempted to join the military, but was turned down. In October, he was kicked out of Pima Community College after a series of clashes with fellow students, and told he could only return after a psychiatric evaluation. And in 2007, he was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia. Two years later, he faced an unspecified “local charge”. Both times, charges were eventually dropped after he completed diversion programmes.

The crucial question is now whether Loughner’s killing spree was a random act by a paranoid madman, or whether he was in any way motivated by the hostile tone of contemporary politics.

The videos he uploaded to YouTube on 15 December, two weeks after purchasing his Glock from the local gun shop, tell a mixed story. He cited both Mein Kampf and The Communist manifesto as favourite books, and the attack may have had an anti-Semitic motive, since Giffords is a prominent figure in the Jewish community.

At times, his ramblings feature the anti-government rhetoric of the Tea Party movement, not least his concerns about the US constitution, and hostility to federal control of education. Yet Loughner may ultimately be impossible to pigeon hole. He was also hostile to organised religion, and in one YouTube video burned a US flag (which would hardly sit well among the Tea Party faithful).

When investigators searched his house last night, they found a handwritten note in a safe, stating “I planned ahead.” The apparent ease with which this psychologically disturbed young man was able to purchase his deadly weapon, and execute that plan, may ultimately leave many wondering if his killing spree was an accident waiting to happen.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - North West

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - South West

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Administrator - IT - Fixed Term, Part Time

£17340 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Come and join one of the UK's leading ca...

Recruitment Genius: Property Sales Consultant - Chinese Speaking - OTE £70,000

£18000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity for a Fluent Chines...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent