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 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 Wednesday. Still, there was nothing to indicate why he targeted Giffords.
The files also gave the first glimpse into Loughner’s family and a look at parents dealing with a son who had grown nearly impossible to talk to.
“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.”
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 commonsense policies like universal background checks become part of our history, just like the Tucson shootings are — our communities will be safer because of it.”
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.
Before leaving, Loughner left Kuck’s roommate with a souvenir — a single 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 police 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.
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 records’ release.
Loughner’s guilty plea enabled him to avoid the death penalty. He is serving his sentence at a federal prison medical facility in Springfield, Mo., where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and forcibly given psychotropic drugs to make him fit for trial.