TUCSON, Ariz. – Federal authorities filed murder charges Sunday against 22-year-old Jared Loughner, as new evidence suggested the alleged gunman in Saturday’s rampage had fixated on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., while his mental health deteriorated.

Loughner appeared to have planned the shooting, according to court documents. In a safe at his parents’ home, investigators found an envelope with the words “I planned ahead” and “my assassination” written on it, along with the name “Giffords.” Loughner’s signature is also believed to be on the envelope, the complaint says.

In the same safe, authorities found a 2007 letter to Loughner from Giffords, using congressional stationery to thank him for attending a “Congress on Your Corner” event in Tucson. Saturday’s shooting took place at another such event, where Giffords was meeting constituents outside a supermarket.

Loughner will be arraigned today at a federal courthouse in Phoenix. He has been charged with two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder.

New accounts emerged Sunday about the last few years of Loughner’s life, showing that the slim, dark-haired man had undergone a frightening transformation after high school.

In his years at Mountain View High School, friends remembered him as odd but generally amiable. He wore shorts some days, like many of the other students, and dark “Goth”-style clothes with chains on others.

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Loughner had a bitter streak and showed signs of drug use, they said, but was still enough of a joiner to play in the jazz band.

“He was just a normal kid who doodled and wrote things on his notebooks,” said high school classmate Michelle Martinez, 22. She remembered Loughner having a girlfriend at one point. “He was just a little weird, he kept to himself,” she said.

If Loughner was living at the edge of the mainstream at Mountain View, afterward he fell off it.

After high school, he showed growing signs of mental instability. last summer, when he was a student in an elementary algebra class at Tucson’s Pima Community College, he was a terrifying presence for both teachers and students.

A student in the class, Lynda Sorenson, 52, said she was immediately worried about Loughner. She said Loughner sat in class with a crazed-looking grin and she had seen him walking in tight circles, around and around, in the school courtyard. She feared that Loughner might become violent, and she would have to flee — concerns she shared with friends and family in a series of e-mails.

“We do have one student in the class who was disruptive today,” Sorenson wrote on June 1. “He scares me a bit. … Hopefully he will be out of class very soon, and not come back with an automatic weapon.”

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Ten days later, Sorenson was writing about Loughner again: “Class isn’t dull as we have a seriously disturbed student in the class, and they are trying to figure out how to get rid of him before he does something bad.”

Sorenson’s fears grew more acute four days after that, when her e-mail said that “we have a mentally unstable person in the class that scares the living crap out of me. 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.”

“I sit by the door with my purse handy,” the e-mail continued. “If you see it on the news one night, know that I got out fast.”

The instructor of the class, Benjamin McGahee, was no less concerned.

“I always felt, you know, somewhat paranoid,” he said. “When I turned my back to write on the board, I would always turn back quickly — to see if he had a gun.”

McGahee said Loughner disrupted his first class by yelling, “How can you deny math instead of accepting it?” In later classes, he shouted, listened to his mp3 player and wrote nonsensical answers on his tests. One said “Eat + Sleep + Brush Teeth Math.”

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McGahee said he sought repeatedly for college officials to remove Loughner, but they did not.

“They just said, ‘Well, he hasn’t taken any action to hurt anyone. He hasn’t provoked anybody. He hasn’t brought any weapons to class,’ ” McGahee recalled. ” ‘We’ll just wait until he takes that next step.’ “

After about three weeks of class, McGahee said, there was a final confrontation: Loughner arrived and pointed to a copy of the U.S. Constitution on the wall.

” ‘You’re violating my First Amendment right of free speech,’ ” McGahee recalled him saying. “That’s when I went to go get the dean.”

A college official came, and Loughner was removed permanently from the class.

He was not suspended from school for another few weeks, until college officials discovered Sept. 29 that he had posted a video on YouTube calling the college “unconstitutional.” After that, Loughner agreed to withdraw.

Loughner’s neighbors said their interactions with the family were largely limited to watching his father restore old cars in his driveway. They said they had little interaction with the family and described Loughner’s parents as loners who rarely spoke even to their immediate neighbors.

“You try to say something, they’d just ignore you and turn around and walk back into the house,” said Ron Johnson, 60, a retiree who lives directly opposite the Loughners’ tan, one-story home. “The kid — I never talked to him. He acted just like his parents and ignored you.”

 


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