Tucson suspect had run-in with officer before shootings
Jared Lee Loughner, accused in the deadly Tucson shootings, is believed to have taken target practice in the Arizona desert and was pulled over by a peace officer for running a red light before making his way to the Safeway supermarket where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was holding a meeting with her constituents, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
In those early morning hours, Loughner was stopped and let go with a warning by an Arizona Game and Fish officer for creeping through a red light, six miles from the market where six people were killed and 13 injured, including Giffords, officials said.
In a busy morning, Loughner, 22, also had a face-off with his father, Randy Loughner, over a black bag.
Officials were still trying to piece together the details before the shooting, but said they were focusing on the three events as they build a chronology.
Investigators believe that Loughner went for target practice in the desert that morning probably to get acquainted with the weapon.
“A lot of people go out to some raw desert or unincorporated area and target practice,” one law enforcement official said. “He didn’t have the gun long enough to know how to handle it.”
According to federal law enforcement sources, Loughner purchased a 9 mm Glock handgun Nov. 30 from the Sportsman’s Warehouse gun store in Tucson. He also purchased four ammunition magazines — two extended magazines that carry 30 rounds each, and two standard magazines with 15 rounds apiece, officials said. He bought the ammunition at a local Walmart, they said.
They said Loughner hid the Glock, with one of the extended 30-round magazines loaded, in his waistband and covered it with his shirt. He placed the other three magazines in his pants pockets. Officials said he also had what they described as a blunt-blade “tactical knife” in another pocket.
“It is very purposeful if you would have that much fire power,” said one federal law enforcement official. “It’s his state of mind. He was locked into this, and certainly going and bringing those extra, spare magazines shows that. It’s obvious he was there to do what he intended to do, to shoot the congresswoman and as many others as he could.”
About 7:30 a.m., an Arizona Game and Fish officer was driving in his patrol pickup truck near Interstate 10, which winds along an east-west axis through Tucson, said Jim Paxon, a spokesman for the agency.
Traffic was light at that hour and Loughner “crept through the red light” in a Chevy Nova, Paxon said. The peace officer saw him, and pulled him over. Game and Fish officers don’t routinely make traffic stops, Paxon said. But “our officers are duly sworn peace officers and have full authority to enforce all the laws in Arizona,” he said.
Paxon said the officer approached Loughner’s car. Loughner had his license, registration and insurance out and handed it to the officer, who had the dispatcher check the documents, which were valid.
“Mr. Loughner was very polite and very subdued,” Paxon said. The officer also looked over the car and “saw nothing to give him probable cause to do an extended search or detain the subject,” Paxon said.
The officer issued a warning and Loughner proceeded on his way. The encounter lasted no more than 10 minutes, Paxon said.
When Loughner’s name was released after the shooting, the officer remembered the ticket and informed investigators from the Pima County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI, who interviewed him about the incident.
According to Rick Kastigar, chief of operations and investigations for Pima County Sheriff’s Office, Loughner had a run-in with his father the same morning. Randy Loughner saw his son remove a black bag from the Nova and asked what was inside. The younger Loughner fled into the desert as his father gave chase.
The black bag never made it to the Safeway. “As we speak, we still don’t have a black bag,” Kastigar said.
When Loughner arrived in the supermarket parking lot, it was by taxi.
Serrano reported from Washington and Quinones from Tucson