TUCSON — In hindsight, the red flags seem to be everywhere.
By the time Jared Lee Loughner shot and killed six people, wounding 13 — including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — his parents had already taken away his shotgun, tested him for drugs and forbade him from using the family vehicle after dusk. Months earlier, officials at his community college had refused to allow him to return to campus until he passed a mental evaluation. Hours before he went on a shooting rampage, a Wal-Mart clerk had declined to sell him ammunition.
These details emerged Wednesday when authorities released nearly 3,000 pages of investigative reports, painting a picture of a man who had become unhinged and the people who had tried to intervene, worried he was a danger to himself and others.
The disclosure of the case documents — previously kept under seal — comes after Loughner was sentenced in November to life in prison without parole. The 24-year-old pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges in the rampage at a constituent event Giffords, a Democrat, was hosting at a grocery store parking lot in north Tucson in 2011.
In an interview with law enforcement officials, Loughner’s mother, Amy Loughner, said her son had been acting strangely for about a year, often talking or laughing to himself, and was angry with the government, though she did not say why.
Loughner’s father, Randy Loughner, described his son as “too smart for his own good,” saying that he was “set off” after he was dismissed from Pima Community College because of a video. The documents did not describe the video, but at one point Loughner made a video in which he raged against the college. College officials told Loughner not to return to campus until he had sought medical attention, his father said.
Loughner’s dismissal also followed an incident in which he made comments about abortion that his fellow classmates and others found so disturbing that the campus police were called.
That’s when his parents took away the shotgun.
Amy Loughner, referring to school officials, said, “They recommended … if there’s any firearms in the house that we should, you know, put them away.”
“Did they say he was a danger to himself? Or is he a danger to others?” a detective asked.
“I think they said both,” Amy Loughner responded.
She also described her son’s disturbing behavior: “Sometimes you’d hear him in his room, like having conversations. And sometimes he would look like he was having a conversation with someone right there, be talking to someone. I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t.”
Before the killings, she said, her son hadn’t had a job for a year. He’d been fired from his job at a store in the Tucson Mall, and his parents supported him with small amounts of cash at Christmas and occasionally a few dollars for gas so he could search for another job.
Randy Loughner said his son “was just never the same” after losing his job.
“Yeah he ... can’t find … couldn’t find a job,” Randy Loughner said, according to the documents. “He didn’t feel like he should have been fired from the job either.… Just nothing, nothing worked, seemed to go right for him.”
The documents had been sealed by a judge to ensure Loughner’s right to a fair trial. Last month, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns approved the release of the files now that the case is closed. Various news organizations had sought access to the documents.
In one interview, Amy Loughner said her son smoked pot but had given it up; he’d tried cocaine but hadn’t had a drink in the five months before the shooting.
The detective asked her whether she believed her son’s statements about not using drugs.
“I believe him,” she said. “We drug-tested him.… My concern was like meth or something because his behavior was odd.”
His father and others described Loughner as an outcast and loner.
Former high school friend Zachary Osler told law enforcement officials that Loughner was a “weird kid. He’d say weird things. He’d say weird things about [how] he consciously dreams while he’s awake.” He felt uncomfortable around Loughner most of the time, he added.
“I think that’s what led to our breaking apart as friends.… I don’t think he really had any close friends,” he told officials.
Osler also described Loughner’s home environment as “kind of hostile.”
Hours before the shooting on Jan. 8, 2011, Loughner entered a Wal-Mart in Tucson, demanding 9-millimeter bullets.
“It was like he was in a hurry.... He just wanted to get in and out as soon as possible. And like I said, he really needed the ammunition,” said Stanley Simmons, an employee in the store’s sporting goods department. Simmons added that he thought it was odd that someone wanted bullets that badly so early in the morning.
“I kind of felt uneasy, to be honest with you,” Simmons told investigators.
There weren’t any 9-millimeter bullets up front at the sporting goods counter. Loughner ordered Simmons to check in the back. From a distance, Simmons shouted to Loughner that they didn’t have any of those bullets, according to documents.
“Did you have 9-millimeter ammo?” FBI Agent Jeff Luna asked.
“We did,” Simmons said, explaining that he found some bullets of that caliber, but only looked for them after Loughner left. “I just [thought], ‘I’m not going to give you ammo.’”
A few hours after the shooting, law enforcement officials searched the Loughner family home, including a safe from Loughner’s room.
Inside, they found a gun lock, a book called “The Anarchist Cookbook,” and an envelope with a Glock serial number written on it and two spent cartridge castings inside. On the envelope was writing.
“I could specifically see the name of Jared and Giffords,” one investigator reported. “It also appeared to say words to the effect of, I planned ahead my assassination, these are the first two shells of my gun.” The note was dated Dec. 6, 2010, a month before the killings.
Mello is a special correspondent.