WASHINGTON — Jared Lee Loughner had become increasingly erratic in recent months, so much so that others around him began to worry.
He had posted on his Myspace page at some point a photograph of a United States history textbook, on top of which he had placed a handgun. He prepared a series of Internet videos filled with rambling statements on topics including the gold standard, mind control and SWAT teams. And he had started to act oddly during his classes at Pima Community College, causing unease among other students.
That behavior, along with a disturbing video, prompted school administrators to call in Mr. Loughner’s parents and tell them that their son had been suspended and would have to get a mental health evaluation to return to college. Instead, he dropped out in October, a spokesman for the college said.
The evidence and reports about Mr. Loughner’s unusual conduct suggest an increasing alienation from society, confusion, anger as well as foreboding that his life could soon come to an end. Still, there appear to be no explicit threats of violence that explain why, as police allege, Mr. Loughner, 22, would go to a Safeway supermarket north of Tucson on Saturday morning and begin shooting at a popular Democratic congresswoman and more than a dozen other people, killing 6 and wounding 19.
Police officials on Saturday said that Mr. Loughner had a criminal record of some kind, but they did not provide any details. They also hinted that he might have had the help of a second person, adding that they were searching for another man.
Don Coorough, 58, who sat two desks in front of Mr. Loughner in a poetry class last semester, described him as a “troubled young man” and “emotionally underdeveloped.” After another student read a poem about getting an abortion, Mr. Loughner compared the young woman to a “terrorist for killing the baby.”
“No one in that class would even sit next to him,” Mr. Coorough said. Another fellow student said that he found Mr. Loughner’s behavior so eccentric — including inappropriate remarks and unusual outbursts — that he wondered if he might be on hallucinogens. Mr. Loughner grew up in Tucson and was an unremarkable student at Mountain View High School, classmates said.
Grant Wiens, 22, who graduated in 2006 from Mountain View High School, a year ahead of Mr. Loughner, described him as “a kind of rare bird, very shy.”
“He didn’t seem very popular, but he kind of did his own thing,” Mr. Wiens said.
Mr. Wiens said that something Mr. Loughner said during a discussion about religion had stuck in his mind: “Whatever happens, happens,” Mr. Wiens recalled the suspect saying. “Might as well enjoy life now.”
Another former high school classmate said that Mr. Loughner may have met Representative Giffords, who was shot in the head outside the Safeway supermarket, several years ago.
“As I knew him he was left wing, quite liberal. & oddly obsessed with the 2012 prophecy,” the former classmate, Caitie Parker, wrote in a series of Twitter feeds Saturday. “I haven’t seen him since ’07 though. He became very reclusive.”
“He was a political radical & met Giffords once before in ’07, asked her a question & he told me she was ‘stupid & unintelligent,’ ” she wrote.
Neighbors of Mr. Loughner in Orangewood Estates, a middle-class subdivision of single-family homes north of Tucson, said that he lived with his parents, Amy and Randy Loughner, and that they did not believe he had siblings. Two neighbors said they saw the family come and go but knew little about them.
A series of short videos posted on the Internet, apparently by Mr. Loughner, consist of changing blocs of text that are largely rambling and incoherent. Many take the form of stating a premise and then a logical conclusion that would follow from it.
They speak of being a “conscience dreamer”; becoming a treasurer of a new currency; controlling “English grammar structure”; mentioned brainwashing and suggested that he believed he had powers of mind control.
“In conclusion, my ambition — is for informing literate dreamers about a new currency; in a few days, you know I’m conscience dreaming!” he wrote in one video, which was uploaded to YouTube on Dec. 15.
Still, some strands of recognizable political thought are woven among the more incoherent writings. Another video, for example, says debts should only be paid in currency that is backed by gold and silver.
One of his videos also suggests that he may have applied to join the Army at a recruiting station in Phoenix. It says he received a miniature Bible before taking tests there, and that he did not write a belief on his application form, so a recruiter wrote “none.”
Army officials said Saturday night that he had tried to enlist but had been rejected for military service. Privacy rules prevented them from disclosing the reason.
Paul Schwalbach, the spokesman for the Pima Community College, said one video that Mr. Loughner had prepared was considered particularly troubling by campus administrators, motivating them to suspend Mr. Loughner in September.
College “police and other officials viewed it and found it very disturbing,” he said. After he was suspended, Mr. Loughner and his parents met with administrators, who said he would require a mental health clearance if he wanted to return to college. It could not be learned on Saturday whether Mr. Loughner ever saw a psychiatrist or other professional or was diagnosed with a mental illness.
But the rambling, disconnected writings and videos he has left on the Web are consistent with the delusions produced by a psychotic illness like schizophrenia, which develops most often in the teens or 20s.
Among other complaints, Mr. Loughner’s social networking pages suggest that he had grievances against Pima Community College, that he felt cheated in some way.
“If I’m not receiving the purchase from a payment then I’m a victim of fraud,” he wrote, referencing the school, in one of his many confusing phrases posted in his videos.
His YouTube page also listed a series of favorite books. Some were novels about political dystopias — including “Animal Farm” by George Orwell and “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. Others were about falling into fantasy worlds — like “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” by Lewis Carroll.
In one extended Internet posting, Mr. Loughner suggested that the government was trying to trick him, or take advantage of him, although he never explained exactly what caused these concerns.
He also prepared a video that he called “My Final Thoughts: Jared Lee Loughner!”
“All humans are in need of sleep. Jared Loughner is a human. Hence, Jared Loughner is in need of sleep,” he wrote. He also briefly discusses terrorism.
“If I define terrorist then a terrorist is a person who employs terror or terrorism, especially as a political weapon. I define terrorist,” he wrote. “If you call me a terrorist then the argument to call me a terrorist is ad hominem. You call me a terrorist.”
As recently as Saturday, he posted a message on his Myspace account hinting that he was going away.
“Goodbye,” he wrote at about 5 a.m. Saturday. “Dear friends . . . Please don’t be mad at me.”
Obviously we still don't know exactly what the details regarding this person are, and there has been no clear medical information released indicating a diagnosis. But as a person who works with kids with these sorts of symptoms in early psychosis intervention, this person's story has struck a nerve. If he had been properly assessed and given access to sufficient mental health resources, it's possible that what happened yesterday could have been prevented.
This post is also an excuse for me to share some mental health resources links, if you have a loved one who you believe may be developing psychotic symptoms, if you want to learn more about psychotic disorders, or if you need more general information about mental health resources in your area.
(mods, the cut was borked on previous attempts but I think it's working now? apologies if it's still a mess :/ )