A wildlife officer pulled over the suspect in the assassination attempt against an Arizona congresswoman less than three hours before the deadly attack, authorities said Wednesday as they pieced together more details of a frenzied morning.
Jared Loughner ran a red light but was let off with a warning at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, the Arizona Game and Fish Department said. The officer took Loughner’s driver’s license and vehicle registration information but found no outstanding warrants on Loughner or his vehicle.
Wildlife officers don’t usually make traffic stops unless public safety is at risk, such as running a red light. The stop was on an access road that connects to Interstate 10, well away from the grocery store, said Game and Parks spokesman Jim Paxon.
“He had a valid license, the car was registered, he had insurance,” Paxon said. “He was warned and released because we had no probable cause to hold, or do an extensive search.”
It’s the latest evidence of Loughner’s busy morning before police say he showed up at a Tucson grocery store in a taxi at 10:11 a.m. and shot 19 people, killing six, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.
Also that morning, Loughner, 22, ran into the desert from his angry father, who was chasing his son after seeing him remove a black bag from the trunk of a family car, said Rick Kastigar, chief of the department’s investigations bureau. Investigators are still searching for the bag.
Hours after the attack, sheriff’s deputies swarmed the Loughners’ home and removed what they describe as evidence Loughner was targeting Giffords. Among the handwritten notes was one with the words “Die, bitch,” which authorities believe was a reference to Giffords.
Investigators with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department previously said they found handwritten notes in Loughner’s safe reading “I planned ahead,” ”My assassination” and “Giffords.” Capt. Chris Nanos said all the writings were either in an envelope or on a form letter Giffords’ office sent him in 2007 after he signed in at one of her “Congress on Your Corner” events — the same kind of gathering where the massacre occurred.
Meanwhile, the city held a tribute to victims the eve of a presidential visit.
On Tuesday night, several hundred mourners filled a Tucson church for a public Mass to remember the slain and pray for the injured. As people filed in, nine young girls sang “Amazing Grace.” The youngest victim of the attack, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, was a member of that choir.
“I know she is singing with us tonight,” said Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas, who presided over the service.
President Barack Obama visits Arizona Wednesday and will honor the victims in a speech to a rattled state and nation.
In one apparent reaction to the shooting, the FBI said background checks for handgun sales jumped in Arizona following the shootings, though the agency cautioned that the number of checks doesn’t equate to the number of handguns sold.
Still, there were 263 background checks in Arizona on Monday, up from 164 for the same day a year ago — a 60 percent rise. Nationally, the increase was more modest: from 7,522 last year to 7,906 Monday, a 5 percent jump.
Loughner’s parents, silent and holed up in their home since attack, issued a statement Tuesday, expressing remorse over the shooting.
“There are no words that can possibly express how we feel,” Randy and Amy Loughner wrote in a statement handed to reporters waiting outside their house. “We wish that there were, so we could make you feel better. We don’t understand why this happened.
“We care very deeply about the victims and their families. We are so very sorry for their loss.”
Giffords is breathing on her own and responding non-verbally to doctors after being shot in the head.
“We have really decreased the amount of sedation we are giving her and as a result of that, she’s becoming more and more spontaneous all the time,” said Dr. Peter Rhee, trauma chief at the University of Arizona.
Sheriff’s deputies had been to the Loughner home at least once before the attack, spokesman Jason Ogan said. He didn’t know why or when the visit occurred, and said department lawyers were reviewing the paperwork and expected to release it Wednesday.
The visits were for nonviolent incidents, including a report by Jared Loughner of identity theft, a noise complaint and Amy Loughner’s claim that someone had stolen her license plate sticker, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
In addition to the new details about the hours before the shooting, interviews with those who knew Loughner or his family painted a picture of a young loner who tried to fit in.
Before everything fell apart, he went through the motions as many young men do nowadays: Living at home with his parents, working low-wage jobs at big brand stores and volunteering time doing things he liked.
None of it worked. His relationship with his parents was strained. He clashed with co-workers and police. And he couldn’t follow the rules at an animal shelter where he spent some time.
Loughner was arrested in October 2008 on a vandalism charge near Tucson after admitting he scrawled the letters “C” and “X” on a road sign in a reference to what he said was Christianity. His address listed on the police report was an apartment near his home.
Loughner eventually moved back in with his parents.
Even when Loughner tried to do good, it didn’t work out.
A year ago, he volunteered walking dogs at the county animal shelter, said Kim Janes, manager of the Pima Animal Care Center. He liked dogs; neighbors remember him as the kid they would see walking his own.
But at the shelter, staff became concerned: He was allowing dogs to play in an area that was being disinfected after one had contracted a potentially deadly disease, the parvovirus. Loughner wouldn’t agree to keep dogs from the restricted area, and was asked to come back when he would. He never returned.
Loughner grew up on an unremarkable Tucson block of low-slung homes with palm trees and cactus gardens out front. Fittingly, it’s called Soledad Avenue — Spanish for solitude.
Solitude found Loughner, even when he tried to escape it. He had buddies but always fell out of touch, typically severing the friendship with a text message. Zach Osler was one such friend.
Loughner’s father moved into the house as a bachelor, and eventually got married, longtime next-door neighbor George Gayan said. Property records show Randy Loughner has lived there since 1977. Unlike other homes on the block, the Loughners’ is obscured by plants. It was assessed in 2010 at $137,842.
Randy Loughner apparently has not worked for years — at least outside his home.
Amy Loughner got a job with the county parks and recreation department just before Jared was born, and since at least 2002 has been the supervisor for Roy P. Drachman Agua Caliente Park on the outskirts of the city. She earns $25.70 an hour, according to Gwyn Hatcher, Pima County’s human resources director.
Linda McKinley, 62, has lived down the street from the Loughner family for decades and said the parents could not be nicer — but that she had misgivings about Jared as he got older.
“As a parent, my heart aches for them,” she said.
Associated Press writers Alicia Chang and Gillian Flaccus in Tucson, Jacques Billeaud and Bob Christie in Phoenix, Christy Lemire in Los Angeles and news researcher Julie Reed in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.