Giffords shooting spree illuminated with new records
Published: March 27, 2013 at 1:43 pm
Documents released Wednesday detailing the shooting of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords show how the gunman had grown increasingly erratic and delusional in the months leading up to the rampage as he alienated friends and family and became paranoid that police were out to get him.
The roughly 2,700 pages included witness and survivor accounts from people who helped save Giffords’ life after she was shot in the head outside a Tucson supermarket in 2011 during a meet-and-greet with constituents. Six people were killed and 11 others were wounded.
The files also provide the first glimpse into gunman Jared Lee Loughner’s family. His parents have said nothing publicly beyond a brief statement after the attack, but records show they were trying to deal with a son who had grown nearly impossible to communicate with.
“I tried to talk to him. But you can’t. He wouldn’t let you,” his father, Randy Loughner, told police. “Lost, lost and just didn’t want to communicate with me no more.”
“Sometimes you’d hear him in his room, like, having conversations,” said his mother, Amy Loughner. “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.”
Randy Loughner said his 24-year-old son had never been diagnosed with mental illness. Despite recommendations from officials at Pima Community College, which expelled Loughner, that he undergo a mental evaluation, his parents never followed up.
However, Loughner’s parents grew worried enough about their son that they drug tested him.
The results were negative, said Amy Loughner, who was particularly worried that her son might have been using methamphetamine.
She said Loughner had told his parents that he had not had a drink of alcohol in five months but that he had tried marijuana and cocaine in the past.
The father said his son kept journals, but they were written in an indecipherable script.
Several weeks before the shooting, Loughner visited Anthony George Kuck, who had known him since preschool. Kuck said he was alarmed to find he had shaved his head and was armed with a handgun.
“I kicked him out of my house because he showed me his gun,” Kuck told police, adding that Loughner said he bought it for protection.
“I tried to talk to him about why it’s not smart to have a gun,” Kuck said. “He obviously didn’t listen to me.”
Kuck told police he had seen Loughner’s mental state deteriorate over time, starting with drinking problems in high school, trouble with authorities and being kicked out of college, noting Loughner had gotten tattoos of bullets and a gun on his shoulder.
“I know he has some crazy thoughts where he … just believes the government is corrupt, and he has all these assumptions on things, that he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about,” Kuck told investigators.
While he never heard him mention Giffords “he just seemed to have some kind of … hate for government,” Kuck added.
Kuck’s roommate, Derek Andrew Heintz, who has known Loughner since he was about 12, said he was cooking when Loughner showed up with a gun and removed it from his belt. It was loaded with 32 rounds.
He asked Loughner why he had the weapon. “There’s no need for it here,” Heintz told him.
“I just want to show you,’” Loughner replied.
Loughner then left Heintz with a souvenir — one bullet.
On the day of the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting, a friend, Bryce Tierney, told investigators Loughner called him early in the morning and left a cryptic voice mail that he believed was suicidal.
“He just said, ‘Hey, this is Jared. Um, we had some good times together. Uh, see you later.’ And that’s it,” Tierney said.
He recalled for detectives a time when Giffords visited Pima Community College, where the two attended classes together.
Loughner asked her, “What is government and stuff?” Tierney said. “She couldn’t give him the answer. … I feel like he had … something against Gabrielle Giffords.”
Tierney also described Loughner’s apparent spiral into madness, saying his behavior was growing strange “in a dark way.” He said Loughner would send him text messages that he called “nihilistic … the belief in nothing.”
Onetime Loughner friend Zachary Osler also described the shooter’s increasing isolation from his other friends and acquaintances in the years leading up to the shooting.
He explained how he worked at a sporting goods store where Loughner bought the Glock 9 mm handgun used in the shooting. He was questioned about seeing Loughner shopping there, sometime before Thanksgiving, and described his awkward encounter with the man.
“His response is nothing. Just a mute facial expression. And just like he, he didn’t care,” Osler told authorities.
Osler also told investigators he had grown uncomfortable with Loughner’s strange personality.
“He would say he could dream and then control what he was doing while he was dreaming,” Osler said.
Still, he said he was shocked to learn Loughner had carried out such an attack.
“And I was like, ‘I know this person. Why would he do it? What would his motive be?’” he added, noting that Loughner had never mentioned Giffords in the past.
When he was arrested at the scene, Loughner was wearing peach-colored foam earplugs, authorities wrote in the documents. He was polite and cooperative as detectives began their hours-long initial interview.
As Loughner sat in restraints in an interview room, the conversation was confined mainly to small talk. Little was said over the first four hours. Loughner asked if he could use the restroom, then at one point complained he felt sore.
“I’m about ready to fall over,” he said.
Giffords intern Daniel Hernandez described how constituents and others were lining up to see Giffords that morning. He helped people sign in and recalled handing the sheet on a clipboard to Loughner.
“The next thing I hear is someone yell, ‘Gun,’” said Hernandez, who rushed to tend to Giffords’ gunshot wound to the head.
“She couldn’t open her eyes. I tried to get any responses from her. It looked like her left side was the only side that was still mobile,” Hernandez told authorities. “She couldn’t speak. It was mumbled. She was squeezing my hand.”
Hernandez explained how he had some training as a nurse and first checked for a pulse.
“She was still breathing. Her breathing was getting shallower,” he said. “I then lifted her up so that she wasn’t flat on the ground.”
The documents detailing the event and ensuing investigation had been kept private until being released by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
News organizations seeking the records were repeatedly denied access in the months after the shooting and the arrest of Loughner, who was sentenced in November to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years, after he pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns cleared the way for the release of the records after Star Publishing Company, which publishes the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, sought their release. The judge said Loughner’s fair-trial rights were no longer on the line now that his criminal case has resolved.
Loughner’s guilty plea enabled him to avoid the death sentence. He is serving his sentence at a federal prison medical facility in Springfield, Mo., where he was initially diagnosed with schizophrenia and forcibly given psychotropic drug treatments.
Arizona’s chief federal judge and a 9-year-old girl were among those killed in the rampage. Giffords was left partially blind, with a paralyzed right arm and brain injury. She resigned from Congress last year and has since started, along with her husband, a gun-control advocacy group.
The Star said it wanted the records because they contain information about how a mass shooting occurs, including how long it took Loughner to fire gunshots — an issue raised by some advocates in the debate over high-capacity pistol magazines.
Phoenix Newspapers Inc., which publishes The Arizona Republic, and KPNX-TV had joined Star Publishing in the latest effort to get the records released after The Washington Post’s initial request was denied in March 2011.
Major findings in records about Giffords shooting
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — As authorities investigated the rampage that killed six people and wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, they compiled nearly 3,000 pages of documents that include everything from interviews with survivors and victims to police reports filed from the crime scene. The documents, released Wednesday, provide new insight into how the shooting occurred and the motivations behind gunman Jared Loughner. One of the main themes to emerge was his increasingly erratic behavior, perhaps summed up best by his father as he told investigators: He “just doesn’t seem right lately.”
A look at some of the major findings:
The gunman was polite and cooperative with authorities who were holding him the afternoon following his morning shooting rampage. The conversation as Loughner sat in restraints in an interview room was mainly small talk. Little was said over the four hours. Loughner asks at one point if he can please use the restroom and says “Thank you” when allowed. At another point he complained that “I’m about ready to fall over.”
Loughner’s mother, Amy, described his run-ins with authorities, his use of marijuana and cocaine, his journals and his increasingly erratic behavior. She also says the parents took a shotgun away from Loughner after he was kicked out of a community college and tested him for drugs because his behavior was so strange.
Randy Loughner said his son became increasingly difficult, and it was a challenge to have a rational conversation with him. “I tried to talk to him. But you can’t, he wouldn’t let you,” he said “Lost, lost, and just didn’t want to communicate with me no more.”
Despite their son’s increasingly bizarre behavior, Loughner’s parents never got him help. Randy Loughner said his son had never been diagnosed with a mental illness. Had he seen a doctor, the detective asked. “No,” replied the father. The parents were also asked about any journals or writings that Loughner kept. The father said they were written in an indecipherable script.
GOING TO THE SCENE
Loughner went to a convenience store immediately before the shooting and had the clerk call a cab for him. As he waited for the car, he was pacing inside and outside the store and went to the bathroom three or four times. The employee said that as Loughner was waiting for the cab, he looked up at a clock and said, “nine twenty-five, I still got time.”
A wildlife agent pulled Loughner over earlier in the day for a traffic violation. He cried and said, “I’ve just had a rough time,” and then composed himself, thanked the agent and shook his hand after he was let go with a warning. The agent asked Loughner again if he was OK, and Loughner said he was going home.
Giffords intern Daniel Hernandez helped tend to his boss after she was shot in the head. In an interview, he described the chaos: “She couldn’t open her eyes. I tried to get any responses for her. Um, it looked like her left side was the only side that was still mobile. Um, she couldn’t speak. It was mumbled. She was squeezing my hand.
“I did some training as a Certified Nursing Assistant and as a phlebotomist, um, when I was in high school. So I knew that we need to see if she’s got a pulse. She was still breathing. Her breathing was getting shallower. Uh, I then lifted her up so that she wasn’t flat on the ground against the wall,” he said.
On the day of the shooting, Loughner friend Bryce Tierney told investigators that Loughner had called him early in the morning and left a cryptic voicemail that he believed was suicidal. “He just said, ‘Hey, this is Jared. Um, we had some good times together. Uh, see you later.’ And that’s it.” He tried to call back, but it was a restricted number that didn’t register on his phone.
Loughner’s father considered his son’s firing as a salesman at an Eddie Bauer store to be a turning point. Asked about how the firing affected his son, Randy Loughner said: “He just wasn’t the same. He just, nothing, nothing worked, seem to go right for him.”
Loughner bought a 12-gauge shotgun in 2008, but his parents took it away from him after he was expelled from college and administrators recommended that any firearms be taken away. The shotgun was the only gun his parents knew Loughner owned.
CARING FOR GIFFORDS
A firefighter described how he cared for Giffords after arriving at the scene. “You’d ask her to grab your hand and she would grab your hand,” he said. He and paramedics rushed her to the hospital in an ambulance, giving her oxygen and an IV.
Hernandez described how constituents and other people were lining up to see Giffords, and he was helping people sign in. He recalled handing Loughner a clipboard. “The next thing I hear is someone yell, ‘gun,’” he said.
One-time Loughner friend Zachary Osler was an employee at a store where Loughner later bought a Glock handgun before the shooting. Osler was questioned about seeing Loughner shopping inside, sometime before Thanksgiving. He describes an awkward encounter with his former friend. “His response is nothing. Just a mute facial expression. And just like he, he didn’t care.” Osler told investigators he had grown uncomfortable with Loughner’s personality, “He would say he could dream and then control what he was doing while he was dreaming.” Osler says Loughner never mentioned Giffords to him.
Osler said when he learned that Loughner was the suspect in the shooting, “my jaw just dropped. And I was like I know this person. Why he would do it? What would his motive be? If he had people help him? I do not know.”
A few weeks before the shooting, Loughner showed up at the apartment of boyhood friend Anthony Kuck with a 9 mm pistol in his waistband. Loughner said he bought the gun for Christmas. He insisted it was for “home protection,” Kuck’s roommate, Derek Andrew Heintz, told a Pima County Sheriff’s detective and FBI agent who interviewed him the evening after the shooting. Loughner left Heintz with a souvenir: A bullet.
Police reports show what authorities found in Loughner’s possession after the shooting. In Loughner’s left front pocket were two magazines for a Glock, both fully loaded. In his other front pocket was a foldable knife with about a 4-inch blade. In his back right pocket, he had a baggie with some money, a Visa credit card and his Arizona driver’s license. He was wearing a black beanie, a black hoodie-type sweatshirt, khaki pants and Skechers shoes.
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