Jared Lee Loughner is obviously not your typical 22-year-old. He failed to complete high school and after an on-again, off-again junior college career, he was suspended last year and told by college police officers not to return to campus without evidence of a mental health examination, one indicating he was not a threat to others or to himself. He failed to seek such an examination, but his actions this past Saturday would strongly suggest that he may not have been able to obtain such a letter, or would he?
Loughner had at least five different recorded problematic issues while attending junior college. Fellow students from high school and junior college, in the latter case at least two different classes, poetry and math, suggested that he was "strange," "creepy," "a pot smoking loner" and "not a normal guy." He believed the U.S. government was behind 9/11, and worried that governments were maneuvering to create a unified monetary system ("a New World Order currency" one friend said) so that elites and bureaucrats could control the rest of the world. He was someone who made at least some of those around him feel uncomfortable to outright frightened. A 52-year-old female junior college student wrote that he was deranged, suggesting she feared him so much that she sat next to the door so she could quickly exit if he started shooting up the classroom. His math instructor brought Loughner to the attention of school officials on three different occasions, finally resulting in his expulsion. This same instructor didn't like to turn his back on Loughner for fear of being shot.
Within a month after being served with his expulsion letter, Loughner purchased his 9mm Glock 19 and obtained at least three 30 round magazines for his new gun, a gun he evidently used to kill six and wound 14 just two months later. In December he wrote on his MySpace account, "why doesn't anyone talk to me," "I don't feel good: I'm ready to kill a police officer! I can say it."
On Saturday morning he evidently left the home he shared with his mother, arming himself with his 9mm pistol and three loaded magazines, and caught a cab to Congresswoman Griffords' public event. At first considered a person of interest, the cab driver would explainthat his presence on a video surveillance photo with Loughner was simply evidence that he had followed Loughner as the soon-to-be shooter had not paid the cab fare for his ride to the Safeway Grocery Store parking lot area.
Loughner then walked up to the congresswoman's event where he was initially directed to the end of the line of people wanting to speak to the local member of congress. He stepped out of line and quickly approached his apparent target, shooting her in the head and then methodically turning his gun on the 30 or so people at the event, killing 6 and wounding 14 before he was tackled by at least two men and a woman, his pistol wrestled from his grip as he attempted to ram another 30 round magazine into the gun to continue his killing spree.
In a subsequent search of the residence he shared with his parents, FBI Agents found a safe they believe to be Loughner's. When opened, it had a letter from the Congresswoman dated 2007, ironically inviting him to attend a similar event at that time. Also found were notes indicating "I planned ahead," "my assassination," the Congresswoman's name and apparently Loughner's signature. Lastly another note, perhaps an unmailed letter to the Congresswoman that appeared to indicate his great displeasure with her. This evidence, items so important to Loughner that he locked them away in a safe, appear to suggest that Congresswoman Gabrielle Griffords had been the focus of his attention for at least the past three years. A former associate of Loughner's recalled his meeting the Congresswoman in 2007, after which he called he dumb as she didn't appropriate answer or understand his question: "What is government if words have no meaning?" As a former friend of his said, "He did not like government officials, how they spoke. Like they were just trying to cover up some conspiracy." He also suggested that the Mars rover and the space shuttle missions were faked by the government.
Also found at his residence was a cammo-like tent in hsback yard. Inside investigators found what appeared to be some kind of altar with a skull, candles, and shriveled-up oranges, items that are normally associated with the occult. This may represent a terrible combination: An emotionally challenged individual, someone who abused drugs, someone who had experienced many failures and rejections in life, a loner who turned inward for his answers and who may have practiced occult-like activities as his own possible form of personal religion.
Prior to Saturday's mass murder, Loughner worked as a volunteer at a local animal care center. Some psychologically challenged individuals enjoy working with animals as they are totally accepting and never challenge anything you say. There is no need to engage in conversation or explain your position with pets, all you need do is give them food, care and attention. In such a situation Loughner was apparently in his element, but when exposed to humans, he appeared to break down.
People don't just "snap." The "dots," like in the case of the Virginia Tech shooter Cho, were all there. What once again was missing was someone who could connect the dots, someone who could recognize all the signs and behaviors associated with a severely emotionally challenged man, a man who was a budding mass murderer in the making. The reality, of course, is that there is no current test that can suggest that someone like Cho or Laughner would actually turn to murder, much less mass murder. The FBI and the US Secret Service find that attackers, while not meeting any set "profile," do share common behavior and pre-incident behaviors, like obtaining a weapon and somehow communicating their intent to do harm. Who, therefore, other than the shooter in this case, is responsible for his behavior? At age 22, Loughner is ultimately responsible for his horrific actions this past Saturday. His high school, his junior college, his fellow students, his instructors, those who may have read his Internet postings, and his parents all had pieces of this puzzle, dots if you may, but once again no one person or single agency appears to have had all the pieces or dots that when connected would have shown the face of a mass murderer in the making.
As an FBI profiler and threat assessor, I have studied human behavior for years and continue to believe that no one can accurately predict human behavior. What we can do, however, is to suggest behavior that is consistent with someone capable of committing inappropriate to, in the extreme, deadly acts. And while an individual's mental health obviously can affect his actions, we cannot revert, as the local sheriff suggested after Loughner's murderous actions, to the days when we put mentally challenged individuals behind bars. In Loughner's case, there appears to be an emotional blending between his fear and distrust of government in general and his focus on the Congresswoman in particular; probably the only person in government that he ever had such contact. And while many individuals are emotionally challenged to some degree, fortunately few ever pick up one of the 280,000,000 million guns in America and begin shooting. Somehow we need, as a nation, to have the means to connect these dots and intervene in the life of someone like Loughner before his personal demons take control, leaving us to pick up the pieces of otherwise innocent human life left strewn across a grocery store parking lot.