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Jan. 8 shootings

PCC's Loughner emails show early concerns about accused shooter

For over a year prior to the Jan. 8 mass shooting, Pima Community College officials traded emails showing increasing concern about Jared Loughner's behavior.

In dozens of emails released Thursday, staff and instructors balanced their worries about Loughner's mental stability with regard for his rights to due process.

Campus police had five contacts with the student, now 22, regarding classroom disruptions that left students and teachers fearful, even as Loughner made no overt threats.

In the 255 pages of emails, released following a Wednesday court ruling, Loughner is referred to as "creepy," bizarre," "psycho" and as having an "evil smile."

PCC administrators eventually suspended Loughner from campus in September, three months before the attack that killed six and wounded 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Loughner was informed Sept. 29 that he could not return to Pima until he had a mental health exam showing he was not a danger to himself or others.

But even after he was banned from campus, PCC authorities expressed concern about him.

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was contacted to see if Loughner had a gun, and the photo from his drivers' license was obtained to distribute on a flyer warning staff about him.

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An email from ATF on Oct. 4 said "I did not come up with any gun info on this guy."

The warning—"Jared Lee Loughner is not permitted on any Pima Community College property. If you see him, please contact campus police immediately."—was distributed to faculty the day after his suspension, and said that it "cannot be disseminated to the public."

Incidents date back over a year

PCC concerns about Loughner date to at least September 2009, when he complained in an email that he had been scammed in a February Tai-Chi class.

"I am a community college student who was scammed," Loughner wrote, trying to recruit other students to complain.

The instructor of that class wrote to his department head: "I think I see so many people come through my classes that there will be a few psycho eggs. I could tell he had emotional problems, but my mission is to help everyone."

In February 2010, a student reported to writing instructor Steve Salmoni that she thought Loughner had placed a pocket knife on his desk during class.

"It was just a little alarming, especially since I have been observing the way he carries himself," wrote the student, whose name was withheld by PCC.

"If you know anything about him that could be reassuring to me, I would appreciate that information," the student wrote.

In an email forwarding the student's worries to PCC administrators, Salmoni referred to a previous incident in which other students voiced concerns about Loughner, when he talked about war, abortion and "strapping bombs to babies" after a student read a poem in class.

"I thought perhaps we were out of the woods w/regard (sic) to Jared Loughner's situation, given that class last Tuesday seemed to go relatively smoothly, without any noticeable misbehaviors," he wrote.

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"Really at this point, I'd like to do everything that we can to have him removed from the class," Salmoni wrote. "I think his presence alone is interfering with the kind of environment that I'm trying to foster."

In April 2010, PCC officers responded to a call regarding Loughner making loud noises while using a computer at the Northwest Campus library. The officers "cleared without incident." That same day, PCC officers transported a woman to Kino Hospital for a mental evaluation after she locked herself inside her car for 2.5 hours in a campus parking lot.

In May, police were contacted when an instructor felt "intimidated" after giving Loughner a B in a class. Loughner was "very angry," and the instructor thought the situation could become "physical." "No student contact was made," a later email from a PCC administrator said.

Other PCC teachers reported classroom outbursts by Loughner, and campus counselors were contacted in early June. They discussed Loughner's behavior with him.

"This student was warned," an email from counselor DeLisa Siddall said. "He has extreme views and frequently meanders from the point. He seems to have difficulty understanding how his actions impact others, yet very attuned to his unique ideology that is not always homogeneous."

"Administrators will have to help this student clearly understand what is appropriate classroom dialog," she wrote.

"I have no idea what he is capable of doing," math instructor Benjamin McGahee wrote. "I just want our class to be safe."

McGahee told campus officials that he thought Loughner might be under the influence of drugs.

Dean Patricia Houston of Pima's downtown campus wrote that a PCC police officer "responded and told me that he would begin the process to take the student out of the class and expel him. I told him that we were not ready to do that because we need more investigation." "I spoke to the instructor this morning to ask if there had actually been an overt and threatening behavior and he said no just bizarre behavior," Houston wrote.

Loughner's behavior was "intimidating," Houston said his instructors said, including "staring at the instructor and some classmates with 'an evil' big smile and laughing very inappropriately."

"Since there has been no direct threat from the student and since he has completely complied with the directive given to him... I did not feel comfortable rushing to remove the student from class," Houston wrote in a June email.

"It is a matter of balancing a disruptive student's right to due process with the rights of other students in the class," she wrote. 

Houston wrote that Loughner should be allowed back in class, but "we would like to have an officer present on the sidelines."

Fall 2010

Pima administrators continued to discuss Loughner during the fall semester.

In September, campus police responded to a report of a "verbally disruptive" Loughner in a Northwest Campus classroom.

Loughner "was acting up and the teacher told him to sit down. He advised her that he had freedom of speech," an email from college police Chief Stella Bay said.

Administrator Lorraine Morales wrote to Northwest Campus program manager Aubrey Conover about Loughner on Sept. 23:

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"All we can do with this student is to actually address the behavior and performance. What have you said to the student? Have you provided anything in writing to the student regarding the behavior?"

"A written warning informing the student of expectations is required and then follow the process... a behavior contract maybe, with parameters to understand the consequences," Morales wrote.

Expelled after video discovered

A Youtube video posted by Loughner in September that called PCC "one of the biggest scams in America" and said "this is my genocide school" caused a flurry of emails between campus officials on Sept. 29.

"This is disconcerting. The student sounds very disturbed about the college and other students," Executive Vice Chancellor David Bea wrote.

Bay had a police officer review the video to see if it was Loughner. "He advised that he was," she wrote.

"The NW campus has a history with this student," she wrote.

The same day that campus officials discovered Loughner's video claim to be a victim of mind control and torture, four PCC police officers served him a letter of suspension at his home.

He was told that he could not return to Pima until he had a mental health exam showing he was not a danger to himself or others.

The day after, PCC officials circulated a flyer via campus email, warning that Loughner was not allowed on campus. The email included his photograph and cautioned against releasing the information to the public.

On Oct. 1, a campus police officer contacted the ATF to learn if Loughner had a gun. No record of his owning a firearm was found, they were told in an email.

Loughner purchased the 9mm Glock Model 19 semi-automatic handgun allegedly used in the attack on Nov. 30.

The morning of Jan. 8, Loughner killed six and wounded 13 others at a "Congress On Your Corner" constituent event at a Northwest Side grocery story, authorities charge.

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Among those killed were a nine-year-old girl and Arizona's presiding federal judge.

The attack was an assassination attempt on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, they charge. Giffords was shot throught the left side of her brain, and is undergoing rehabilitation in Houston.

Giffords' rehab

Doctors have called her recovery "miraculous." No date for her release or return to Congress has been made public, doctors said this week at a press conference.

"Your guess is as good as mine," said Dr. Dong Kim, a neurosurgeon at TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital.

"We can't predict how much progress she'll make. We can't predict when she'll return to work," Kim said.

Giffords is "recovering very nicely," said rehab Dr. Gerard Francisco.

Her cognition has "improved very significantly," he said, noting that "we're having meaningful, fun conversation—she's cracked me up."

Loughner competency hearing

Loughner will be in court next week for a hearing on his competency to stand trial.

In March, Loughner was charged with 49 federal counts in the attack. Not guilty pleas were entered on his behalf by the court.

Fourteen of the charges Loughner faces could result in the death penalty, if the prosecution seeks it. No decision of whether to ask for capital punishment has been made, authorities have said.

Loughner likely will face local charges in the shooting incident, authorities have said.

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have your say   

2 comments on this story

2
542 comments
May 21, 2011, 10:43 am
-0 +1

Luke,

Why continue to report on Loughner?

David Bodney, the attorney who has pushed for the release of public records from Pima College and the various investigating agencies, summed it up in a court hearing: to transparently show the public the process of justice.

Given the particular circumstances of the Jan. 8 mass shooting, while Jared Loughner may bear the moral guilt of pulling the trigger, there’s a strong chance that he may never be found guilty of a crime. There’s a chance he may never even be tried for the shootings.

Whether that’s right or wrong, it’s a possibility that many will find hard to understand.

Further, reporting on what PCC or other organizations and people did or didn’t do before the shootings provides the information needed to identify if anything does need fixing in our system.

Note that, after they were compelled by the court to release this set of emails, PCC immediately announced that they are hiring new mental and behavorial health experts.

If we are never to report on “what’s too late now to fix, and too unhealthy to insist on pondering,” should there never again be a report on the Iraq war, or our long-time failure to find bin Laden, the causes of the housing bubble, the potential for climate change, or the money spent on local government consultants?

The whole point behind reporting what’s happened in the past is to try to fix the future. Talking about what to do without any facts at hand is mere pontification, and there’s enough of that sort of blather in the media already.

There are many questions raised by the handling of Loughner prior to Jan. 8, and the options open to us now. Just a few of them are:

• While there are mechanisms for any person to be ordered into mental health treatment, they’re not commonly used. Should they be more frequently invoked?

• Should educational instutions do a more comprehensive job of monitoring student behavior and intervening?

• Should educational institutions—and their law enforcement agencies—communicate more with other legal authorities about student behavior?

• Should there be more readily available support for the families of people with mental health issues?

• Do those who see a dangerous potential in someone with an apparent mental health issue have a responsibility to take steps to get them treatment?

• Given the differences between federal and state laws regarding competency and the insanity defense, which system better serves justice?

Within certain parameters of taste and respect, we’ll continue to report on the aftermath of Jan. 8—both the trial of Jared Loughner and the progress made by the victims and our community to heal and grow together.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts,

Dylan

1
11 comments
May 21, 2011, 8:13 am
-1 +0

The thing about all this reporting on the signs of Loughner’s nutbaggery is that yeah, dude was a nutbag.  Then dude went ape and killed a bunch of people.  We could make a case, and indeed we’re making it, that folks saw this coming.

So what?  Is there anything to be gained from ruminating ad naseum about all the telltale signs of Loughner’s nuttiness?  Are we trying to build a case that Pima College has blood on their hands or something?

Bottom line: the guy was insane.  How about a story on all the reports of disconcerting weirdos that appear each semester at PCC, the U of A and any other public institution constitutionally prohibited from taking reasonable measures to identify and monitor the tragic characters.  999 times out of 1000 they’re harmless, and the critical minority occupies a middle ground of little interest to anyone not obsessed with civil liberties or psychopaths.

It would be nice to see the media acknowledge the public’s common sense on this one.  No one needs additional proof that the guy who killed a handful of innocents that morning was a batshit lunatic, and whatever the public really does need (closure?) isn’s served by the present parade of found facts about what what’s too late now to fix, and too unhealthy to insist on pondering.

Enough, for Christ, about Loughner.  He clearly did what he did, and he’ll clearly get what’s coming to him.  If anything needs clarification, it’s our capacity to get past it.

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Pima emails

Pima Community College had sought to block the release of the 255 pages of emails, claiming that making them public would violate Loughner's federally mandated educational privacy rights, known as FERPA.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Stephen Villarreal rejected the school's argument Wednesday.

Within hours of the ruling, PCC announced that it would improve its ability to assess threats by hiring a staff psychologist and contracting with an unnamed "nationally recognized" expert in behavioral health.