Feature

Loughner: Obsessed, isolated

Friends say Jared Lee Loughner began losing touch with reality at about age 16.

At a “Congress on Your Corner’’ event held by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords three years ago, a young constituent named Jared Lee Loughner asked a question: “What is government if words have no meaning?” Confused, Giffords didn’t know how to respond, and Loughner, longtime friend Bryce Tierney told MotherJones.com, was quietly furious, convinced she was “just trying to cover up some government conspiracy.” From that day on, police said this week, Loughner, a 22-year-old social outcast, was focused on Giffords, leaving behind handwritten notes that said, “I planned ahead,” “my assassination,” and “Die, bitch.”

Loughner grew up an only child in a middle-class neighborhood of Tucson, in a family that neighbors avoided. “They were like the Addams Family,” neighbor Stephen Woods told the New York Post. Loughner’s father, Randy, often got into disputes, neighbors said, and could frequently be heard yelling at his son. Friends remember Loughner as “sweet’’ and “shy’’ into his early high school years, but at about the age of 16, he began to lose touch with reality, said USA Today. By the time Loughner began taking classes at Pima Community College, he had become convinced authorities were trying to control him. “The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar,” he wrote in a video he posted on YouTube.

His descent into madness became visible to classmates, as he mumbled to himself, grinned, and blurted out strange questions. Classmate Lynda Sorenson sat by the door for a quick escape. “Hopefully he will be out of class very soon,’’ she e-mailed friends last summer, said The Washington Post, “and not come back with an automatic weapon.’’ College officials suspended him, saying he couldn’t return unless he had a mental-health examination, and Loughner dropped out, after ranting that the college was “unconstitutional.’’

When Tierney, who knew Loughner in high school and college, heard about this week’s killing spree, he was not surprised. “I think the reason he did it was mainly just to promote chaos,’’ he told MotherJones.com. “He wanted the media to freak out about this whole thing. He wanted exactly what’s happening.’’

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