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Mystery surrounds suspect in rampage

Jared Lee Loughner, 22, posted YouTube videos that offer rambling texts on mind control, currency, the Constitution and English grammar.

January 08, 2011|By Scott Kraft and Mark Porubcansky, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Los Angeles and Tucson — Until Saturday morning, Jared Lee Loughner was a sometime community college student who had attended high school in northwest Tucson, lived with his parents there in a quiet, working-class neighborhood of ranch homes and had recently posted several rambling messages on YouTube.

Now, the 22-year-old is in police custody, the chief suspect in a shooting rampage 10 minutes from his house that left six dead and 12 wounded, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the apparent target of the attack, who remained in critical condition.

Late Saturday, though, authorities still were wrestling with a central mystery in the case: Did the suspect in the attack have a clear political agenda? Or is he a mentally unbalanced young man, perhaps spurred to action by what the sheriff called "the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths" in this country "about tearing down the government."

Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik said the suspect, whom law enforcement officials privately identified as Loughner, had "a troubled past" and had come to the attention of the police because of his behavior while a student at Pima County Community College. The sheriff did not specify the nature of that behavior.

"There's reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue, and people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol," Dupnik said.

Loughner had remained mostly silent during a day of questioning, the sheriff said.

Authorities said he had purchased the Glock semiautomatic pistol used in the shootings recently. The sheriff added that "we are not convinced that he acted alone." A white male in his 50s who was seen at the scene of the crime was "a person of interest" in the case and was still being sought, Dupnik said.

Part of the mystery about Loughner's possible motive stems from five messages he posted in a slide presentation on YouTube in recent weeks. In the videos, which displayed typewritten messages, he covers a seemingly random range of topics, including a proposal for a new world currency and references to the number of illiterate people in "District 8," which is his congressional district and the one represented by Giffords.

One message apparently posted within the last two weeks was labeled "My Final Thoughts: Jared Lee Loughner!" In the disjointed missive, he talked about the definition of terrorism and the U.S. Constitution. "You don't have to accept the federalist laws," he writes at one point in the video. "Nonetheless, read the United States of America's Constitution to apprehend all of the current treasonous laws."

The same video also says that he "can't trust the current government because of the ratifications: The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar." He concludes with: "No! I won't pay debt with a currency that's not backed by gold and silver! No! I won't trust in God!"

Mark Kalish, a forensic psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor at UC San Diego, said the writings had the hallmarks of mental illness and suggested that the shooting was probably premeditated and an act of delusion.

"It's got these paranoid elements," said Kalish, who said it appeared that the writer of those words suffered from schizophrenia. "There's a conspiratorial flavor to it," he added. "It is nonsensical but it's psychotic."

On the YouTube slides, Loughner describes himself in the third person as "a United States Military recruit at MEPS in Phoenix," a reference to the Military Entrance Processing Station there. CNN reported late Saturday that Loughner had applied for the military but been rejected.

By Saturday night, police had cordoned off the working-class neighborhood of SUVs and pickups where Loughner lived with his parents. The 1980s-vintage homes are well-kept; many have gravel front yards, some planted with palm trees.

"Every time I saw him he was by himself," said Bert Escovar, 71, a neighbor who frequently saw Loughner but had never spoken with him. Another neighbor, David Cook, said the family seemed friendly and often waved hello when they drove past on the street. He said Loughner's father rebuilt classic cars and owned a 1967 Chevelle he had restored.

On his MySpace page, Loughner said he had attended elementary school and middle school in Tucson before he went to Mountain View High School. Since graduating, he said, he had attended Northwest Aztec Middle College and Pima Community College.

He described his "favorite interest" as reading and said he had studied grammar and "conscience dreams." Among the books he listed among his favorites were "Animal Farm" "The Wizard of Oz," "Gulliver's Travels," "Mein Kampf" and Plato's "Meno."

Tyler Ramsier, 24, who attended high school with Loughner at Mountain View, said Loughner and a group of friends often wore trench coats and baggy pants. Ramsier said the group, which he described as "contrary," mostly kept to themselves.

In his high school yearbook photo, Loughner has a shaggy head of curly hair. But a smiling Loughner, with closely cropped hair, appeared in a photo taken more recently by a local newspaper. In that photograph, Loughner is identified by name as a volunteer at the Tucson Festival of Books, where he's shown manning a giant crossword puzzle for passersby.

Times staff writer Sam Quinones contributed to this report from Tucson; Lisa Girion, Rick Rojas and Rong-Gong Lin II from Los Angeles; and Richard A. Serrano from Washington.

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