TUCSON -- Just hours before his arrest for shooting six people to death and wounding 13 others, Jared Lee Loughner had another brush with the law, breaking down and weeping in front of an officer who pulled him over.
Among the information contained in thousands of pages of documents about the investigation is the story of Arizona Game and Fish Officer Alen Forney and his encounter with Loughner.
Forney was interviewed by authorities the day after the Jan. 8, 2011, mass shooting that severely wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, according to previously sealed documents released this week by the Pima County Sheriff's Department.
Forney and Loughner were both driving through the northern part of Tucson about 7:30 a.m. Forney was heading to meet other officers in a different part of the state for some off-road enforcement; Loughner had just been to an area Wal-Mart, where a sporting goods clerk had refused to sell him 9-millimeter bullets.
Forney stopped Loughner, who was driving erratically and ran a red light. When the officer approached the car, Loughner’s hand was already thrust through the window, holding his license and registration.
Forney said Loughner took off the black bandanna he was wearing. The officer saw that Loughner had a shaved head, something he thought was peculiar.
He asked Loughner whether he knew why he had been stopped. He replied, yes, he did.
During the traffic stop, another Game and Fish officer drove by, asking whether Forney needed any help.
“I gave her the thumbs up at that point,” Forney told investigators. “I had no reason to believe anything suspicious was going on.”
Forney said he didn’t notice anything unusual inside the car, but had checked to make sure “the trunk was secure” on Loughner’s ’69 Chevrolet Nova.
“I made the decision not to write a citation. Game and Fish doesn’t write a lot of traffic citations … I was also in kind of a hurry” to join the other officers for their patrol at Florence Junction, east of the Phoenix metro area.
“I told him, ‘I’m not going to write you a citation for this.’ When I said that to him, his face got kind of screwed up and he started to cry.… That struck me as a little odd,” Forney told investigators. “I asked him if he was OK. He said, ‘Yeah, I’m OK. I’ve had a rough time and I really thought I was going to get a ticket and I’m really glad that you’re not … going to give me a ticket.”
Forney again asked Loughner whether he was OK, worried he would be driving with his emotions out of control, possibly leading to an accident. Loughner then immediately composed himself, he said.
“He actually looked up at me and said, ‘Can I thank you?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you can thank me.’ He asked what my name was, and he stuck out his right hand.”
Later in the day, Forney heard about Loughner’s rampage.¿
“I opened up the Internet, and there was his picture,” Forney said. “Man, my heart just went up in my throat.”
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Mello is a special correspondent.