- Associated Press - Sunday, February 20, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Randy Loughner was always reclusive, but since his son’s alleged shooting rampage last month, the father has shut himself behind what one neighbor calls “an elaborate cage.”

In recent weeks, Mr. Loughner has built a substantial wooden enclosure, more than 6 feet high, obscuring his front door and windows. The four horizontal windows on the garage door have been papered over, the diamond-shaped openings atop the block wall to his back yard closed off with little plywood plugs.

Even the white mailbox out front has been replaced by a heavy black steel one with a locked drawer.

“He was already secluded, so he was already set up for it, and used to it,” says Stephen Woods, who lives in the house to the left of Amy and Randy Loughner‘s. “So I imagine it’s not bothering him much. I don’t think his life has changed that much.”

But life undoubtedly has changed.

Until Jan. 8, the couple’s 22-year-old son, Jared Lee, shared the modest beige block-and-brick home where the couple have lived for nearly three decades. Now, he sits in a cell, facing federal charges of attempting to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and two of her aides. Six people, including a federal judge, were killed and 13 wounded in the shooting during a Giffords meeting with constituents outside a Tucson grocery store, and more charges are expected.

Except for a brief written statement, the Loughners have kept their silence. They have not returned messages left by the Associated Press, and relatives have also refused to talk.

Some thought the couple had moved away from the 1,400-square-foot home where they raised their only child, but then neighbors began hearing the hammers and saws.

Ron Johnson has seen the elder Mr. Laughner coming and going in his El Camino, one of several vintage cars he owns.

“He comes out after dark,” said Mr. Johnson, who lives in the house directly across from the Loughners but who hasn’t even tried to speak with them in ages. “He comes out of that garage, closes it and scoots down that highway.”

Mr. Johnson said he tried to be friendly with the family. He would see Mr. Loughner — who was once in construction but now appears not to work — watering his plants or sweeping the driveway and would try to strike up a conversation.

Mr. Loughner wouldn’t even look him in the eye.

“On the other hand, he’s probably the best neighbor I ever had,” Mr. Johnson said with a chuckle. “He doesn’t talk to you and doesn’t borrow” stuff.

George Gayan, 82, has lived on the Loughners’ right for nearly 30 years. When Jared was 3 or 4, he would come over to play with Mr. Gayan’s great-grandson. Amy Loughner, who works for the county parks department, sometimes would accompany him.

But Mr. Gayan has never been in the Loughner home, and Randy Loughner has never been in his.

“He wants his privacy,” Mr. Gayan, a widower, said. “I honor his request. I have no problem with that. People move out into the middle of the desert because they want their privacy.”

But Mr. Woods said Randy Loughner has taken it to an extreme.

Mr. Woods says the family’s back yard is encircled with what appear to be trellises. Greenery extends several feet from the block walls.

“I mean, you can stand on a 6-foot ladder at my fence and not look into his back yard,” said Mr. Woods, an aircraft mechanic who has lived there about seven years. “You can’t see inside there.”

If Mr. Loughner’s privacy concerns seemed exaggerated before, they are now very real.

Two days after the shootings, Mr. Loughner called the sheriff’s office to complain that people were hanging over his back wall trying to take photographs. He told deputies he had caught a reporter in his back yard with a camera and had chased her away.

No one has been charged.

These days, Mr. Woods doesn’t even see Mr. Loughner out watering his plants or walking the family’s little black-and-white dog, and that’s just fine with him.

Mr. Woods said his relationship with Mr. Loughner was bad from the beginning. He had only been in the house a couple of days, he said, when Mr. Loughner began shouting obscenities at him over some garbage that had been left behind by the previous residents.

He said Mr. Loughner would glare at him and his family as he drove by in his orange Camaro. When Mr. Loughner glowered at him one morning, Mr. Woods decided to stare back.

“It must have gone on for two or three minutes,” he said, puffing on a cigarette. “He’s just sitting there, just glaring at me. And finally he just walked away. And that was it. He never said anything.”

Mr. Woods‘ daughter, Stephanie, is the same age as Jared and was in some of his classes at high school. Mr. Woods always thought it strange that the neighbor boy who rode his bike past their house would have nothing to do with her.

“There’s something off about the kid. And when you think about the kid, Jared, you think about the parents. And you look at the parents and say, ‘Yeah, well the dad’s really angry,” Mr. Woods said.

“He has some issues, the father. I think it’s trickled down on the son. And it’s too bad.”

Associated Press writer Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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