Jared Lee Loughner isn’t your typical depressed-but-angry rampage shooter, seeking vengeance for a failed marriage, a lost job, or a life that just didn’t turn out the way he had planned.
Chances are, he’s a full-blown schizophrenic, someone whose thinking has become so delusional and disorganized that the world he perceives bears increasingly little resemblance to reality, according to experts.
As a result, there may be few or no answers to why the 22-year-old high-school dropout opened fire at a constituent event Saturday sponsored by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson. The best response may be that Mr. Loughner simply wasn’t in his right mind.
“My prediction is that as more information comes out, we’re going to find out this young man truly has serious mental issues going on,” said Michael Nuccitelli, a New York forensic psychologist who has conducted about 100 mental-health evaluations in criminal and civil cases. “He’s got his own agenda, his own rationale, his own perceptions for why he did what he did.”
While Mr. Loughner fits some of the characteristics of a rampage or spree killer, those shootings are triggered by a traumatic event in the shooter’s life, usually being fired from a job or having a spouse leave. So far, that doesn’t appear to be the case here.
Instead, the 22-year-old Tucson man appears to have more in common with, for example, Seung-hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter who killed 32 students and teachers in 2007. Cho, who killed himself immediately afterward, had a history of mental illness and no discernible motive for the massacre.
“There’s a likelihood he [Loughner] presents with schizophrenia,” said L. Thomas Kucharski, psychology department chairman at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “Rampage killers - those guys aren’t psychotic. They’re depressed, they don’t give a damn any more, they’re out for revenge.”
He pointed to Mr. Loughner’s belief in mind control as a sign of schizophrenia.
In a rambling YouTube slide show, Mr. Loughner describes a government conspiracy centering on grammar, saying that, “the government is implying mind control and brainwash [sic] on the people by controlling grammar.”
Those beliefs may have led him to strike out at Mrs. Giffords as a government official, but not necessarily.
“Whether the delusions he harbors have anything to do with this [shooting] is unclear,” said Mr. Kucharski. “He may well have an elaborate delusional system in which she played a role.”
Mr. Loughner was also intently interested in the phenomenon of “conscious dreaming” or “lucid dreaming,” in which the dreamer controls the dream. His longtime friend Bryce Tierney told Mother Jones magazine that Mr. Loughner had become “more interested in this world than our reality.”
Mr. Tierney, whose comments provide the most-comprehensive window into Mr. Loughner’s mind to date, said his friend told him that, “I’m so into it because I can create things and fly. I’m everything I’m not in this world.”
Dreaming was “his waking life, his reality,” Mr. Tierney said. “He sort of drifted off, didn’t care about hanging out with friends. He’d be sleeping a lot.”
Mr. Loughner’s mental state appeared to deteriorate as he entered his late teens and early 20s, another sign of a thought disorder such as bipolar or schizophrenia. He dropped out of high school after an uneventful academic career, but then ran into trouble repeatedly at Pima Community College.
He disrupted classes and alarmed other students to the point that campus authorities ordered him to leave last year until he received a mental-health clearance stating that he was not a threat to himself or others. He never returned.
He also tried to join the Army, but the Pentagon reported that Mr. Loughner was “rejected for service” after attempting to enlist, but would not elaborate, citing privacy laws. Mental-health issues can be grounds for refusal, though anonymous sources have told some news outlets that the rejection was for drug use.
The police mug released Monday shows a different person from the long-haired high-schooler and clean-cut college student seen in earlier photos. His head is completely shaved, his eyebrows are plucked and his grinning visage stares intensely into the camera.
Mr. Loughner’s purported decision to target Mrs. Giffords may have been sparked by a 2007 encounter with the congresswoman. He attended a similar “Congress on Your Corner” gathering and asked her, “What is government if words have no meaning?”
Mr. Tierney said he didn’t know how Mrs. Giffords answered the question, but that her response irritated Loughner. “He said, ‘Can you believe it, they wouldn’t answer my question,’ and I said ‘Dude, no one’s going to answer that,’” said Mr. Tierney. “Ever since that, he thought she was fake, he had something against her.”
He kept a copy of the letter she sent him thanking him for attending the event. After that, Mr. Loughner would occasionally mention Mrs. Giffords, although Mr. Tierney said he didn’t appear obsessed with her.
Still, when he heard she had been shot, Mr. Tierney said he instantly thought of Mr. Loughner.
“[W]hen I heard Gabrielle Giffords has been shot, I was like ‘Oh, my God.’ … For some reason, I felt like I knew … I felt like if anyone was going to shoot her, it would be Jared,” he said.