Friends, teachers tell of Loughner's descent into world of fantasy

In the hours before the assassination attempt against Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Jared Loughner went to Walmart, was pulled over for running a red light and ran from his father after an angry confrontation.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 13, 2011; 12:00 AM

He played late-night marathon games of Monopoly with his buddies. He went with friends on family vacations. He would hang with pals at IHOP on Fridays. He had a girlfriend. He laughed and he loved and he knew things - about jazz, cars, fantasy games.

And then Jared Loughner slipped into a world of fantasy that was no online game. Slowly but steadily, his intelligence warped into a distorted, disconnected series of obsessions. He developed an illogical fascination with logic. Math, grammar, logic - the systems civilization has developed to make sense of the world became the means through which he expressed the confusion and pain in his increasingly lost mind.

The first sketches of suspects in horrific killings are usually scattered images of hate - an almost superhuman anger trained at others. But as the portraits gain detail, they generally reveal some toxic combination of frustration, abuse, illness and loss. Loughner, those around him say, had the whole package.

A picture of Loughner gleaned from interviews with more than two dozen friends, classmates, teachers and neighbors, as well as from his own writing in online forums, shows no evidence that politics or government were among his defining or enduring obsessions. Rather, his deepest, most disturbing questions were about the very nature of reality: He appeared to have lost any clear sense of the line between real life and dreams or fantasy.

And somewhere in that netherworld, between his dissolving sense of reality and the brutal truth of a sunny Saturday morning outside a Tucson supermarket, Loughner, according to police and a federal indictment, somehow latched onto his congresswoman, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. In Loughner's mind, she became a symbol of the system that he blamed for turning a bright, seemingly functional child into a frustrated, lonely, angry and frightening young man.

Quiet but not reclusive

Loughner's father, Randy, who loved to work on cars, moved into the ranch house on North Soledad Street in a working-class section of Tucson in 1977 when he was a bachelor. Randy grew up in Tucson; his father, A.M. Loughner Jr., was arrested just six days after Randy was born in 1952. His crime, as reported by the Tucson Daily Citizen: robbing a series of grocery stores with a gang of accomplices in the fall of 1950.

One of the stores was a Safeway just eight miles south of the one where Jared Loughner was arrested Saturday.

Randy was no career man; he worked jobs here and there, laying carpet, installing pool decks. In later years, he stayed home and worked on his show cars. He kept mainly to himself, neighbors say, and when he did interact with others, the results were often bad: He had tiffs about incursions onto his property; he yelled at people. Before long, some neighbors were telling their children to steer clear of the Loughner place.

The feeling was mutual: Some years back, Loughner surrounded his house with a wall that blocked views of his side porch.

In 1986, Loughner married Amy Totman, a quiet sort, but someone others found more pleasant and approachable than her husband. Amy worked for the Pima County parks department, taking care of plants and doing maintenance, and most recently as a $25.70-an-hour park manager.

According to her first cousin Judy Wackt, some members of the extended family have had mental illness. "There's a history in the family of what they used to call manic depression, which I guess they now call bipolar disorder," said Wackt, who lives in Texas. "My mother battled depression. One of her sisters had extreme bouts. She'd be okay, then she'd dissolve over time. Wouldn't leave the house. Wouldn't bathe. Wouldn't interact with her husband or children."

Two years after they got married, the Loughners had a son, Jared, their only child.

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