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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.

"I just never thought he'd be the type who would be getting high," Rey said. "I thought he was like a goody-good. He was pretty smart in school. I was more of a partyer."

Loughner was arrested twice on minor charges, in 2007 for possession of a small amount of marijuana and a pipe, and a year later, for defacing a stop sign. Both cases were dismissed after Loughner completed a diversion program, but the arrests proved a lasting stain.

Military officials say the drug charge was the reason they rejected Loughner's enlistment application. And Loughner complained that employers wanted nothing to do with him because of it.

After high school, Loughner again shifted passions. He cut his hair short, switched from hip-hop to heavy-metal, and wore metal band T-shirts.

He spent a lot of time at the home of his friend Zachary Osler, sometimes staying the night. One night when Loughner was not there, his parents came looking for him, saying that Jared had "run away from home." Osler told the parents that their son was at a motel, said Osler's father, George.

By this time, Loughner had a growing fascination with dreams and alternative realities. He believed in lucid or conscious dreaming, the idea that you could consciously enter your own dream and change the path of its characters. He loved the 2001 movie "Waking Life," in which a young man walks in and out of dreams, exploring ideas about the fleeting nature of identity.

Loughner "focused all his energy into understanding the mystery of man's existence on Earth," George Osler said. "He was desperately trying to escape from all the chaos and suffering in his world."

Loughner's favorite writer was Philip K. Dick, whose science-fiction tales travel a mystical path in which omnipotent governments and businesses are the bad guys and the average man is often lost in an identity-shattering swirl of paranoia, schizophrenia and questions about whether the universe and the individual are real or part of some vast conspiracy.

Two years ago, Loughner texted his old friend Zach Osler: "I don't want to be your friend anymore."

"What Jared did was wrong," said Roxanne Osler, Zach's mother, referring to his alleged shootings. "But . . . I feel bad for the kid. . . . I wish people would have taken a better notice of him and gotten him help.

"He had friends, but then all of a sudden . . . he had nobody, and that's not a nice place to be."

'That evil stare'

In the past year or so, the crumbling of what was once Loughner was clear to anyone who bothered to look. Teachers, fellow students, even the anonymous e-buddies who substituted for the real friends he had lost - many suspected mental illness and said so, to one another, to Loughner, even to people who might have taken action. But no one did.

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