Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jared Loughner and the Shooting of Gabrielle Giffords

Warning Signs

Jared Lee Loughner
Jared Lee Loughner

On January 7, 2011, at 11:35 p.m., a young man with a shaved head walked into a Walgreens in Tucson, Ariz., and dropped off a roll of film.

The roll could have been pictures of the man on vacation with his family. It could have been pictures of a car he was trying to sell. But as the Walgreens employees would soon learn, the roll of film was much weirder than that.

As it was later revealed, the pictures were of the man, Jared Lee Loughner, posing with a Glock 19 gun held next to his bare buttocks. But that roll would take a few hours to process and it would be a full day before people would have a reason to care.

After dropping off the film, Loughner drove down the street to a Circle K and picked up a few things before stopping at a Motel 6 on the same street at which he was spending the night, even though he lived with his parents just a few miles away.

It was the beginning of a long night before a shocking morning culminating in the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords that left six others dead, including a federal judge, and many more injured, including Giffords herself.

Before the shooting, there were so many missed opportunities to have thwarted Loughner's mission.

After a few hours at the Motel 6, according to the Associated Press, Loughner called old friends, and ran into another old friend, Michelle Martinez, while stopping back at his parent's house at around two in the morning. At 2:34 a.m., according to a police timeline, Loughner returned to the Walgreens and picked up his developed film,

Finally, after a stop at a Chevron gas station, he retired to his room at the Motel Six and logged into his MySpace account at 4:12 a.m.

"Goodbye friends," he wrote. He posted one of his Walgreens pictures. Web caches show that it was a picture of the same Glock on top of a U.S. history textbook.

The post concluded: "Dear friends ... Please don't be mad at me. The literacy rate is below 5%. I haven't talked to one person who is literate."

Apparently unable to sleep, Loughner spent the early morning hours shopping. First, he went to the Walmart in the Foothills Mall in Tucson, then he went to a Circle K, and then back to the Walmart where he attempted buy bullets for his Glock. Here, Loughner was initially thwarted because the store didn't sell ammunition before 7 a.m.

Less than a half hour later, after 7 a.m., he drove to another Walmart a few miles away and completed his mission.

With the new ammunition in his bag, Loughner was pulled over just three minutes after his purchase by an officer from the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Loughner had run a red light.

It was one of several moments that could've tripped up Loughner that day.

Twice, three times even, he came into contact with people who could have stopped him from carrying out his crime, and in each case, he eluded them. It was the same dumb luck that he'd enjoyed for several years.

Since at least 2007, according to reports, Loughner had gotten pass after pass. He'd gotten in trouble with the law and with his community college: he'd freaked out other students in his classes; he'd acted strangely and inappropriately, and had been on the radar of police, school authorities, neighbors, and community members. And yet, no one believed he needed to be stopped — until it was too late.

With the bullets in a black diaper bag, Loughner returned home, where allegedly he got into a confrontation with his father. Angry, he left the house on foot and caught a cab at the local Circle K. It was 9:41 a.m..

The cab driver unknowingly shuttled Loughner to the scene of his crime, the parking lot of a Safeway grocery store at which Giffords was holding a town meeting. The driver was seen on video and was briefly a person of interest to police investigating the shooting, but, police later determined, he was not involved. The driver went into the Safeway to get change for Loughner's $20 bill.

In a just a few minutes everything would change.


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