Police Try To Piece Together Ariz. Shooter's Motive
Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 10:33 am
The suspect in an Arizona shooting spree appeared in a Phoenix courtroom on Monday, two days after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was gravely wounded and six others were killed in a supermarket parking lot.
The accused shooter, Jared Loughner, entered the courtroom in shackles. His head was shaved and he had a cut on his right temple.
"His eyes sort of went wide when he saw the press of reporters and others there waiting to see him," said NPR's Martin Kaste, who was in the courtroom. "And then he went very stony. He replied in monosyllables ... gave very short answers to the judge when required."
Loughner was ordered held without bail. He is charged with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder. More charges are expected.
He also was assigned a defense attorney: San Diego lawyer Judy Clarke, whose high-profile cases included "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski and Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph. The local public defenders had recused themselves, because one of the people killed was a federal judge, John. M. Roll.
Giffords Stable, 'Not Out Of The Woods Yet'
At a news conference earlier Monday, Giffords' doctors said her brain remains swollen, but the pressure has not increased. She was among the 20 people shot Saturday at a public event for the congresswoman in a Tucson shopping center parking lot.
"We're not out of the woods yet," said Dr. G. Michael Lemole Jr., section chief of neurosurgery at Tucson's University Medical Center.
Nonetheless, Lemole and Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of emergency medicine, expressed cautious optimism that Giffords would survive.
"At this stage, things are going well," Rhee said.
Sifting Through Clues
The FBI and local law enforcement agencies were still trying to piece together a chronology of events and a possible motive for the shooting.
Discoveries at Loughner's home, where he lived with his parents in a middle-class neighborhood lined with desert landscaping and palm trees, have provided a few clues.
Police said Loughner legally bought the Glock semiautomatic pistol in November and purchased a large amount of ammunition the morning of the rampage.
Court papers filed with the charges said he had previous contact with Giffords. The documents said he had received a letter from the Democratic lawmaker in which she thanked "Jared Loughney" for attending a "Congress on your Corner" event at a mall in Tucson in 2007.
FBI Director Robert Mueller confirmed that authorities "believe we have indication that he [Loughner] attended a similar event" to the one held on Saturday.
Investigators also say they found an envelope in which the words "I planned ahead," "My assassination" and "Giffords" were scrawled.
"We still have a lot of background to do with the suspect in this case, but he's in custody, and we know that there's considerable evidence that he specifically targeted the congresswoman," Clarence Dupnik, sheriff of Pima County, Ariz., told MSNBC on Monday.
Neighbors said Loughner kept to himself and was often seen walking his dog, almost always while wearing a hooded sweatshirt and listening to his iPod.
The College Years
At Pima Community College, where Loughner began attending classes in 2005, his behavior drew the attention of campus officials.
Ben McGahee, who was Loughner's algebra instructor at the school, talked with NPR's Michelle Norris on Monday.
"He seemed like a normal guy, walking in, until he started to misbehave," McGahee said. "He would come out with these senseless outbursts, like he would say, 'How can you deny math instead of accepting it?' "
McGahee said Loughner also scribbled notes on some of his quizzes. "One thing in particular he wrote was called 'MAYHEM FEST!!!' I became very concerned for the safety of our students in the classroom and the school as well."
The teacher said he would "look out of the corner of my eye, just to keep close surveillance on him and make sure he was not doing anything unusual or pulling a weapon out of his bag."
Between February and September, Loughner "had five contacts with PCC police for classroom and library disruptions," according to a statement from the school. He was suspended in September after college police discovered a YouTube video in which Loughner claimed the college was illegal according to the Constitution.
He withdrew voluntarily the following month and was told he could return only if, among other qualifications, a mental health professional agreed he did not present a danger, the school said.
Shaken on Capitol Hill
The massacre has left lawmakers on Capitol Hill in shock and asking themselves whether they could also be vulnerable and what role if any a climate of frequently vitriolic political debate may have played.
Arizona Republican David Schweikert told NPR that the U.S. Capitol Police called him shortly after the attack and law enforcement began moving into the Capitol building to make sure all elected officials there were safe.
"You very quickly understood the gravity and the horror of what just happened," he said.
Republican leaders quickly postponed the week's planned House action — a repeal vote on the nation's new health care law. Instead, lawmakers will consider measures condemning the attack, and in memory of those who died.
NPR's Martin Kaste and Andrea Seabrook contributed to this report, which also contains material from The Associated Press