In this blog series, we explore historical events to teach us what pre-incident indicators were present to decrease the chance of bad things from happening in the future. History tells us that there is no detail too small, as even the slightest move off-center can set off an unfortunate domino effect.

Within this Case File, we share a detailed description and analysis of the events surrounding the mass shooting at an event for U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in 2011. You will learn important information, including:

  • Background + Summary of Events
  • Timeline of Pre-Incident Indicators 
  • Pre-Incident Indicators Present
  • Appendix

The Background:

In 2011, Jared Lee Loughner killed six and wounded thirteen people at a public and scheduled event for U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Loughner was a high school drop-out with a history of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, a fixation on firearms, inability to keep a job, and displayed bizarre and disruptive behaviors in the classroom. Loughner was very active in the online world, to include postings of disturbing and threatening statements on MySpace and YouTube, while referencing suicidal ideations and threats against police officers. 

Loughner’s fixation with Giffords began in 2007 after the two met at a community event. Allegedly, Loughner did not like the way Giffords responded to one of his questions, which culminated in the attack approximately four years later (reported by CNN). It doesn’t appear that Loughner attempted direct contact with Giffords between that period of time, but it’s unclear if he stalked her online.   

Summary of Incident Events:

  • On January 8, 2011 at 10:10 am in Tucson, AZ, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, a Caucasian white male, killed six and wounded thirteen people with a Glock 19 9mm handgun. Congresswoman Giffords was the intended target. She was shot and wounded. (Reported by the Department of Homeland Security)
  • Loughner had four magazines (two were extended 30 round magazines) and a knife on his person. The attack took place at a public venue where Giffords had set up a constituent meeting in front of a Safeway supermarket. Loughner approached the tables set up for the meeting and began firing at 10:10am. All of the victims were shot during this time. The incident ended with the attacker being subdued by people who were attending the meeting at 10:15am. (Reported by Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training)
  • Communications discovered after the attack indicated that Loughner may also have been seeking fame as an assassin. 

Below you will find a detailed breakdown of the timeline leading up to this incident, a comprehensive list of pre-incident indicators, and supporting images.

Timeline of Pre-Incident Indicators: 

Summer 2005  – Before the start of his junior year in high school, Loughner begins drinking and using drugs.

Summer 2006 – Loughner drops out of high school at the end of his junior year. 

August 2007 – Loughner attends “Congress on Your Corner” event in Tucson, AZ with Rep. Giffords. 

September 10, 2007  – Cited for possession of drug paraphernalia; charge dismissed after he completes a drug diversion program. 

2008 (unknown date) – Buys a 12-gauge shotgun from Sportsman’s Warehouse in Tucson, AZ and begins to exhibit signs of mental illness, such as hearing voices and communicating bizarre ideas.

October 13, 2008 – Arrested on a vandalism charge for defacing a stop sign; charge dismissed after he pays a fine and completes a second diversion program.  

December 2008 – Applies to enlist in the U.S. Army, but is disqualified to serve because of prior drug use.  

March 2010 – Asked to leave the animal shelter where he is employed as a dog walker after failing to follow instructions; voices interest in weapons, shooting, and target practice.  

January – September 2010 – Engages in disruptive and bizarre behaviors at Pima Community College (PCC), which led to meetings with a school counselor and five contacts with campus police.

August – October 2010 – Posts statements on his MySpace page that indicate he may have been contemplating suicide.

On September 23, 2010, he records and uploads a disturbing video to YouTube about PCC called Jared Lee Loughner Pima Community College – School Genocide Scam Free Education Broken United States Constitution. In the video, Loughner walks around filming the campus, making bizarre statements such as “This is my genocide school where I’m going to be homeless because of this school” and “this school is illegal according to the U.S. Constitution,” and one of the “biggest scams in America.”

November 30, 2010 – Loughner purchases a 9mm GLOCK semi automatic handgun from Sportsman’s Warehouse in Tucson, AZ.

November 2010 – Loughner posted a comment online, writing “I have a new tattoo on my back: 2 9mm bullets,” following that with “There are important figures in my dreams that accomplished political aspirations: Hitler, Hillary Clinton [sic] and Giffords to name a few.”

December 6, 2010 – In a search of Loughner’s safe post-incident, investigators found a letter from Rep. Giffords’s office thanking Loughner for his attendance at the 2007 “Congress on Your Corner Event.” In the letter, Loughner had written “Die Cops” and “Die Bitch.” Also found in the safe was an envelope, dated December 6, 2010, containing two shell casings on which he had written “I planned ahead,” “My assassination,” and “Giffords,” and words to the effect of “these are the first two shells of my gun.” The serial number for a Glock handgun was written on the outside of the envelope.

December 13, 2010 – Posts statements on his MySpace page that threatens law enforcement and suggests he may have been contemplating suicide.

December 24, 2010 – Purchases a 6-inch bladed knife and holster.

Late December 2010 – Visits friends and shows them a gun and bullets.   

January 2011 – Researches political assassins and lethal injection on the internet.  

January 7, 2011 –  

  • 11:35 p.m. – Loughner visited the Walgreens next to the Safeway where Rep. Giffords’s “Congress on Your Corner” event was slated to occur the following morning. 

January 8, 2011 – The day of the shooting. 

  • 12:00 a.m. – Shortly after midnight, Loughner checks into a Motel 6.  
  • 2:00 a.m. – Leaves a troubling message on a friend’s voicemail.
  • 4:12 a.m. – Posts “Goodbye… Dear friends” message to his MySpace page.  
  • 7:04 a.m. – Arrives at a Walmart store and attempts to purchase ammunition, but is turned away due to his erratic behavior.
  • 7:27 a.m. – Purchases ammunition and a black backpack style diaper bag at a Super Walmart. 
  • 7:30 a.m. – Stopped by an Arizona Game and Fish Department officer for running a red light.  
  • 8:00 a.m. – Arrives at his house where his father questions him about what’s in the diaper bag. He mumbles and then escapes his house on foot about twenty-five minutes later.
  • 9:00 a.m. – Loughner enters a convenience store near his home and asks the clerk to call him a taxi. 
  • 9:54 a.m. – Arrives by taxi at the La Toscana Village strip mall, site of Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” event and enters the Safeway with the taxi driver to get change to pay the fare. He then enters the restroom and puts in ear plugs.   
  • 10:00 a.m. – Giffords arrives for the event just after 10 a.m. Loughner approaches a volunteer and asks to speak with Rep. Giffords, and is directed to the back of the line.
  • 10:10 a.m. – Walks back to the front of the line and shoots and injures Giffords. He then turns and fires at the crowd around her, killing six and wounding 13. Those who died:
    • U.S. District Judge John Roll, 63.
    • Dorwan Stoddard, 76, who was protecting his wife.  
    • Dorothy Morris, 76.  
    • Phyllis Schneck, 79. 
    • Gabe Zimmerman, 30, a social worker and community-outreach director for Giffords’ office, who had helped organize the event that morning. 
    • Christina-Taylor Green, 9, who was visiting the event with a family friend.
  • 10:11 a.m. – His gun malfunctions and bystanders tackle and hold him down until law enforcement officers arrive.

May 2011 – Loughner was deemed incompetent to stand trial. As a result, the court ordered a mental health evaluation that diagnosed Loughner with paranoid schizophrenia. He refused to acknowledge that Gifford was still alive as it would make him a “failure.” While in jail, Loughner was treated for his mental illness.

November 2012 – He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life, plus 140 years in prison.

Pre-Incident Indicators by Identification Type:

Human

 Pre-incident indicators resulting from human observation:

  • Exhibited signs of mental illness, such as hearing voices and communicating bizarre ideas.
  • Attended “Congress on your Corner” event with Giffords.
  • Verbalized hatred for the government to friends and family. 
  • Asked to leave the animal shelter where he volunteered for not following instructions. 
  • Showed guns and bullets to friends.
  • Left concerning voicemail for a friend on the day of the shooting.
  • Attempted to purchase ammunition from Walmart. After he is turned away, he purchases ammunition from Super Walmart. 
  • Purchased several weapons, including: a Heckler and Koch 12-gauge shotgun, Glock 19 semi automatic 9mm gun, and a 6-inch blade knife. (Source: Department of Homeland Security)
  • Application rejected from U.S. Army due to previous drug use. (Source: Department of Homeland Security) 

Human + Technology

Indicators that technology could have assisted with identifying:

  • Posted Youtube videos that were disorganized and disturbing (i.e. Claimed that PCC was a “genocide school”). 
  • Contemplation of suicide via MySpace. 
  • Posted photos on MySpace of his Glock in the days leading up to the event. 
  • Posted threatening messages via MySpace towards law enforcement officials.
  • Arrested and charged with minor in possession of alcohol. 
  • Dropped out of high school. (Source: Department of Homeland Security) 
  • Arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. (Source: Department of Homeland Security) 
  • Arrested and charged with vandalism. 
  • Fired from several jobs. 
  • Loughner had several interactions with the campus police and other security officers during his time at Pima Community College. In addition, as a result of his concerning behavior on campus, he had meetings with a number of counselors. 
  • Suspension from Pima Community College.
  • Expressed fascination with violence (social media findings, i.e. his tattoo of a 9mm bullet).

Appendix: Media Images / Reference Material

Screenshot of the “photos” page of Jared Lee Loughner’s MySpace profile (Photo: Boing Boing)

Weapons recovered following the shooting (Photo: FBI)

Jared Lee Loughner’s backpack and ammunition recovered following the shooting (Photo: Tucson News)

Crime scene at the front of the grocery store where the shooting occurred (Photo: Tucson News)

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By every metric, the role of protective intelligence is growing increasingly important for your security program. The Center for Protective Intelligence is Ontic's approach for sharing our expertise through content and community building in order to support the mission of physical security professionals of keeping people safe.

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