Many are speculating that 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, who is accused of shooting 20 people including Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killing six of them on Saturday, had an undiagnosed mental illness. Federal prosecutors are portraying Loeghner as a ‘man with psychological problems who was nonetheless competent enough to plot an assassination,’ said the Wall Street Journal today. While Loughner had a petty criminal record, he does not seem ever to have been treated for mental health concerns.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Officials say Mr. Loughner had psychological problems but plotted his attack in a deliberate and orderly manner—buying a Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistol in November and bullets the morning of the shooting. He wrote notes that suggested a grudge against Ms. Giffords over a perceived slight during a 2007 public event.
Speculations: Might Loeghner have undiagnosed schizophrenia? paranoia?
Yesterday’s New York Times notes that there were ‘red flags’ raised at Pima Community College regarding Loeghner’s behavior:
“This guy wasn’t a missed case,” Randy Borum, an expert on threat assessment at the University of South Florida, said.
“It wasn’t a case of ‘Gee, no one saw this coming,’ ” Dr. Borum said. “People saw it. But the question then was what do you do about it? Who do you call? The whole thing speaks to the need for some coordinated way to detect such threats.”
The ‘writings and comments attributed to him point strongly to the kind of delusional thinking that is common in schizophrenia,’ notes the New York Times. Examining whether or not Loeghner was mentally ill, the Daily Beast quotes Matt Heinz, 33, a physician and Democratic member of the Arizona House of Representatives, and a friend of Rep. Giffords:
“Based on the information I’ve been presented and the whole constellation of his angry rantings and the paranoia that pervades his writings, it sounds to me like he has a paranoid ideation or paranoid delusions. People who have paranoid delusions respond differently to things like the vitriol that’s been going around the political climate of this state. Instead of saying, ‘I’m opposed to your position on healthcare,’ it’s ‘You should die.’”
‘Red Flags’ at Pima Community College
An article by Timothy Noah on Slate describes Loeghner’s disruptive behavior at Pima Community College over the five years he matriculated there. Noah also notes how, because Loeghner had not actually committed an act of violence or threatened such he was not seen as posing a significant risk, according to Pima’s Student Code. Students and instructors expressed concerns and described feeling something more than uneasy about Loeghner, but it was not until Sept. 29 when the college finally issued a letter of suspension. Says Noah:
Pima didn’t chuck him—not until Loughner posted to YouTube an incoherent broadside that said Pima was unconstitutional, fraudulent, and “a scam;” its students and teachers “illiterate;” and all other American colleges similarly illegitimate. For some reason, that flimsy straw broke the camel’s back.
Loughner withdrew voluntarily withdrawal on October 4. He was told that he could not be reinstated at the college until he had had a mental health consultation.
According to reports about Loeghner’s family, his father, Randy Loeghner, is 70 years old and has not worked since his son was born. His mother, Nancy Loeghner, has a job with Pima County.
Loeghner’s ‘Bizarre and Disturbing Behavior’ Never Reported to Mental Health Authorities
A January 10th article in the Washington Post states that, while Loughner was seen as having ‘bizarre and disturbing behavior,’ no one had ever reported any concerns to local mental health authorities in Pima County, Arizona:
Arizona has what is considered one of the most progressive mental health laws in the country. Any person, including any of the students in Loughner’s classes who exchanged worried emails about his strange actions or any of his teachers who sought to have him removed or who wanted him to receive treatment, could have petitioned the court to have him evaluated for mental illness.
State law defines that as someone who appears to be mentally ill, but who may not know it.”Our crisis line is manned 24/7,” Cash said. “Anyone concerned about his behavior could have called at any time. I have no information to indicate that anyone ever did.”
Even though at least one instructor had repeatedly complained to the community college’s administrators about Loughner and (from a January 8th news release from the college) campus security had been summoned some five times due to Loughner being disruptive in the classroom or the library, Nash at Slate suggests that ‘the answer lies partly in the general anxiety within community colleges about graduation rates.’ The graduation rate at Pima is 28 percent:
If you’re a community college administrator, you spend all day worrying about your attrition rate, not about the speed with which you can remove students who are making it difficult for other students to learn. Indifference to disrupters who are nonviolent (or perceived as such) is surely a much more everyday problem at community colleges than the presence of mentally ill students who plot murder. Loughner just happened to fit both categories.
In the wake of the killings at Virginia Tech in 2007, the New York Times states that ‘institutions and employers are seldom set up to handle such potential threats, experts say,’ even when there are warning signs that are ‘blatant and numerous.’
Repeat: Even when the warning signs are ‘blatant and numerous.’
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