A lesson from Loughner: Treat the mentally ill or continue to bury the innocent

Jared Lee Loughner’s shooting massacre could have been prevented if the people around him had paid attention to the warning signs.

This was not a random act. This was not a political act. The simple-minded want to blame politics, because that’s the easy thing to do, instead of really looking at why this 22-year-old, with no known affiliation to any political party or group, launched a terrorist attack on innocent Americans.

The previous major terrorist attack on American soil was on the Ft. Hood Army base. Neither that shooting nor the shooting in Tucson was planned by jihadist sleeper cells; both were committed single-handedly by an American man. Yet we have turned into tunnel-visionists; we are so consumed with issues of religious profiling and TSA pat-downs, we have become blind to the behavior of the people we know best: our kids, friends, classmates and co-workers.

Jared Loughner is another classic case of a person who showed all of the behaviors of a potentially violent person.

His Pima Community College classmates feared him. The Washington Post obtained emails that one of Loughner’s classmates wrote to her friends.

From June 1, the first day of class:

We do have one student in the class who was disruptive today, I’m not certain yet if he was on drugs (as one person surmised) or disturbed. He scares me a bit. The teacher tried to throw him out and he refused to go, so I talked to the teacher afterward. Hopefully he will be out of class very soon, and not come back with an automatic weapon.

From June 14:

We have a mentally unstable person in the class that scares the living crap out of me. He is one of those whose picture you see on the news, after he has come into class with an automatic weapon. Everyone interviewed would say, Yeah, he was in my math class and he was really weird. I sit by the door with my purse handy. If you see it on the news one night, know that I got out fast…

Professor Ben McGahee said he removed Loughner from his class several times. The school’s top administrators also knew Loughner had issues: From their press release:

Loughner was a PCC student from Summer 2005 through Fall 2010. He was suspended for Code of Conduct violations.

From February to September 2010, Loughner had five contacts with PCC police for classroom and library disruptions…On September 29, 2010, College police discovered on YouTube a Loughner-filmed video made at Northwest Campus.

Working with legal counsel, College administration issued a letter of immediate suspension on September 29, 2010. That evening, two police officers delivered the letter of suspension to the student at his and his parents’ residence and spoke with the student and his parents.

Loughner and his parents met Northwest Campus administrators October 4, 2010. During this meeting Loughner indicated he would withdraw from the College. A follow-up letter was sent to him October 7, 2010 indicating that if he intends to return to the College, he must resolve his Code of Conduct violations and obtain a mental health clearance indicating, in the opinion of a mental health professional, his presence at the College does not present a danger to himself or others.

Don’t forget the others, outside of the school, who surely knew of Loughner’s bizarre behavior. One friend told ABC News that he noticed a “radically different” shift in Loughner’s behavior in the past year. Loughner even posted nonsensical rants on MySpace and YouTube.

  • mema.dada

    People around him did note his behavior was dangerous, and tried to get him to seek medical help.

    One issue is that until it has gone to far, and violence already committed, there is no way apparently to require medical help.

    As an example, in this case the school he was attending required he seek medical help before he continued his attendance. Rather then seeking the help he just stopped attending.

    He was an adult, he had the choice, but when an individual is exhibiting hehavior that shows they are likely to harm others should they still have a choice on seeking medical health? I realize there is a fine line here, because we do not want it to be to easy to infringe upon peoples right to seek or not medical help, mental or otherwise, but we need to make choices or continue to pay prices.

    Congress can “protect” the feds, but that doens’t protect others. Anyone can be a target.

    • johno413

      I’ve heard it reported that his parents were called to the school and met with officials as a result of the school’s actions. So, the burden rests with more “adults” than just the individual himself if that is true.

  • johno413

    Without wanting to be political, I think it’s noteworthy that as far back as the White House years and forward, Rosalynn Carter has criticized the system and championed mental health issues. The point is that the mental health system has an embarrassingly long history of inadequacy. And culturally we have problems too. Even today, I witness people dealing with cancer-stricken individuals with the utmost sympathy, while showing some revulsion or at least a lack of empathy for others who have obvious mental health issues. In the worst case, I’ve heard someone verbally assault a homeless man who showed all the signs of mental problems and clearly couldn’t be mistaken as a “freeloader”, but the idiot assaulted him as if that were the case.

    To RetAF, you may be right that overall facilities are available to all and access will not be denied. However, as I listen closely to debate over this tragedy I hear many expert voices from mental health professionals at all levels that a significant obstacle is cost. As I interpret it, private insurers and even government subsidized programs have low cost tolerances (payments and reimbursements) because if they didn’t, analysis show it could be the most costly area of treatment in the country. Whether true, or not, it begs the question, what is the solution? Surely there is room for tremendous improvements without bankrupting the country or causing private insurance costs to skyrocket further than they are already.

    Who will step up?

  • RetAF

    I expected this tragedy to be politicized by the usual suspects – including the gun control lobby – but lets not use it to jump start the so-called health care reform issue.

    As a family practice provider, I can tell you there is a system in place to take care of these people; multiple systems in fact. They’re called Medicaid and Medicare and practically every disabled person qualifies for one or both. In my city of 50,000 (which many would consider a small town) there is also a federally funded, fully staffed, full time clinic that takes uninsured patients and only charges them a token amount based on income; and a federally funded clinic for the homeless/indigent. I also volunteered once a month at a free clinic to see anybody who came free of charge.

    The plain fact is that most mentally ill patients (especially the most severe criminally mental ill) REFUSE care. Ask anyone how hard it is to get a psychiatrist to actually place a patient on an involuntary hold, let alone keep them locked up for more than a day or two. The mental health providers are afraid to be sued.

    These patients don’t take their medicines, they don’t keep their appointments with their psychiatrists, they do come to me (to try to get amphetamines and narcotics) but their antipsychotic drugs (that you pay for) go straight into the trash.

    If you lawyers want to reform something, make it so a psychiatrist can actually keep the criminally mental ill locked up without being charged with false imprisonment.

  • shepmoors

    If anything purposeful were to come of this tragic shooting, it would be that we as a nation re-evaluate our mental health system. After each horrific event, people come forward and say “we thought he was crazy.” “He scared me.” Noone knows what to do or where to turn because THERE IS NO SYSTEM in place. So these people get kicked out of classes, refused by the military and pushed back into their deluded, paranoid world. With no intervention, these people’s mental illnesses are allowed to fester and then they become a menace. This is not political. This is not about censoring free speech. This is not about guns. This is about our pushing mentally ill people away because we have no clue how to get them help. What Loughner did was despicable. Maybe it could have been prevented. You can not legislate mental illness. We need to have treatment in place. Empower parents of “children” over 18. This shouldn’t be about more government intervention in the form of gun laws and speech censorship. It should be about prevention, understanding mental illness and establishing a mental health system that can be accessed by those who need it. Relatives and friends have to be able to get help for these people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jasmine-Clark/1785223171 Jasmine Clark

    i agree with your article- the same thing happens over and over: shooters usually act strange and suspicious. yet, no one does anything. i think it’s because we are too afraid to “offend someone.”

  • wodiej

    Someone should have called the police even though they likely would not have done anything.