TUCSON, Ariz (Reuters) - Emails released by court order from an Arizona college about Tucson shooting rampage suspect Jared Lee Loughner show campus police were so worried they asked federal authorities whether he had a gun.
Scores of emails regarding the increasingly bizarre behavior of Loughner, accused of killing six people and wounding 13 others including Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords, have been released by Pima Community College, where he was a student.
One showed campus police had contacted federal firearms officials to ask if Loughner owned a gun. Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives officials responded that they had no information about Loughner.
In the months before the January 8 shooting spree, emails between the school and police indicate school officials had deep knowledge about his disturbing behavior before they finally expelled him in September 2010.
The school alerted local police at least five times about Loughner’s behavior last year, according to the emails released on Thursday, including one case in February 2010 where Loughner made comments in class that “were completely out of context, talking about abortion, wars, killing people, and ‘strapping bombs to babies.’”
That month a student told staff she thought she saw Loughner “place a small knife on his desk” during a class, prompting a teacher to warn that the college should do everything it could “to have him removed.”
Subsequent emails noted Loughner’s “jittery” eyes, “scattered” speech, and “intimidating” “disruptive” and “bizarre” behavior, and said classmates had called him “dark” and “creepy.”
In late September, college authorities noted a rambling YouTube video posted by Loughner in which he called the college a “genocide school”, and talked about “mind control” and “students who have been tortured.” He was suspended the same day.
Campus police put out an alert to one another — called a “flyer” in emails — noting that Loughner was not allowed on campus and if sighted, police should be contacted.
They also contacted the ATF to see if Loughner had any history of weapon use. An agent responded saying that ATF did not “come up with any gun info” on him.
Loughner, who investigators said had a history of mental problems, is accused of opening fire on Giffords and a crowd of bystanders attending a “Congress on Your Corner” event outside a grocery story.
Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges including two counts of first degree murder of a federal employee, for the deaths of a federal judge and a Giffords aide.
In March, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ordered mental tests to determine if Loughner is competent to stand trial. Loughner subsequently underwent a psychiatric evaluation in Missouri.
Prosecutors had cited widely publicized accounts of Loughner’s erratic behavior in the months before the shooting.
A competency hearing is set for May 25 at the U.S. District Court in Tucson.
Reporting Tim Gaynor; Additional reporting by Aman Ali in New York; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Jerry Norton and Greg McCune