TUCSON (Reuters) - Classmate Lynda Sorenson thought accused Tucson mass murderer Jared Lee Loughner looked like a crazy shooter from the first day of class, wondering if he would arrive one day with an automatic weapon.
Community College Professor Debbie Scheidemantel called police to toss Loughner out of class after he would not calm down, ranting about his rights under the U.S. Constitution to get full credit for an assignment.
And neighbor Roger Whithed in an interview remembered Loughner as an “edge of society” guy who sat on his front steps on a palm-dotted street of single family homes, smoking cigarettes and not doing much else.
The 22-year-old Loughner on Monday arrives in federal court on five charges ranging from murder of a federal official to attempting to assassinate Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Loughner showed up at a shopping mall for Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” event on Saturday with a semi-automatic pistol and extra-long clips, then shot 20 people with a spray of bullets, police said.
Six died and Giffords, who is in critical condition, was shot straight through the left side of her brain.
Last June, Pima Community College classmate Sorenson nearly predicted the future. “Hopefully he will be out of class very soon, and not come back with an automatic weapon,” she wrote on the first day with him in an e-mail shown on NBC.
Tucson is still coming to grips with how a young man accused of mass murder grew up in their midst.
“It just breaks my heart. Our hearts go out to everybody — his parents and the parents of everyone who was there,” said flooring saleswoman Vickie Oberg, 63, at church on Sunday.
“There must have been so many signs. Something like this doesn’t happen overnight — you wake up and say ‘I think I’ll go shoot someone’.”
Grant Wiens, 22, was a year ahead of Loughner at Mountain View High School in Tucson, and was recently in biology class with him at community college.
Wiens was shocked that Loughner went berserk, though not entirely surprised, as “gut instinct” told him he might be capable of violence.
“He was opinionated, though he got along with people, he never seemed to care what people thought,” he said.
Handwritten phrases “I planned ahead” and “My assassination,” along with the name “Giffords” and what appeared to be Loughner’s signature showed up on documents in Loughner’s home, according to the federal charges.
Some of the clearest signs of trouble may have been YouTube videos. Videos posted by someone named Jared Lee Loughner talk in difficult-to-follow phrases about making new currencies and government controlling grammar, though it is not clear if the works were made by the shooting suspect.
Still, Pima Community College said it suspended him on September 29, 2010, after campus police discovered a YouTube video by Loughner claiming the college was illegal under the U.S. Constitution.
He withdrew from school less than a week later, and college officials in a follow-up letter said he would need a mental health clearance if he wished to return, to show his attendance at college would not present a danger to himself or others.
Biology teacher Scheidemantel remembered the day she called police to eject him from class. “He pointed at the flag and the Constitution up at the front of the room, and said that I was taking away his freedom of speech, I was taking away his individual rights,” she said, adding that he would not calm.
When she heard about the shooting by a 22-year-old, she guessed Loughner pulled the trigger, and when she saw the videos posted before the shooting, she remembered video about her college.
“I recognized the syntax and the unique way of writing and the convoluted illogic logic that he used to make his points,” she said on CBS.
Fellow student Sorenson also remembers hearing the news. “The first thought in my mind was I betcha it’s Jared,” she told NBC.
An e-mail Sorenson wrote two weeks after class started told the story:
“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.”
Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Eric Thayer in Tucson, Andy Sullivan and Jim Vicini in Washington; Editing by Jackie Frank