PHOENIX (AP) — Almost everyone who crossed paths with Jared Loughner in the year before he shot former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords described a man who was becoming more delusional by the day.
He got fired from work and was thrown out of college. He shaved his head and got tattoos of bullets on his shoulder. He showed up at the apartment of a friend with a Glock 9 mm pistol, saying he needed it for "home protection." He made dark comments about the government, and, according to one acquaintance, appeared suicidal.
Loughner's spiral hit bottom on Jan. 8, 2011. He broke down in tears when a wildlife agent pulled him over for a traffic stop. He went to a gas station and asked the clerk to call a cab as he paced nervously. Gazing up at the clock, he said, "Nine twenty-five. I still got time."
About 45 minutes later, Giffords lay bleeding on an Arizona sidewalk along with 11 others who were wounded. Six people were dead.
The information about Loughner's mental state — and the fact that no one did much to get him help — emerged as a key theme in about 2,700 pages of investigative papers released Wednesday.
Still, there was nothing to indicate exactly why he targeted Giffords.
Loughner was sentenced in November to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years, after he pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges. His plea enabled him to avoid the death penalty. He is serving his sentence at a federal prison medical facility, where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and forcibly given psychotropic drug treatments to make him fit for trial.
"I tried to talk to him. But you can't," his father, Randy Loughner, told police. "Lost, lost and just didn't want to communicate with me no more."
His mother, Amy Loughner, recalled hearing her son alone in his room "having conversations" as if someone else were there.
Despite recommendations from Pima Community College that Loughner undergo a mental evaluation after the school expelled him, his parents never followed up.
In a statement released by the gun control advocacy group she recently started with her husband, Giffords said "no one piece of legislation" would have prevented the shooting. "However, I hope that commonsense policies like universal background checks become part of our history."
While such checks may keep those with mental illnesses from obtaining guns, the 24-year-old Loughner had never been diagnosed with any conditions, meaning it's doubtful much would have stopped him from legally purchasing a weapon.
Friends and family interviewed by law enforcement after the shooting painted a picture of a young man who was deeply troubled in the weeks before the shooting.
Anthony George Kuck said he was alarmed to find his friend had shaved his head and was armed.
"I kicked him out of my house because he showed me his gun," Kuck said.
Kuck told police he had seen Loughner's mental state deteriorate over time, starting with drinking problems in school, trouble with authorities and being kicked out of college.
"I know he has some crazy thoughts where he ... just believes the government is corrupt, and he has all these assumptions on things, that he doesn't really know what he's talking about," Kuck told investigators.
While he never heard him mention Giffords "he just seemed to have some kind of ... hate for government," Kuck said.
His parents grew alarmed over his behavior on several occasions, at one point submitting him to drug-testing. The results were negative, said Amy Loughner, who was particularly worried that her son might have been using methamphetamine.
The father said his son kept journals, but they were written in an indecipherable script. Loughner bought a 12-gauge shotgun in 2008, but his parents took it away from him after he was expelled from college and administrators recommended he not own weapons.
On the day of the shooting, he and his father got in an argument, and he chased Jared Loughner away from their house. Friend Bryce Tierney told investigators Loughner called him early that day and left a cryptic voice mail that he believed was suicidal.
"He just said, 'Hey, this is Jared. Um, we had some good times together. Uh, see you later.' And that's it," Tierney said.
Loughner's attorney, Judy Clarke, didn't return a call seeking comment Wednesday. There was no listed telephone phone number for Randy and Amy Loughner.
Today, Giffords struggles to speak in complete sentences and often walks with the help of her husband.
In a January interview on ABC News, she said "daggers" to recount her tense, face-to-face encounter with Loughner at his sentencing. When asked to describe his mental illness, she said one word: "Sad."
Associated Press writers Michael R. Blood and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this report.