Brian Skoloff
and Jacques Billeaud

PHOENIX: Almost everyone who crossed paths with Jared Loughner in the year before he shot former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords described a man who was becoming more unhinged and delusional by the day.

He got fired from a clothing store and thrown out of college, shaved his head and got tattoos of bullets and a gun on his shoulder. He showed up at the apartment of a boyhood 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.

His spiral into madness 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 around the store. Gazing up at the clock, he said, “Nine twenty-five. I still got time.”

About 45 minutes later, Giffords lay bleeding on the 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 roughly 2,700 pages of investigative papers released Wednesday. Still, there was nothing to indicate exactly why he targeted Giffords.

The files also provided the first glimpse into Loughner’s family and a look at parents dealing with a son who had grown nearly impossible to communicate with.

“I tried to talk to him. But you can’t. He wouldn’t let you,” 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 officials at Pima Community College, which expelled Loughner, that he undergo a mental evaluation, his parents never followed up.

In a release by the gun-control advocacy group she started with her husband, Giffords said that “no one piece of legislation” would have prevented the Tucson shooting.

“However, I hope that commonsense policies like universal background checks become part of our history, just like the Tucson shootings are — our communities will be safer because of it.”

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 nothing would have stopped him from 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.

Loughner visited Anthony George Kuck, who had known him since preschool. Kuck said he was alarmed to find he had shaved his head and was armed.

“I kicked him out of my house because he showed me his gun,” Kuck said.

Loughner’s guilty plea enabled him to avoid the death penalty. He is serving his sentence at a federal prison medical facility in Springfield, Mo., where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and forcibly given psychotropic drug treatments to make him fit for trial.

Arizona’s chief federal judge and a 9-year-old girl were among those killed in the rampage. Giffords was left partially blind, with a paralyzed right arm and brain injury. She resigned from Congress last year.

Today, Giffords is still recovering. She struggles to speak in complete sentences.