What About the Parents?

By Garance Franke-Ruta

Permit me a moment of retro media angst: What about Jared Lee Loughner's parents?

Where were they?

And where have they been since the shooting?

For more than two days members of the chattering class have talked about the alleged culpability of Sarah Palin, tea party groups, right-wing pundits, left-wing writers, and the incendiary political environment more generally.

This despite the fact there is no evidence Loughner ever read Sarah Palin's target list; that he was not on the e-mail list or membership rolls of the Tucson Tea Party; and that he appears to have been obsessed with Giffords, reports Mother Jones, ever since she failed to answer a question he posed to her in 2007, "What is government if words have no meaning?"

Jared Lee Loughner was so obviously disturbed a classmate warned a friend about him, writing in an e-mail before he was forced from college last fall, "He scares me a bit.... Hopefully he will be out of class very soon, and not come back with an automatic weapon."

A neighbor was afraid enough of the foreboding house where he lived with his parents, Amy and Randy Loughner, that she wouldn't go there with her daughter to sell Girl Scout cookies.

According to pictures tweeted out by reporter Meredith Shiner -- really, you must look at them, and compare the Loughner house to his neighbor's and the rest of the block -- Loughner lived in a house obscured by a wild jungle of plants, in the middle of a neat desert community where neighbors had cacti and plain desert-dirt yards.

See web-only content:
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/01/what-about-the-parents/69176/ Tucson is not big. Its population is just over half a million people, according to the 2008 population estimates, making it smaller than Washington, D.C.

But as Arizona's second-largest city, it's also no small town. It has excellent medical services, as the survival of so many shooting victims who arrived at hospitals alive attests. And it has one of "the most progressive mental health laws in the country," according to The Washington Post, permitting "[a]ny person, including any of the students in Loughner's classes ... or any of his teachers" to petition "the court to have him evaluated for mental illness."

Its students and educators were attuned to the threat Loughner posed, and reacted appropriately in barring him from classes in an effort to protect themselves.

The systems he encountered worked to flag him. The military kept him from enlisting after he failed a drug test. His philosophy teacher identified him as "someone whose brains were scrambled" and tried to get him to seek help. Ultimately, his behavior grew so erratic his community college responded to the widespread concerns of his teachers and classmates by demanding he receive a mental health evaluation before returning to class.

According to The Arizona Republic, his parents were aware of the university's concerns:

Pima Community College officials said that beginning in February, Loughner had the first of five contacts with police at the college. In September, officials said Loughner posted a YouTube video declaring Pima Community College illegal under the U.S. Constitution along with other statements about the college.

"College administration issued a letter of immediate suspension," officials said in a statement. "Two police officers delivered the letter of suspension to the student at his and his parent's residence and spoke with the student and his parents."

According to Pima Community College officials, Loughner and his parents met with Northwest Campus administrators Oct. 4.

"During this meeting, Loughner indicated he would withdraw from the college," officials said. "A follow-up letter was sent to him Oct. 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."

Did he ever get help after this?

If Loughner had attacked the school, instead of Giffords, we'd be asking about this, instead of Sarah Palin's 2010 target map.

We should do so anyway.

Whatever Loughner's relationships were with what he read on the internet, it was nonetheless the relationships inside the world he physically inhabited that doubtless did -- and had the potential to -- shape him more.

"You try to say something, they'd just ignore you and turn around and walk back into the house," Ron Johnson, who lives opposite the Loughners, told The Washington Post about the parents. "The kid -- I never talked to him. He acted just like his parents and ignored you."

Perhaps we will learn in the days and weeks ahead that Loughner's parents lived in fear of their son, too, seeking and failing to find him the help he clearly needed.

His father was observed sobbing in the driveway as police swarmed their home, collecting evidence.

Either way, if the shooting had found a different target, what happened between Loughner's expulsion from college and the moment on Nov. 30, 2010 when the 22-year-old purchased a Glock 9 mm pistol would be among the most important questions we'd seek to answer.

As it should be, even now.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/01/what-about-the-parents/69176/