Sometimes when murders happen, the neighbors and people in the community who knew the perpetrator beforehand say he’d just been a quiet, nondescript person who’d always minded his own business.
Not so Jared Loughner. He was telegraphing signs of distress, disturbingly chaotic thinking, and menace to all and sundry. A great many people who knew him—or had encountered him, if only briefly—before he let loose on Saturday and became a mass murderer, have said they were not at all surprised when the killer’s identity was revealed to be Jared.
So why did his behavior not capture the attention of the mental health authorities in Arizona prior to the killings? After all, it’s not as though that would have been difficult to do; Arizona is a state with laws that encourage and facilitate such reporting for the purposes of involuntary evaluation and possible commitment:
Any person, including any of the students in Loughner’s classes who exchanged worried emails about his strange actions or any of his teachers who sought to have him removed or who wanted him to receive treatment, could have petitioned the court to have him evaluated for mental illness.
Unlike other states, which require that someone be an imminent danger to themselves or others before seeking to have them involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluation and treatment, in Arizona, one need only be “persistently or acutely” ill.
I’m wondering whether it’s commonly known among the citizens of Arizona that they have this right. I’m wondering whether those who encountered Loughner’s disturbing behavior thought someone else might report him instead, or already had. I’m wondering whether they were afraid that, if they reported him, he’d find out and come to take revenge on them. I’m wondering what his parents thought was going on, how much they noticed, and what they tried.
[ADDENDUM: Dr. Helen has more to say, including offering the following quotes from the journals of fellow students of Loughner's. This was no ordinary case of a slightly wacky student, as you will see:
From June 10:
"As for me, Thursday means the end to week two of algebra class. It seems to be going by quickly, but then I do have three weeks to go so we'll see how I feel by then. Class isn't dull as we have a seriously disturbed student in the class, and they are trying to figure out how to get rid of him before he does something bad, but on the other hand, until he does something bad, you can't do anything about him. Needless to say, I sit by the door."
From June 14:
"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..."
Loughner was escorted out of school by police and asked not to return because of his behavior.]
[ADDENDUM II: As far as the parents go, they are "devastated and guilt-ridden," according to a neighbor.]