By Sal Gentile and Catherine Quayle
Updated | 7:05 p.m. Jared Loughner made his first appearance in federal court today on charges of murder, attempted murder and the attempted assassination of a member of Congress, and law enforcement officials said they were considering bringing even more charges in the coming weeks. Loughner chose not to contest his imprisonment, and remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing.
“This office is reviewing all the evidence in the case, consulting with the victims and their families of these crimes, and teaming and coordinating with our law enforcement partners. We will consider all appropriate charges at the indictment stage of the case,” said Dennis Burke, the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona. Burke added that he has been in regular contact with Attorney General Eric Holder, and that his office was working to draft a formal indictment against Loughner that may include additional federal charges.
Loughner did not speak during the hearing except to confirm his identity to Magistrate Judge Lawrence Anderson. Loughner faces five federal charges for a shooting spree on Saturday morning that left six people dead and another 14 wounded, including Representative Gabriel Giffords of Arizona, who authorities said was Loughner’s intended target. The charges came as friends and acquaintances described Loughner as a troubled 22-year-old college dropout who may have been influenced by fringe political movements and had previous run-ins with the law.
In a criminal complaint filed on Sunday, officials revealed new evidence of what they say may have been a plot by Loughner to target Giffords at a constituent event outside a local Safeway in Tucson, including an envelope recovered from Loughner’s residence with the words “I planned ahead,” “My assassination” and “Giffords” scrawled on it. Special Agent Tony M. Taylor Jr. of the FBI also said in an affidavit that officials had found in a safe at Loughner’s home a letter from Giffords thanking him for attending a similar event in 2007. And they traced the weapon Loughner used, a semiautomatic Glock pistol, to a Sportsman’s Warehouse in Tuscon, where Loughner legally purchased the gun on Nov. 30.
FBI director Robert Mueller, who flew to Tuscon over the weekend to supervise the investigation, said authorities were working intensively to piece together an account of Loughner’s planning and motivation for the attack, and determine “why someone would commit such a heinous act and whether anyone else was involved.” Mueller cautioned, though, that “there is no information at this time to suggest any specific threat remains.”
As investigators began scouring Loughner’s past for evidence of a plot and a motivation for the attack, friends and acquaintances described the suspect as a young man who, not too long ago, seemed a typical if quiet teenager with an interest in politics and music. Caitie Parker, a musician who attended Mountain View High School with Loughner and described him as a “really good friend,” wrote on Saturday that Loughner was a “political radical” and “pot head” who liked Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Anti-Flag.
Parker, who said she was in a band with Loughner, also described him as “mainly [a] loner” who was “very philosophical” and “became reclusive” after suffering from alcohol poisoning in 2006 and dropping out of school. Parker wrote that she hadn’t seen Loughner since 2007, but described him at the time as “all about peace” and as the “polar opposite of the evil he became today.” When it was reported that Loughner had listed Adolf Hilter’s “Mein Kampf” as one of his favorite books online, Parker wrote that, when she knew him in 2007, Loughner was not anti-semitic and “very accepting of everyone.” She speculated that he may have “slowly descended [into] a psychotic break. Something in him snapped.”
Parker also confirmed that Loughner had met Giffords at the 2007 “Congress on Your Corner” event, where he asked the then-freshman Democrat a question. Recalling the event later, Loughner told Parker that he considered Giffords “stupid [and] unintelligent.”
Observers, meanwhile, began to dissect some of Loughner’s writings online, a list of favorite books, photos on a Myspace page — including one of a gun atop a U.S. history book — and political ramblings on YouTube. On his YouTube page, for example, Lougher listed his favorite activity as “reading” and described himself as a “conscience dreamer.” He posted one video on December 15th with the words “My Final Thoughts,” and another titled “America: Your Last Memory in a Terrorist Country,” which features an unidentified individual burning an American flag. Loughner also makes at least one reference to the people “who reside in District-8.” Giffords represents Arizona’s eighth congressional district.
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote on Sunday that, while much of Loughner’s writings — including nonsensical syllogisms and references to government “mind control” — suggest that he may have been mentally disturbed, his YouTube videos contained occasional references to rhetoric common among far-right fringe groups and the so-called “Patriot” militia movement.
For example, Loughner derided “currency that’s not backed by gold or silver,” an idea Potok said is “linked to the core Patriot theory that the Federal Reserve is actually a private corporation run for the benefit of unnamed international bankers.” Loughner also wrote in his YouTube videos (which are all text) about how you “can’t trust the governmnent.” And his reading list — which includes Ayn Rand’s “We the Living” and George Orwell’s “1984″ and “Animal Farm” — suggested “an underlying theme,” Potok wrote: “The individual versus the totalitarian state.”
Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates, which tracks right-wing fringe and militia groups, also found posts written by Loughner on a conspiracy theory website that reference a “second United States Constitution.” That phrase, Berlet said, is common among white supremacist groups and other far-right organizations that object to the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which abolished slavery after the Civil War and granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. That reference, Berlet wrote, “raises the question of a possible racist and anti-immigrant tie to the act of terrorism in a state where the issue of race and immigration has turned nasty.”
Pima County Sheriff’s officials, meanwhile, continued to reconstruct the events leading up to and during Saturday’s rampage, and shed new light on the heroic and possibly live-saving actions of bystanders during that frantic moment. The sheriff’s department said on Sunday that a fortuitous moment during the shooting came when Loughner attempted to reload his semiautomatic pistol and the second magazine failed. A bystander, Patricia Maisch, was able to grab the magazine away from Loughner. “This pause in shooting allowed for two men, Roger Salzgeber and Bill D. Badger, to tackle the suspect to the ground and restrain him until deputies arrived,” the sheriff said.