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Law-enforcement officials interview 300 people in probe of Tucson shooting

Alexander 2011/01/18 14:28:31


Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 18, 2011; 6:36 AM



TUCSON - A team of 250 federal investigators and 130 local detectives trying to understand why Jared Lee Loughner went on his alleged killing spree has conducted more than 300 interviews with family, friends and neighbors since the shooting. But they remain stumped about what ultimately prompted the 22-year-old's descent into violence.


Investigators have had little success gaining information from either the uncooperative Loughner or his parents, who have told authorities that they had little recent contact with their son, law enforcement sources said.


With so little help coming from the immediate family, investigators are probing associates and witnesses for details that could help them fill out a portrait of Loughner, a task one source described as completing a "jigsaw puzzle."


Among the evidence collected by the FBI is the video surveillance system at the Safeway where the Jan. 8 attack took place, along with a store window, tiles and pieces of the wall. Store employees said two bullets crashed through the window, one landing in a pack of 7-Up soda.


It could take weeks for investigators to fully determine Loughner's state of mind in the days leading up to the rampage, the sources said. Virtually every member of the FBI's 200-person Phoenix field division, coupled with 50 additional agents from Washington and Tucson and more from the Capitol Police and the U.S. Marshals Service, have fanned out across southeastern Arizona. About 130 detectives from the Pima County sheriff's office also are involved.


"Did you notice anything that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up?" an FBI agent asked Steven Rayle and his companion, Laura Tennen, who were at the scene when Loughner allegedly opened fire, killing six and wounding 13. During the interview in their house, Rayle recalled, the federal agent and a Pima deputy wanted to know "anything that was odd or spooky" about Loughner's behavior that day.


They "were just getting super-detailed about stuff," said Rayle, who had never before seen Loughner.


More than a week after the rampage, investigators have retraced his steps in the days and weeks before the shooting and collected details of his life going back to high school. Agents have described the "grisly" Safeway surveillance video as clearly capturing the crime.


And they are talking with Loughner's parents, Randy and Amy. One law enforcement source said Amy Loughner appears to be in a state of disbelief and shock.


Among those interviewed by the FBI are the 31 Safeway employees who were at the store Jan. 8. Two of the 31 bullets fired went through the Safeway's windows, said assistant store manager Javier Rivas, and one traveled through a wall, hit a ceiling tile and ended up on the floor of the meat department.


The other bullet landed in a 12-pack of 7-Up soda on display in the front of the store, Rivas said in an interview. Employees found that bullet after the manager noticed liquid on the floor and soda leaking out of a bottle. Rivas said Loughner came inside the store and bought a bottle of water, then left from the south entrance and placed the water bottle in a grocery cart before approaching the main entrance where Giffords was greeting constituents.


The investigation is proceeding along parallel paths: While the FBI is focusing on preparing for the criminal case, the Capitol Police and U.S. Marshals Service are taking the lead on using FBI interviews to analyze the "why." Namely, why Loughner's life took a violent turn and why he allegedly targeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was wounded in the shooting, as well as whether the shootings could have been prevented.



The latter effort involves separating interviews about the crime from "intelligence interviews," which have little value for the prosecution's case but which can be used to help deter threats against Congress members and other federal officials. The Secret Service is expected to be involved.


While FBI profilers took similar steps to understand the minds of such high-profile killers as D.C. snipers John Allen Muhammed and Lee Malvo and Virginia Tech gunman Seung Hui Cho, Loughner's case is unique because he allegedly targeted a member of Congress.


"We're talking to everyone he ever came into contact with," said one senior federal official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. "The spectrum is unlimited - it will go further and further back into his life. If someone called up right now and said, 'I knew him four years ago and he was talking about how he wanted to go out and hurt people,' that person gets an interview."


Yet despite the exhaustive interviews, and a trove of online videos and entries to message boards on gaming Web sites that Loughner made over the years, investigators have been unable to understand what cause him to allegedly erupt into the shocking outburst of violence. Investigators also have yet to nail down why Loughner allegedly targeted Giffords and have not learned of any interaction between the two beyond an event in 2007 at which Loughner asked Giffords a question.


"I haven't seen anything that says somebody knows, somebody heard him say something, that gave an indication of a path to violence," the senior federal official said.


An Arizona state legislator who was briefed on the investigation said officials have a good timeline of Loughner's movements on the day of the killing and before it.


"But I don't think they have anything with regard to his state of mind because he isn't talking and the family is very stand-offish," added the legislator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the briefing was private. "They're not a very tight-knit family, and they're not able to get into his state of mind without him talking. There's hope that after a while he might be open to discussion."


The investigation is being run jointly by the Pima County sheriff's office and the FBI's Phoenix field division, which is led by Special Agent in Charge Nathan Thomas Gray. He is a 21-year FBI veteran who has held several posts at the agency's Washington headquarters. Another key figure is Annette Bartlett, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's resident agency in Tucson. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is handling evidence related to the Glock 19 firearm and ammunition used in the crime.


On the day of the shooting, Roger Salzgeber, 61, of Tucson, who worked as a volunteer for Giffords, attended the congresswoman's event with his wife, Faith. He helped subdue the shooter before police arrived and recalls Loughner wearing glasses and a tight-fitting black knit cap.


Salzgeber said he was interviewed by investigators for an hour on the day of the shooting at a mobile command center that had been set up near the Safeway. Agents confiscated Salzgeber's hooded sweatshirt, which had an embroidered Australian sheep dog on it, because it had blood on the sleeve and shoulder. The blood was another man's, Salzgeber says he believes.


On Thursday, he said, another FBI agent came to his house and asked to look at his silver 2003 Toyota 4Runner. The agent explained that he was looking for lodged bullets because there were 31 rounds in the magazine clip from the gun involved in the shooting, but police could only find 20-some casings, Salzgeber said. The agent spent about 30 minutes inspecting the vehicle and left without telling him whether found anything, he said.


Rayle, the witness, said he told investigators that Loughner "seemed very enthusiastic about shooting people. The way he went about it, he was really just enthusiastic about shooting bullets into people."


Rayle's companion, Tennen, said that unlike many witnesses who stayed at the site for hours, she and Rayle left the Safeway parking lot shortly after medical personnel arrived. Sheriff's deputies were guarding the parking lot exits to catch witnesses, she added, and she gave the deputy their names, addresses and phone numbers.


A few days later, she said, investigators arrived at their door.


"They didn't notify us," Tennen said. "The doorbell rang and they were there."

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