Suspect pegged as troubled young man

Flags flew at half staff on the National Mall yesterday in memory of the victims of Saturday’s mass shooting in Tucson.

The 22-year-old Arizona man accused of shooting 20 people while trying to assassinate a congresswoman over the weekend made his first court appearance yesterday, hands manacled together.

Federal prosecutors have charged Jared Lee Loughner on five counts so far, including killing federal employees and attempting to assassinate Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was greeting voters at a Tucson shopping mall Saturday.

Loughner walked into the courtroom wearing khaki green shirt and pants, looking straight ahead. He made no statement but answered questions in a strong voice, leaning into the microphone to say he understood the charges against him.

While the motive for the attack was not yet clear, several facts emerged about the suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, 22. People who knew him said he was a troubled young man who had been asked to leave a local college for disruptive behavior.

Classmate Lynda Sorenson thought Loughner looked like a crazy shooter from the first day of class, wondering if he would arrive one day with an automatic weapon.

Community College Professor Debbie Scheidemantel called police to toss Loughner out of class after he would not calm down, ranting about his rights under the U.S. Constitution to get full credit for an assignment.

Other developments

» The shooting spree has renewed questions about a U.S. system that relies on personal background checks at the time of gun sales to keep firearms out of the hands of disturbed people.

» A pair of lawmakers yesterday called for resurrecting a ban on some assault weapons and for making it a crime to threaten members of Congress and other federal officials.

» Jared Lee Loughner will be represented in court by Judy Clarke, who defended Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.



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