It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to reconcile the conflicting images of Jared Lee Loughner that emerge from the investigative documents released last week.
The Loughner family's experiences offer, at the very least, a warning.
Loughner's interactions in the months and days leading up to the murders are chronicled in investigators' interviews.
He is described as a nice enough kid, kind of weird, scarily intense and nonsensical, someone you didn't notice, a menacing and disturbing young man. His mother reveals her son conversed with people who didn't exist and his father said Jared wrote in his own kind of "script" that no one else could understand.
What's striking about the portrait is Loughner's movement in a world where people knew - because it was plain to see - that something was chillingly wrong.
The morning of Jan. 8, 2011, Loughner became an infamous mass murderer. In the span of 19 seconds he shot to death six Tucsonans and injured 13 others. He will spend his life in prison, as he should.
Jared Loughner is not the face of mental illness. He is the exception. But it took him becoming a murderer to get the mental health treatment he so obviously needed.
Police officers visited the Loughners' home months before the shooting to deliver news that Jared had been dismissed from community college and suggested the parents get rid of any firearms in the house (his dad took away a shotgun and antique gun).
Randy Loughner disabled his car so Jared couldn't leave at night - but for whatever reason he didn't the night of Jan. 7. Jared drove that car to buy bullets the morning of the shooting.
Both parents said they'd told Jared he should go talk to someone.
Loughner was enabled by the inaction of those closest to him, those who didn't want to see or who didn't want to believe the worst.
People who, perhaps, did not know what to do. His parents do not say in the released interviews that they were afraid of him, but it's not hard to imagine that they would have been.
He was young, tall and angry, and, judging from his loud outburst in his first federal court appearance, intimidating.
It is tempting to sit in judgment of Amy and Randy Loughner and condemn them for what they did not do. For their weak efforts. For not knowing that their son, who lived with them, was readying himself to commit murder. To condemn them for not stopping him.
The Loughners share responsibility in this tragedy. And that weight is unimaginable.
Yet it's probably not difficult to recall a circumstance when a person you care about showed signs that something was wrong, who needed help. A friend who was drinking a lot, a brother who was so depressed he couldn't get out of bed, a parent showing signs of dementia but refusing to stop driving. People in any of those situations could harm, or even kill, themselves or others.
We put up roadblocks in front of ourselves - it's not that bad; maybe I'm overreacting; I don't have the time, money, experience to deal with this. Getting past those would have been made easier by a bill co-sponsored by Tucson-area Reps. Victoria Steele and Ethan Orr.
It would have allocated money for Mental Health First Aid training programs. The training gives you ways to open conversations, resources to turn to, signs and symptoms to notice, ways to take action to assist someone in need.
The bill was well-received in the state House but Republicans on the Senate Health Committee wouldn't give it a hearing.
The need is too great to abandon the effort, and we encourage Steele, Orr and like-minded Arizonans to remain steadfast in their support for positive change.
We can't know what, if anything, would have derailed Jared Lee Loughner from his deadly plan. But we know not enough was tried.
A friend who lives with bipolar disorder, depression and other mental illnesses offered this suggestion recently: "Don't ask 'Do you need help?' because that's a yes-or-no question. Ask 'What can I do to help you' because that shows you care."
It's good advice.
Every person deserves to have someone to offer concern - and then take action.
Arizona Daily Star
If you or someone you know is having a mental-health emergency and is a danger to self or others, call 911. For help with mental-health issues and for resources, call the communitywide crisis line at 622-6000.
Learn more about the mental health care system and how to help yourself or someone else with an online resource guide at azstarnet.com/mentalhealthhelp