Strained Relations

Strained Relations: Help for Struggling Parents of Troubled Teens

Do you know the next Jared Lee Loughner?

Posted by Marcia on January 24, 2011

I haven’t posted for awhile as I wanted time to mull over the January 8, 2011 shooting in Arizona.

Like many people, I feel that the yelling and disrespect shown to others creates a climate in our society that is not only unpleasant: it’s dangerous.

That said, I do not hold anyone responsible for this shooting except Jared Lee Loughner, the 22 year old charged in this shooting that killed 6 people and injured 14 others, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

As the news unfolded, we began to get a clearer picture of Jared and his mental illness. The life incidents that happened to Jared would, in an emotionally and mentally healthy person, be a chance to demonstrate resilience, to learn and grow from being hurt, being fired, being rejected.

Jared’s parents are Randy and Amy Loughner, an apparently very private couple: even their neighbors didn’t know them and no friends have come forward. Jared dropped out of high school and started developing behavioral problems with a change in his personality. (It is logical to assume his problems led to his dropping out of school, but I don’t know this as fact.)

High school classmates saw his life unraveling: he abused drugs and alcohol and his behavior and conversations became bizarre. A friend’s father felt uncomfortable around him, friends turned away.

Court records indicated he had 2 offenses in 2007 for possession of drug paraphernalia and defacing a street sign, and he completed diversion programs for each.

In 2008, the U.S. Army rejected Jared as “unqualified” for service. During the application process, he had admitted to marijuana use on numerous occasions.

Jared started taking classes at Pima Community College, and from February to September 2010, campus officers talked to him on 5 occasions as he was disruptive in class and at the library. A teacher and a classmate indicated they were fearful he would commit a school shooting.

In September 2010, college police discovered his YouTube video in which he said the college was illegal according to the United States Constitution. He was asked by administrators to leave school and return only if he obtained a mental health clearance. They wanted a professional to say that Jared did not pose a danger to himself or others.

Jared had a job at Quiznos but was fired: the manager said Jared had a change in his personality. Jared volunteered at an animal shelter but was asked not to return.

Even with this pattern of deep problems, rejections, being fired, being told he needed help, Dr. Laura Nelson, deputy director for behavioral health at the Arizona Department of Health Services, said the state had no record of Jared seeking mental health treatment in the public system.

The night before the shooting, he left a message on his friend’s voicemail along with a Myspace post saying goodbye.

With all the signs: problems at high school and community college, drugs, drinking, being fired from a job and volunteer work, rejection by the Army, disturbing private texts and public videos, friends and parents of friends seeing problems – how is it there was no help for Jared?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thinking a lot about all of the people murdered and wounded that day and the ongoing trauma to their families. I’m also thinking that if Jared had professional help, this may have been prevented.

One interview with a psychologist was asked about Jared’s parents, and she said there could be a few scenarios at home but we’re not sure what happened. In some similar cases, there is mental illness in one or both of the parents. Another possibility is that the parents took him to therapists but he stopped at some point. The final option is that the parents didn’t know what to do, were at the end of their rope, maybe they were afraid of him.

I don’t know what was happening in Jared’s home and none of us know that part of the puzzle.

Just three years earlier at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (“Virginia Tech”), Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded many other people before he committed suicide. Some of his history seems similar to Jared’s. The Virginia Tech Review Panel said Virginia Tech administrators failed to take action that might have reduced the number of casualties. The panel also pointed out gaps in mental health care and privacy laws that left Seung-Hui’s condition untreated.

Wouldn’t you think that following Seung-Hui Cho’s rampage, all schools would be alerted to do more to protect the greater society? Sometimes the schools have to step in when the parents can’t or won’t.

It’s surprising that we haven’t seen more shootings like this. Unless we deal frankly and effectively with the heart of the problem, we are all endangered. A percentage of our population is seriously mentally ill and they are underserved with resources. Family and friends do not always know how to help, when to report someone, where to turn.

Some of the parents who find my book and blog and write to me need to stop and think about their own kids. Is there something you need to act on or are they facing normal teenage angst? There is also a difference between the angry teen who yells and punches the wall versus the mentally ill teen who is rambling incoherently and has inappropriate verbal outbursts.

If you’re seeing bizarre behavior, when that’s combined with drugs and/or alcohol, when your child’s friends drift away or if you have warnings from school, you must take action.

If your child’s friend is going down that path or your student is acting in a bizarre fashion, use the resources at hand. Don’t be afraid to speak up: you may be saving the life of that child and the lives of others.

I have a list of resources on my blog and encourage you to review the list, make the call if you need to on behalf of your child or your child’s friend.

5 Responses to “Do you know the next Jared Lee Loughner?”

  1. This is a great post, Marcia – very well researched and very thoughtful and thought-provoking.

    I’m going to link to it this week on my own blog: http://margitcrane.com and am linking to your resource page as well.

    • Marcia said

      Thanks so much, Margit. That means a lot coming from a professional like you.

      To those who have not yet read my book, “Strained Relations: Help for Struggling Parents of Troubled Teens”, Margit Crane was one of the professionals I interviewed.

  2. […] shooter who killed and injured several people at a Gabrielle Gifford political rally. I found this incredibly thoughtful and well-researched article on the website Strained Relations: Help for Parents of Troubled Teens. The post was written by […]

  3. triciajean said

    Marcia, I’m impressed with the quality of your research. You present a clear and fairly complete picture of this teen, leaving only the gaps no one has filled in. Your call to action is commendable. Drug use can unbalance an unhappy kid to the point of tragedy. This includes drugs prescribed for “therapy.” Note that a review of school shootings shows that the teens who did the shooting were on psych drugs or coming off them. We need better answers than chemical ones.

    I hope many people respond to your blog with a greater alertness and willingness to take action.

    • Marcia said

      Thanks so much for your comment, Patricia. I think we need to improve our mental health system and educate people to use it. There’s help out there and it’s not shameful to be mentally ill: it’s a part of the human condition. Let’s just have a matter of fact attitude, be alert and treat those who need help.

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