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01.13.11

Jared Loughner's Path in Hours Before Arizona Shooting

He fought with his father, he spooked the neighbors, he went to Walmart for ammunition—Claire Martin and Masada Siegel trace the Tucson suspect’s path in the hours before the shootings.

Jared Loughner was known among residents of his Tucson neighborhood for sometimes behaving strangely. He’d pace the sidewalk, mutter to himself as he listened to his iPod, and pass people without greeting them when he took his dog for a walk. Isaiah and Michelle Martinez, siblings who live nearby and attended Mountain View High School with Loughner, had seen that many times before.

But last Friday night, his conduct struck them as even more peculiar. Around midnight, they spotted him approaching. “He was walking down the street by himself,” Michelle told The Daily Beast. “He had on a hoodie, and he was wearing black.” As they crossed paths, he walked directly between them. The encounter struck them as slightly spooky. “Why is someone walking around the neighborhood all in black in the middle of the night?” the siblings wondered. Only later would they realize, to their horror, that Loughner was only hours away from allegedly killing six people and wounding 14 more, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

While Loughner sits in U.S. Marshals’ custody after his Monday arraignment, new details are emerging about his movements in the buildup to the tragedy in Tucson. They suggest he was engaged in a frenzy of activity, and that his mood in those final hours ranged from reflective to explosive.

Full coverage of the Arizona shootingA few hours after passing the Martinezes, Loughner reached out to a friend he hadn’t been in touch with for about a year, according to Mother Jones magazine. Bryce Tierney, a high school and college classmate of Loughner’s, told the publication that he received a call on his cellphone from a restricted number at around 2 a.m. Saturday. When he listened to the voicemail later, there was a message: “Hey man, it’s Jared. Me and you had some good times. Peace out. Later.” Tierney didn’t think much of the message—until the next day.

A young man walking his dog near a dried-up riverbed north of the Loughner home found a black diaper bag that contained 9 mm ammunition—the same caliber used in the slayings.

Soon after making that call, Loughner stocked up on snacks at a convenience store less than a mile away from his parents' house, according to CBS News. And at some point that night, CNN reports, Loughner went to a Motel 6, where he ended up spending the night. Whether that was part of the alleged plot or the result of some quarrel with his parents is unclear. The family has a history of strife, including one incident that resulted in Loughner taking off for more than a week.

After daybreak on Saturday, Loughner allegedly set out in his father’s dark-green Chevy Nova to buy ammunition. He first visited a Walmart east of his parents’ home, likely at around 7 a.m., but "didn't get what he wanted," according to Lt. Lisa Sacco of the Pima sheriff's office. (“This is the Walmart that turned Loughner away,” according to an unidentified employee at that location, without further explanation.) Loughner then went to another Walmart northwest of his house, bought the ammo and the black bag, and headed for home.

At 7:34 a.m., en route to his house, Loughner was pulled over by an Arizona Game and Fish officer for running a red light. The stop happened right in front of the Motel 6 where Loughner is thought to have spent the night before. The officer “ran him through the system and found that he had no warrants,” Captain Chris Nanos of the Pima County sheriff’s department told The Daily Beast. Nor did the officer notice anything unusual inside the car. “He gave him his identification back, gave him a verbal warning, and released him on his way,” said Nanos.

Loughner then returned to his parents’ home, where tension erupted between him and his father, Randy. At about 8 a.m., according to police, Randy saw Jared take a black bag out of the car. “When his father asked him about the bag and its contents, [Jared] muttered something,” Nanos said. “The father didn’t know what it was.” Jared then took off on foot with the bag. Randy climbed into his pickup truck and pursued him, but failed to catch him. He later told investigators that he’d lost sight of Jared and returned to his house. A neighbor, Ron Johnson, says he found all that bustle curious—the cars coming and going, Randy entering and leaving in a hurry.

Apparently, Loughner’s father had good reason to raise questions about the bag. On Thursday morning, a young man walking his dog near a dried-up riverbed north of the Loughner home found a black diaper bag that resembled a backpack and contained 9 mm ammunition—the same caliber used in the slayings. According to a statement released by the sheriff’s department, “The bag is believed to be the black bag that Randy Loughner described his son carrying the morning of the shooting.” It has now been handed over to the FBI for further analysis.

After the confrontation with his father—and perhaps after ditching the retrieved bag—Loughner set off on foot, according to Sacco, and eventually was picked up by a cab, which delivered him to the Safeway supermarket where Giffords was about to hold an event. It's unclear what Loughner was doing between the bag drop and the cab ride. "I don't have that information," Sacco says, "but he could have easily been wandering around in the wash until he knew what he was doing."

At 10:11 a.m., the shooting spree began. “We have a caller who believes Gabrielle Giffords was shot,” a dispatcher says on audio tapes from that morning that were released by police. “It sounds like many people are shot.”

A former editor of Men's Journal, Claire Martin has written for Outside, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times magazine.

Masada Siegel was a field producer for CNN and Fox News Channel.  She is a contributor for The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and CBSnews.com, among other outlets.