A year ago this week, a 22-year old Army reject with a shaved head and a 9mm opened rapid-fire on a Congressional meet-and-greet outside a Tucson shopping mall, killing six and wounding 14, including a non-fatal headshot against Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The day after the shooting, I flew to Tucson to look for stories. Upon landing I found my way to Sportsman’s Wharehouse, the massive gun-shop where Loughner had purchased his Glock as easily as buying a bagel. At the counter I saw two kids Loughner’s age with sleeve and neck tattoos indicating current or past membership in one of the area’s many white power gangs. When I asked the guy behind the counter if the shooting had impacted sales, his manager cut me off and said staff weren’t allowed to talk to press.
The fact that Tucson is considered “Arizona’s Austin” says everything you need to know about the state. Tucson may be funkier than Phoenix, but it’s still way too dark, way too Arizona, to ever attain Third Coast status. There’s a big skinhead scene. The local airwaves are full of small-time nativist hate jocks. And the border is close, which means lots of cheap drugs, trafficking gangs, and dirty cops.
On my second night in Tucson, I was working in a ratty cafe called Shot in the Dark, an all-night worker cooperative around the corner from the Congress Hotel, where they cornered John Dillinger. I struck up a conversation with a scratched-up kid who was roughly Loughner’s age. Tucson is a small town, and I asked him if he had known the killer. He said no, but for a six-pack and a box of smokes he’d introduce me to his brother’s friend, who knew Loughner well. The next morning, in the blazing sun outside a taco joint, I met up with the brothers Taylor and Lance Sinclair (aged 19 and 22). They told me their story of having a ringside seat to Loughner’s crack-up.
A Shot In The Dark Cafe, Tucson AZ
I was sidetracked soon after conducting the interview, and never did do anything with it. I’m publishing the raw transcript here on the one-year anniversary of the shooting. It offers a snapshot of Tucson that’s like a border-town version of Larry Clark’ s Kids, with a gruesome Arizona ending.
eXiled: How did you guys meet Loughner?
Taylor: I met Jared Loughner at a party house in Copper Creek. It was the Burds’ house. On any day there’d be anywhere from 10, 15, 30 people there, mostly skate kids having a good time, experimenting. A lot of us came up in dysfunctional families and we were thrown in together. A bunch of us worked at the same fast food joint, so we’d carpool. It was a place to hang out, play Xbox, drink, smoke weed. The mom was an ex-tweaker turned alcoholic. There was also an older son, a Marine, just back from Afghanistan who was an alcoholic, too. He was a little messed up in the head, violent, always getting into fights. The parties started out pretty small, but when he came back the scene got really big. There were no rules. You could come and go as you please. Jared had friends in that scene and drifted in. We didn’t know him before that. We hung out there my freshman and sophomore years, from 2005 to 2007. The last time we really hung out there with him was summer of 2007.
Do you remember him always talking politics?
Taylor: Jared was pretty normal when I met him. He seemed quiet, kind of a jock. He was fine when he was sober, but when he was hammered he just started ranting on about the government and you could just tell there was something wrong with him. I didn’t think he knew what he was saying. I thought he was too fucked up to even know what he was talking about.
Jared Lee Loughner in high school
Where was he getting his information?
Taylor: He was listening to AM radio, I’m not sure which talk shows they were. But he was listening to talk shows about political stuff. When he tried to talk to us about it, we were like, “Whatever, let’s go chase some girls.” I just remember it was about the government, basically, but we weren’t interested. He didn’t trust the government. He didn’t trust anybody, really. And he was also into all the different religions. He’d say random things about different religions all the time. He was way into the 2012 thing. This was years ago, so it meant nothing to us at the time. The politics came out when he was messed up. When the drugs got more intense, it made it worse. It was like he was hiding it, but once he got messed up, he couldn’t hide it anymore. It would come out and no one could shut his ass up. As time went on, drugs, the combos of drugs made it more intense. Drugs magnified it. After we left that house, I’m sure it just got worse.
Lance: He was pretty quiet at first. He got deeper into drugs, like us. Our drug use completely evolved. It started out with just smoking weed and drinking on weekends, then to every day, and then experimenting with harder stuff and psychedelics. Meth, mushrooms, heroin, coke, ecstasy.
Taylor: There was one year where it wasn’t like any other year. There hasn’t been a year like it since. In 2005-6, that winter, there was a huge crop from the mountains and the mushrooms were everywhere. That year could have been the year that [Loughner] just fucking went nuts, and crossed the line. People were mixing stuff that didn’t even make sense —cocaine and ‘shrooms? For months and months, ‘shrooms were around like candy, you know. Kids ended up in hospital or juvie, cuz they were tripping and throwing rocks through houses, on a bad trip.
Lance: Unlike my brother, I didn’t take ‘shrooms at that house, except for once, cuz I wasn’t comfortable there. I knew from past experiences that I needed to be comfortable. If one guy is freaking out, it throws everybody else off.
Taylor: I don’t know if it influenced Loughner, but it messed with our heads. One Cinco de Mayo I ate a half-ounce of mushrooms. It was a huge party, there were like 150 people there, I’m sure Loughner was there. One guy started running around naked, the cops showed up. The cops were at this house so much it wasn’t even funny. They got abusive at times. They knew the family is letting kids party there. But the neighbors let it slide, cuz their kids were there. All it took was that one night. I haven’t been right since then. I get panic attacks. Anxiety. I’m on Benzo which is a really strong medication, and that’s the only way I can go out into public and work. Loughner got caught up in the scene started doing the same drugs. Lots of psychedelics and other drugs was an average day at the house. The same thing could have happened to him.
Lance: You build tolerance to mushrooms. You need to keep taking more.
Taylor: He lived near there. We were trying to escape reality, and he was trying to open up parts of his brain. His thing with religions, him claiming that he understood them all — I’m 90 percent convinced that was because of the hallucinogens, and he was way into the whole 2012 thing. He was also into uppers. He got into tweak [meth] or something. He just lost it. He was nothing like he used to be, and no one wanted to hang out with him cuz they were scared, they were just terrified of this kid, starting around 2006. The process took like a year. Loughner hung out at the house even after we stopped in 2007. We last saw him summer of 2007.
Lance: I knew a kid who lived on Loughner’s street. He said his dad and him both had schizophrenia. And they were so crazy or what-not, call it what you want, that one of their neighbors actually moved away. I never met his family, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was genetic, if his dad gave it to him [the mental problems] and the drugs opened that, triggered that. Almost all of us would do anything that came our way, but he really got into psychedelics.
Taylor: I always thought Loughner was on steroids. He was a big kid. He was into sports but he also partied. If you mix steroids and psychedelics and speed, you go on ‘roid rages… Around 2006, he changed. People started making fun of him and stopped hanging out there so much. He isolated himself. What happened [wasn’t anyone’s fault], it was him and him alone, there’s always the chance. I have a feeling, those are the devil’s drugs, psychedelics and meth, and you are going to lose your mind.
Lance: He just went on his own study or something. A lot of people from that scene have gotten in trouble, maybe not politically, but with violence, with guns, or have OD’d. There’s a lot of kids who died. We’ve lost more friends than we can count. They’re dropping like flies. Tucson is an export city, the first city in. The drugs flow through here to the rest of the country. It’s everywhere and cheap. All sorts of organized crime. I don’t know if Loughner knew any cartels or anything. If he did come across them and got fronted money and drugs, he could have been offered to do this shooting. He obviously knew he was gonna get caught. The cartels use kids. They make drops. They do whatever they gotta do. For drugs, to clear debts. We’re right next to Mexico and all you gotta do is know the right people. There’s a lot of money. I remember Loughner bragging about, not the 9mm that was used, but some kind of rifle once. After we stopped hanging out at the Burds we heard Loughner’s name here and there, but not much.
Taylor: Years passed on. I ended up on juvenile intensive probation, juvenile drug court, then I’d drop dirty [test positive for heroin in urine tests] and end back up in juvie. I was basically a ghost in Tucson. I’d pop back up randomly for a couple of months, then be sent away again. Happened like 14 times.
Lance: When we got high it made us feel like when our family was back together, and that’s how we dealt with our emotions. If I hadn’t been locked up in 2009 I’d be dead. I was happier in prison after I detoxed there. Because even with the money [from dealing] and the car, I was miserable. I lost a lot of friends, the girl I loved. I had no heart and no soul. I think that’s how a lot of people were on these drugs. We were trying to kill ourselves.
Taylor: I went to prison when I was 18. I told them I wanted to do my time, and come out with methadone as a safety net. My next probation officer wouldn’t let me do methadone. Three weeks later I was back in, the youngest person in yard with a year sentence. I’m done. I’m on a good path now. Still in shock over what happened. My little sister was friends with the girl who died. She called me and asked me if I knew the shooter. I couldn’t lie. I said, “Yeah. I’m so sorry for what happened. The devil got to him.”
Alexander Zaitchik, a former eXile editor, is the author of Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance…
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