PHOENIX (AP) — An erratic Jared Loughner walked into a convenience store with an urgent message for the clerk: "I need a ride to Safeway."
It was Saturday morning, and then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' meet-and-greet started at 10 a.m. As he waited for his taxi, Loughner nervously paced around the store and made several trips to the bathroom, gazing anxiously at a clock. "Nine twenty-five. I still got time," he said.
Loughner arrived and got in line with others waiting to meet the congresswoman. He opened fire about 10 minutes later as screams of "gun" rang out through crowd. Within moments, Giffords lay bleeding on the sidewalk with 11 others who were wounded. Six people were killed.
Almost everyone who crossed paths with Loughner in the year before the shootings described a man who was becoming unhinged.
He got fired from a clothing store and thrown out of college, shaved his head and got tattoos of bullets on his shoulder. He showed up at the apartment of a boyhood friend with a Glock 9 mm pistol, saying he needed it for "home protection." He made dark comments about the government, and, according to one acquaintance, appeared suicidal.
His spiral into madness hit bottom on that Jan. 8 day in 2011.
The information about Loughner's mental state — and the fact that no one did much to get him help — emerged as a key theme in roughly 2,700 pages of investigative papers released Wednesday. Still, there was nothing to indicate exactly why he targeted Giffords.
The files also provided the first glimpse into Loughner's family and a look at parents dealing with a son who had grown nearly impossible to communicate with.
"I tried to talk to him. But you can't," his father, Randy Loughner, told police. "Lost, lost and just didn't want to communicate with me no more."
His mother, Amy Loughner, recalled hearing her son alone in his room "having conversations" as if someone else were there.
Despite recommendations from Pima Community College that Loughner undergo a mental evaluation after the school expelled him, his parents never followed up.
In a statement released by the gun control advocacy group she started with her husband, Giffords said that "no one piece of legislation" would have prevented the Tucson shooting.
"However, I hope that commonsense policies like universal background checks become part of our history, just like the Tucson shootings are — our communities will be safer because of it."
While such checks may keep those with mental illnesses from obtaining guns, the 24-year-old Loughner had never been diagnosed with any conditions, meaning it's doubtful much would have stopped him from legally purchasing a weapon.
Friends and family interviewed by law enforcement after the shooting painted a picture of a young man who was deeply troubled in the weeks before the shooting.
Loughner visited Anthony George Kuck, who had known him since preschool. Kuck said he was alarmed to find he had shaved his head and was armed.
"I kicked him out of my house because he showed me his gun," Kuck said.
Kuck told police he had seen Loughner's mental state deteriorate over time, starting with drinking problems in high school, trouble with authorities and being kicked out of college.
"I know he has some crazy thoughts where he ... just believes the government is corrupt, and he has all these assumptions on things, that he doesn't really know what he's talking about," Kuck told investigators.
While he never heard him mention Giffords "he just seemed to have some kind of ... hate for government," Kuck added.
Kuck's roommate, Derek Andrew Heintz, who has known Loughner since he was about 12, said he was cooking when Loughner showed up with a gun and removed it from his belt. It was loaded with 32 rounds.
He asked Loughner why he had the weapon.
"I just want to show you,'" Loughner replied.
Loughner then left Heintz with a souvenir — one bullet.
His parents grew alarmed over his behavior on several occasions — at one point submitting him to drug-testing. The results were negative, said Amy Loughner, who was particularly worried that her son might have been using methamphetamine.
The father said his son kept journals, but they were written in an indecipherable script. Loughner bought a 12-gauge shotgun in 2008, but his parents took it away from him after he was expelled from college and administrators recommended he not own weapons.