Story By DEBBIE HADLEY
Photo By STEPHANIE MISSOURI
Pima Community College business major Michelle Martinez was working at the Accent on Vision store on North Oracle Road the morning of Jan. 8 when multiple customers breathlessly reported the same news: A government person just got shot in the head.
Martinez lives three doors down from the man accused of shooting U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others. She and Jared Lee Loughner attended Mountain View High School but had not spoken much since graduation.
“Just to know who that person is and that I went to high school with him is really shocking,” Martinez said. “And to find out that he lives next door to me, still. I was just like, ‘Oh my God.’”
Martinez remembers meeting Loughner her sophomore year of high school and walking home from the bus stop together.
“He was just quiet and socially awkward, not a serial killer. He was never weird or anything like that,” Martinez said while describing the Loughner she knew in high school. “That’s why it kind of surprises me. He was nice. He wasn’t a jerk or anything.”
Loughner attended PCC from Summer 2005 to Fall 2010. After the college suspended him for code of conduct violations, Loughner voluntarily withdrew from the college on Oct. 4, 2010, according to a PCC press release.
The college provided the following timeline:
From February to September 2010, Loughner had five run-ins with campus police due to disruptions in classrooms and libraries at both Northwest and West campuses.
The college suspended Loughner on Sept. 29 after officials became aware of a YouTube video that Loughner filmed on Northwest Campus. Among other claims, Loughner says on the video that PCC is illegal under the U.S. Constitution.
Two police officers delivered a letter of suspension to his parents’ residence, and spoke with Loughner and his parents.
A follow-up letter sent Oct. 7 said Loughner would not be allowed back on campus until he obtained a mental health clearance indicating he was not a danger to himself or others.
Some critics have said PCC allowed too many encounters before suspending Loughner.
Chancellor Roy Flores acknowledged the criticism in an address to the college’s Faculty Senate on Jan. 20.
“In this particular case, what more could have been done? We don’t know, if anything,” he said. “I don’t want us to second-guess ourselves. We took the necessary steps, and the steps we could take.”
Flores said the college must balance individual security and civil liberties.
“As a society, we need to have a discussion about this,” he said.
No students surveyed were critical of the college’s actions.
Theater major Sean Dylan said he passed Loughner multiple times in hallways on West Campus.
“I didn’t really notice anything specific about him,” Dylan said, “and I don’t blame Pima for what happened.”
Other students said their feelings of security remain intact.
“I still think Pima is pretty safe,” fashion design major Jenna Durocher said. “There are a lot of people who could help you if you need it.”
Durocher said the tragedy could have happened anywhere. “You go to school with so many people at different times with all kinds of personalities,” she said. “You just don’t know who is going to snap or what anyone is thinking.”
Mychyl Kime, a computer programming major who serves as president of the Gay-Straight Alliance, said he has never been concerned about Pima safety, before or after the shooting.
“I don’t think about anything but the people who lost their lives and their families who are suffering,” he said.
Shane Munoz, a student in the ASL interpreter program, doesn’t think it’s important that Loughner was a Pima student. “What happened has nothing to do with it,” he said.
News of the suspect’s connection to PCC left other students shocked.
“When I heard he had taken classes on West Campus, I thought, ‘I could’ve walked past him,’” game design major Casca Socea said. “It’s a surreal experience.”
The college offered group counseling sessions for both employees and students. Students who still feel a need for counseling are encouraged to contact their campus student services center.
Six people lost their lives in the mass shooting, which occurred during a meet-and-greet gathering with Giffords at a northwest Tucson grocery store.
One victim, Gabe Zimmerman, worked for Giffords as director of community outreach. His father, Ross Zimmerman, is a PCC employee.
A “message to the college community” posted on the PCC website expresses condolences to the families of victims and those who were injured.
“We are especially saddened by the death of Gabe Zimmerman,” the statement says. “The Zimmerman family has requested privacy at this very difficult time.”
Federal judge John M. Roll, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, Dorothy Morris, Phyllis Schneck and Dorwan Stottard also died.
Fourteen people survived their gunshot wounds, including Giffords. She is currently receiving rehabilitation treatment in Houston for serious head injuries.
As Tucsonans begin their healing process, they question how such a tragedy could occur.
“We just got really unlucky,” said Megan Edmonds, who takes general courses at PCC. “Now Tucson gets to be the place where all the crazy people come to.”