SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 16, 2011

Tucson shooting suspect's school releases records

AMANDA LEE MYERS and MICHAEL R. BLOOD
Associated Press

PHOENIX — In the wake of the Tucson shooting rampage, the community college the suspect had attended worked to maintain its routine even as it was being flooded by media queries about Jared Lee Loughner, including whether he had threatened anyone on campus.

Pima Community College's efforts came to light Friday as it released some 3,000 pages of emails and documents related to Loughner dated since the Jan. 8 shooting that left six people dead and 13 wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Loughner, who is being held on murder and other charges in the attack, began attending classes at the college in 2005, but was eventually kicked out because of behavior campus police considered disturbing. He was told to get a mental health evaluation or not return.

Media requests included questions about whether the college ever sought to get Loughner a mental health evaluation when he was a student or whether he had ever threatened to kill anyone on campus. The college either refused to answer questions or released short, prepared statements.

Shortly after the shooting, The Associated Press requested all of the college's emails mentioning Loughner in 2010, prompting the school to hand over six emails from late December, most of them sent by campus police. Earlier this month, The AP expanded that request by asking for all emails mentioning Loughner that were received or sent by school employees from 2005-2011.

In one email, college Chancellor Roy Flores told all employees that national news media organizations had sent teams of reporters to campus looking for anyone who knew Loughner. He instructed them not to delete any emails mentioning Loughner so the college could comply with public records laws.

"I do not think that the demands made on the college will abate any time soon, so we will have to find ways of conducting our normal duties, as well as meeting these additional demands," he said in the email, sent just after 6 a.m. on Jan. 11.

The emails — dozens of which were redacted by the school, either totally or in part — show how the college also strived to safeguard its image in the face of national attention.

The idea of holding a campus news conference was dismissed by Assistant Vice Chancellor for Marketing Rachelle Howell in an email sent the morning of Jan. 9. Such an event would put the focus on the college, she said.

"And we are not the story," she wrote.

In some emails, staff members at the college sent each other links with stories about the shooting, including one with the headline: "Arizona community college did what it could with suspect."

Other emails showed how the shooting was on everyone's minds.

"Hugs to you all during this difficult time," wrote Kris Swank, the northwest campus library director, on Jan. 12.

She said in the same email that if any media members request to speak to library workers, they should refer them to the college's marketing coordinator. "You may also opt to simply say, 'No comment,'" she advised them.

In another email, the head of the school's Fitness and Sport Sciences Department warns colleagues to avoid the media, after she received a reporter's call at home.

"Let's keep ourselves out of this," writes Susan L. Heinrich, according to the documents. "Certainly feel free to contact me if you are unsure of who to contact for assistance. If you put them (reporters) off, they will likely look elsewhere for a quick quote."

Howell suggested in one email that police staffing on campus be increased, and she urged that a plan be drafted for "handling media."

Brian Van Brunt, a psychologist and president of the American College Counseling Association, sent a note to those who subscribe to his group's email list on Jan. 11 saying that he was trying to get the message out that the college did all it could do.

"I've been interviewed by several NPR stations and just now, USA Today," he said. "It is, however, like pushing a rock uphill to try to make a point that ... there is only so much a college can do to require a student to be evaluated by a mental health professional and these evaluations — at their best — do a poor job of predicting violence or threat of suicide."

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Associated Press writers Jacques Billeaud and Terry Tang contributed to this report.