Zane Gutierrez, who befriended the alleged Tucson shooter while they attended high school, said he was stunned by the news that his former buddy was the suspect in the bloody attack that left six people dead last weekend.
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"It was mortifying, it was horrifying. I ended up sitting in my car for about four hours by myself," he told NBC's TODAY show on Wednesday.
Something about Jared Loughner, identified as the gunman in last weekend’s shootings spree that killed six, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge, and gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, began to change recently, Gutierrez said.Video: Pal: Mug shot shows ‘monster,’ not Loughner
"At first Jared was a very receptive person, he was always interested in hearing a new concept, a new idea," Gutierrez said. That changed and lately he had become more aggressive. "He would start yelling, 'No! You're wrong! You're stupid!" Loughner’s friend said.Story: Long road before Ariz. death penalty decision
Anger at Giffords
When Loughner, 22, first talked to Gutierrez about his first encounter with Giffords it seemed nothing was amiss. Giffords, 40, continued to recover at the University of Arizona Medical Center five days after being shot in the head.
"He only brought it up once and it never seemed like something that bothered him that much," Gutierrez told TODAY.
But looking back Gutierrez said he sees that the Congresswoman’s inability to answer what even friends thought was a confusing question had troubled the increasingly unbalanced young man.
"For some reason he felt that his representative … had failed him in some way, shape or form and it really let him down on a personal level," Gutierrez said.Video: Giffords’ family ‘elated’ with her recovery (on this page)
In the end, Loughner was mentally unwell and did not receive proper treatment, Gutierrez said.
"Jared needed help and Jared didn't get help," he said. "The difference with the picture that's going around now with the shaved head, that's not Jared Loughner, that's not my friend, that's a monster."
Records also indicate that Pima County Sheriff's office had contact with the Loughner family 10 times from May 27, 1994 to March 16, 2020, The Arizona Republic reported.
Meantime, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has waded into the debate about whether heated political rhetoric was behind the shooting.
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The 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate on Wednesday condemned those who blame political rhetoric for the Arizona the attack in a nearly eight-minute video on her Facebook page .
Last spring, Palin targeted Giffords' district as one of 20 that should be taken back. Palin has been criticized for marking each district with the cross hairs of a gun sight. Video: Will Loughner plead insanity? (on this page)
As a tragedy unfolded, journalists and pundits should not manufacture what she called a "blood libel" that incites hatred and violence.
Palin said she had "listened at first puzzled, then with concern and now with sadness to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event."
The horror of the shooting has touched a national nerve, spurring calls for political rhetoric to be toned down and energizing debates about gun ownership. It has also made gun-friendly Arizona, and Tucson in particular, appear to be a battlefield.
Mysterious black bag, red light
Meanwhile on Wednesday, more information about Loughner’s last hours before the shooting in a Tucson mall began to emerge.
Early that morning, a mumbling Loughner fled after his father asked him why he was removing a black bag from the trunk of a family car, said Rick Kastigar, chief of the department's investigations bureau. Investigators are still searching for the bag.
About 7:30 a.m., Loughner ran a red light and was stopped by a wildlife officer.
The officer took Loughner's driver's license and vehicle registration information. Dispatchers checked the information and found no outstanding warrants on Loughner or his vehicle. He was given a verbal warning and released.
Hours later, Loughner was taken into custody in the mass shooting at the Safeway supermarket.Video: Green family showing 'enormous strength' (on this page)
The sheriff's deputies who swarmed the Loughners' house removed what they describe as evidence Jared Loughner was targeting Giffords. Among the handwritten notes was one with the words "Die, bitch," which authorities told The Associated Press they believe was a reference to Giffords.Video: ‘Die B****’ note found in Loughner home (on this page)
Investigators with the Pima County Sheriff's Department previously said they found handwritten notes in Loughner's safe reading "I planned ahead," "My assassination" and "Giffords." Capt. Chris Nanos said all the writings were either in an envelope or on a form letter Giffords' office sent him in 2007 after he signed in at one of her "Congress on Your Corner" events — the same kind of gathering where the massacre occurred.
Loughner's parents, silent and holed up in their home since the shooting spree, issued a statement Tuesday, expressing remorse over the shooting.
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"There are no words that can possibly express how we feel," Randy and Amy Loughner wrote in a statement handed to reporters waiting outside their house. "We wish that there were, so we could make you feel better. We don't understand why this happened.
"We care very deeply about the victims and their families. We are so very sorry for their loss."
Tribute to victims
On Tuesday, several hundred mourners filled a Tucson church for a public Mass to remember the slain and pray for the injured. As people filed in, nine young girls sang "Amazing Grace." The youngest victim of the attack, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, was a member of that choir.
"I know she is singing with us tonight," said Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas, who presided over the service.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama planned to visit Arizona and give a speech honoring the victims.
Today.com, Reuters, The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff and contributed to this report.