Image: Family of Christina Taylor Green
Pool  /  Getty Images
Roxanna and John Green, parents of Christina Taylor Green, stand with their son, Dallas, as they arrive for the funeral of their 9-year-old daughter on Thursday.
By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/15/2011 10:04:33 PM ET 2011-01-16T03:04:33

On Friday morning, with the sun bouncing off Mount Lemmon and the foothills on the northeast edge of Tucson, the dog run at Morris K. Udall Park had plenty of customers. It’s a ritual here: A few dozen regulars gather after first light to watch their dogs frolic and test each other, and talk among themselves about the issues that often test their own lives.

All week, of course, they’ve talked about the shootings — the victims and survivors, the visit by President Barack Obama, and the monstrous specter of the accused gunman, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, grinning hideously in his mug shot.

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Someone asked if it would’ve been better if Loughner had shot himself. Or if he had been gunned down by responding police, as has happened in the concluding acts of other mass murders.

“It’s not like he’s going to talk, explain why he did it,” said Lana Schwark, holding her schnauzer, Freddie.

Slideshow: Mourning follows deadly shooting (on this page)

Schwark, a respiratory technician at the University Medical Center, where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and other victims of the shootings rampage were taken, shook her head at the notion that society will benefit in any way through the public trial and continuing psychological assessments of a still-alive Jared Loughner.

“I mean, what have we really learned about Susan Smith, that South Carolina woman who drowned her sons, or about John Wayne Gacy?” she asked, referring to Chicago’s “Killer Clown,” who murdered 33 boys and young men in the mid-1970s, many discovered buried beneath his house. They weren’t killed at the scene or executed after a trial, Schwark said. Another dog-owner added, “It’s not like anyone learned anything to prevent the next one.”

Video: Taking it day by day in Tucson (on this page)

Each story like this is a new horror, of course. I watched colleagues this week struggle for composure as they broadcast live reports on the most heart-wrenching aspects of the story. We have spent days trying to understand, to the extent we can, what turned a bright, and even gifted, young man into an alleged killing machine capable of holding his finger on the trigger as his gun spit bullets not only at his apparent intended target, but at total strangers in their 70s, and even a 9-year-old girl.

‘That’s not him’
One of Loughner’s pals from middle school, Lela Chavez, told us Loughner was just another sweet shy kid who loved music as she did … but that he was the one with the gift.

“He played the sax, but he read music better than we did, and could pick up any other instrument and within a few days be playing it. And playing it well!” She pointed to a photo on the cover of a CD she and Loughner and another friend had made back then. “He was a sweet kid. Genuine, funny … he would make jokes. He wasn't a loner. He wasn't a weird outcast that everyone keeps painting him to be.” Then she mentioned the infamous photo of Loughner taken after his booking.

“That’s not the Jared I knew,” she said, shuddering reflexively. “That’s not him.”

Video: Friends recall ‘kind, calm’ Loughner (on this page)

It was and it is, of course, and that’s the nexus of stories like this one: that people change. And that at its extreme end, the range of possible change reaches the kind of dissembling described by so many of those who encountered Loughner in the past year or who described themselves as his once-close friends.

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At this time last year, Loughner was weird, but OK weird, Zane Gutierrez said.

“Actually, we were kind of nerds,” Gutierrez said, “a small group of us. We’d sit around and have arguments on whether Darth Vader was really the major antagonist in all three Star Wars movies … And, you know, we’d hang out and play 'Dragonball Z' and 'Magic the Gathering' … and talk about the Golden Ratio and have debates on string theory, and stuff like that…”

And then one day, in the first week of March, Gutierrez says, Loughner cut all his friends loose. “Texted us … said he didn’t want to see us anymore, or hear from us, or talk to us …”

A stark change
From there, the story’s been exhaustively reported. He went back to Pima Community College, where he was so disruptive — shouting nonsense, insulting classmates and teachers and convincing some he was a physical threat — that campus police had to intervene seven times before he was finally expelled for good.

But he’d never threatened anyone specifically, and the school followed the strict protocols refined in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre: protecting the college community, but also protecting the rights of the individual until, and unless, he is judged to be an imminent danger to himself or others.

Video: Timeline of Tucson shooting (on this page)

School officials had met with Loughner’s mother once and with both parents for an hour the night they delivered the letter detailing Jared’s “immediate suspension,” including a warning that he would be arrested for trespass should he show up again on campus.

Loughner bought his gun, legally, and the extra capacity 30-round clips. Then he waited for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ next “Congress on Your Corner” event scheduled for Jan. 8.

Defines ‘inexplicable’
What’s likely to change? Maybe the same things that have changed in the aftermath of Virginia Tech, or Columbine before that. Meaning, not much.

Story: Loughner on YouTube: 'This is my genocide school'

In Tucson this weekend, the “Crossroads of the West” gun show will go on as scheduled at the Pima County Fairgrounds.

“Gun sales have been up … since last Saturday,” said Lois Chedsey of the Arizona Arms Association.

And what about Jared Lee Loughner … and the next Jared Lee Loughner?

Lana Schwark shook her head. “It’s the definition,” she said, “of the word ‘inexplicable.’”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Taking it day by day in Tucson

  1. Closed captioning of: Taking it day by day in Tucson

    >>> in tonight for brian williams . it's hard to believe it's been almost a week since the massacre outside a tucson supermarket. and for her doctors, even harder to believe that wounded congresswoman gabby giffords has come as far as she has. today, her husband tweeted, thanks for all the messages of support. i have some great follows. g.g., he wrote, has been improving each day. that encouraging message came on another bittersweet day in tucson as another victim was laid to rest and some of the survivors began new chapters in their forever altered lives. nbc's kristen welker joins us now with the latest.

    >> reporter: lester, these have been long and difficult days for tucson residents but now the weekend begins with much-needed good news. doctors at university medical center treating gabrielle giffords say with each passing day there is progress.

    >> we couldn't have hoped for any better improvement than we're seeing now.

    >> reporter: ron barber, wounded saturday, was released today. he posed for a picture with anna ballis. barber also visited the memorial.

    >> he insisted that he take him out there. he wanted to see the entire thick.

    >> reporter: giffords' aide, pam simon, returned to work today at the congresswoman's district office.

    >> i celebrate every morning she's still here.

    >> reporter: she says her physical wounds are still healing, but the pain of losing six people will last a lifetime.

    >> i think there are almost no words when you have that kind of loss of life, especially when they are people that did nothing more than do what good citizens do.

    >> reporter: randy gardner is also a survivor. in a chilling coincidence, he was a student at kent state in 1970 when the ohio national guard opened fire on students protesting the war in vietnam.

    >> in some ways it seems like we have just as much anger today as we had then.

    >> reporter: today, pima county sheriff's department released emergency dispatch calls deploying deputies.

    >> we have a caller who believes that gabrielle giffords was shot.

    >> reporter: and reports from the first to reach the scene.

    >> we have at least seven, eight, maybe ten gunshot victims here.

    >> reporter: tucson continues to say goodbye. mourners came to pay their respects as 63-year-old federal judge john roll was laid to rest. dark days for a community shrouded in grief. and this community still has to bury four more victims. the congresswoman remains in critical condition here at the hospital. three others are in good condition. expected to be released soon. lester?

    >> kristen welker tonight, thank you.

Interactive: Giffords' shooting

Photos: Mourning follows deadly shooting in Arizona

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  1. A hearse carrying the remains of U.S. District Judge John Roll arrives at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church before his funeral on in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Jan. 14. Roll was killed in the Jan. 8 shooting that left six dead and wounded 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. (Morry Gash / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Mary Kool holds a single red rose outside the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church where the funeral of U.S. District Judge John Roll was to take place. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Mourners arrive at the funeral service of Judge Roll. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A flag recovered from ground zero is raised during funeral service for 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Tucson, on Thursday, Jan. 13. Green was the youngest victim of the shooting rampage. Green was born on Sept. 11, 2001. (Mamta Popat / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Left to right, Roxanna and John Green, mother and father of Christina Taylor Green, and their son Dallas Green, arrive at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church for her funeral in Tucson on Thursday. (Mamta Popat / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 2,000 mourners were in attendance at the funeral of Christina Taylor Green on Thursday in Tucson. (Mamta Popat  / Pool via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. People dressed as angels line the street leading to the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church where the funeral for Christina Taylor Green was to take place in Tucson on Thursday. Hundreds, dressed in white, lined the streets for more than a quarter mile of the funeral procession. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. John Green kisses his son Dallas on the head as the family follows the casket of Christina Taylor Green at her funeral mass in Tucson, on Thursday. At left is Christina's mother Roxanna and at right is Camden Grant, Christina's godmother's son. (Rick Wilking / Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A young mourner carries flowers and a teddy bear to the funeral of Christina Taylor Green in Tucson on Thursday. (Mamta Popat / Pool via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cindy and John McCain listen during the funeral service for shooting victim Christina Taylor Green in Tucson on Thursday. (Greg Bryan / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A woman holds the service program from the funeral for 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green outside St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Tucson on Thursday. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Arizona's McKale Memorial Center during the memorial service for victims of the shootings in Tucson. Obama told the crowd on Wednesday, Jan. 12, that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time since being shot in the head during the attack on Jan. 8. Six people were killed and 13 wounded by the lone gunman. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Daniel Hernandez , the 20-year-old intern credited with likely saving the life of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, hugs her husband, NASA shuttle commander Mark Kelly, as U.S. first lady Michelle Obama applauds. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. First lady Michelle Obama holds the hand of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford's husband, NASA shuttle commander Mark Kelly, as they listen to President Barack Obama speak. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. People sing the national anthem during the memorial service on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the start of the memorial event. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. People line up at the University of Arizona campus for the memorial service. (David Becker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Barb Tuttle is overcome with emotion at a makeshift memorial outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Jan. 12 in Tucson. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Women waiting in line for the memorial service look at the campus paper at the University of Arizona. (Rick Wilking / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, holds his wife's hand in the congresswoman's hospital room at University Medical Center on Jan. 9. (Offiice Of Gabrielle Giffords / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Ron Barber, 65, district director for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is visited by Giffords aide Daniel Hernandez in his hospital room on Jan. 9. Hernandez rushed to Gifford's aid after she was shot. Hernandez said that while he held the wounded Giffords, he asked another bystander to put pressure on Barber's wounds. He also asked Barber for his wife's phone number and then shouted it out to someone so that Barber's wife, Nancy, could be informed of the shooting. (Gabrielle Giffords' Office / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama observe a moment of silence with White House staff members on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Jan. 10. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Congressional staff observe a moment of silence to honor victims of the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on the steps of the Capitol in Washington. (Michael Reynolds / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Rachel Cooper-Blackmore, 9, adds a note to a memorial at Mesa Verde Elementary School in Tucson, on Jan. 10. Christina Taylor Green, 9, was killed during the Tucson attack. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Rachel Crabb, 5, holds hands with teachers, parents and other students during a moment of silence for her slain schoolmate, Christina Taylor Green, at Mesa Verde Elementary School on Jan. 9. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Candles are lit on Sunday at a makeshift memorial outside University Medical Center in Tuscon, Ariz., for those killed or wounded during the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords . (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Ellie Steve, 6, from left, Lucia Reeves, 6, and Zoe Reeves, 18, gather for a candlelight vigil outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., on Sunday. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Six balloons representing the six people killed in Saturday's shooting spree, as part of a prayer vigil.Rep. Gabrielle Giffords battled for her life on Sunday after an assailant shot her in the head and killed six others in a rampage that has launched a debate about extreme political rhetoric in America. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. People console each other at a makeshift memorial located outside the University Medical Center on Jan. 9 in Tucson, Ariz. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. The American flag flies at half-staff on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 9. In a brief statement Sunday morning, House Speaker John Boehner said flags on the House side of the Capitol in Washington will be flown at half-staff to honor the slain aide, Gabe Zimmerman, of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Thirty-year-old Zimmerman was among six killed Saturday. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. The congregation prays for the victims of Saturday's shooting in Tuscon, at the Pantano Christian Church in East Tucson, Jan. 9. (Rick Wilking / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Monty Edmonds, 36, left, of Tucson; Maggie Kipling, 34, of Tucson; Leigh Harris, 50, of Phoenix; Bella Furr, 21, of Tucson; and Sarah Herrmann, 22, of Tucson participate in a vigil at University Medical Center for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot during an event in front of a Safeway grocery store Jan. 8, in Tucson, Ariz. (Laura Segall / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Emergency personnel use a stretcher to move Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head outside a shopping center in Tucson on Saturday. (James Palka / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Ernie Freuler fights back tears as Ray Lilley takes photos of the scene outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head by a gunman who opened fire outside a grocery store, Saturday, Jan. 8, in Tucson, Ariz. (Chris Morrison / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A law enforcement officer stands outside the home of Jared L. Loughner, identified by federal officials as the suspect arrested in connection with the shooting of U.S Representative Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., Jan. 8. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. People gather for a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting in Arizona at the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Saturday Jan. 8. (Jose Luis Magana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Vera Rapcsak and others hold signs outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday after she was shot while meeting constituents. (Chris Morrison / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Emergency personnel attend to a shooting victim outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday, Jan. 8, where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others were shot as the congresswoman was meeting with constituents. Rep. Giffords, 40, a Democrat, took office in January 2007, emphasizing issues such as immigration reform, embryonic stem-cell research, alternative energy sources and a higher minimum wage. The gunman shot Giffords in the head, seriously wounding her, and killed six other people in a shooting rampage at a public meeting in Tucson on Saturday. Giffords was airlifted to a hospital in Tucson where she underwent surgery. One of the doctors who treated her said he was optimistic about her recovery. (James Palka / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. A woman places flowers by the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Capitol Hill in Washington on Saturday after she was shot in Tucson by a gunman who opened fire, killing six people, including a U.S. district judge, John M. Roll. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. In this photo provided by The White House, President Barack Obama talks with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer about the shooting. (Pete Souza / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Emergency personnel at the scene where Giffords and others were shot outside a Safeway grocery store in Tucson on Saturday. (Matt York / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Law enforcement personnel work the crime scene on Saturday. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A medical helicopter evacuates victims from the shooting scene. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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