Jared Loughner Case Shows Parental Duty Doesn’t End at 18

Jared Loughner’s parents are devastated. That’s what a neighbor told a reporter, adding that they think they failed as parents, but the helpful neighbor reassured them that they had not. That’s about where I stopped reading the article because I could not disagree more.

All of the parental love in the world cannot cure mental illness. Blaming the parents for anything that may be biologically amiss with this kid is like blaming them for his eye color: it just happens. Yet, beyond that, Jared Loughner gave reason for concern and it’s not clear that his parents took action. He’s an adult and responsible for his actions, but not only did he live at home and make his rants public on the Internet, he owned weapons, and his behavior was troubling enough that even though Jared is technically an adult, his parents were called in for a meeting at his former community college. The community college thought his problems were serious enough to inform his parents, but from reports, nothing came of that warning.

As time moves on, more information will come out about the home and environment in which Jared Loughner was raised, but early reports show it may have been far from rainbows and sunshine. The family seemed to be loners, those quoted as Jared’s friends in media reports imply family strife and heavy drinking, Jared’s father may not have been employed for some time. Jared was not living on his own where the warning signs may have been easier to hide. At what point are parents to blame for actions that may have resulted from a dysfunctional home? Jared took his problems outside of the home and caused horrible devastation to many families, and he alone should face the criminal punishment, but his parents shouldn’t necessarily be told that they did what they could and not to bear any blame.

Since the horrific attack in Tucson, I’ve been scanning the stories, waiting to read about any reaction from the Loughner family. I did the same after John Gardener – who had also been living with his parents – was arrested for killing high school student Chelsea King. Violent actions just don’t happen. There are clues and hints. Gardener was a known sex offender. His parents knew that, and while legally they weren’t liable in the case because he committed the crimes, and even if they knew he was breaking the law by going unregistered, it was his responsibility to do so, not theirs. Still, they brought him into a neighborhood and failed to warn those around them. It’s the opposite of a neighborhood watch program.

The Loughners were told last year that Jared needed a psychiatric evaluation. That’s a big, red flashing warning sign that appears to have been ignored. Did they exhaust mental health resources trying to get him help? Did they seek any help? Was getting help difficult due to financial constraints? Or did they label it a phase, and push it aside without action? Hey, he’s just a 22 year old kid trying to find his way, right?

The answers to these questions may never come as there are only three people who know what life was really like inside the Loughner home. From the outside, it looks like a very different environment than the warm home of nine-year-old Christina Green. It’s a tragedy that their worlds had to collide.

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  1. January 15, 2011
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