Former Teacher On Accused Shooter

Ben McGahee had Jared Loughner, the alleged gunman whose shooting rampage on Saturday killed six people and wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, as a student last June in a basic algebra class at Pima Community College. He shares his view of the alleged gunman.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

We're gradually learning more about Jared Loughner from former teachers, classmates and friends. One of them is Ben McGahee. He taught Loughner in a basic algebra class at Pima Community College in Tucson, and he joins us now by phone from his home.

Thank you so much for making time for us.

Professor BEN McGAHEE (Math, Pima Community College): You're welcome.

NORRIS: What do you remember about Jared Loughner?

Prof. McGAHEE: Well, he seemed like a normal guy, you know, just walking in, until he started to kind of misbehave, and he seemed like he's under the influence of drugs, like he was red in the face. He was smiling very big, like he was high on something, and certain body parts were shaking or trembling.

NORRIS: You said he would misbehave in class. What would he do?

Prof. McGAHEE: Right, yeah. He would come out with these senseless outbursts. It's like he would say like how can you deny math instead of accepting it?

NORRIS: Was he aggressive or loud when he was saying these things?

Prof. McGAHEE: No, he was not very loud or anything, and he didn't show any signs of violence, just random outbursts. He even wrote a few scribblings on the quiz. One thing in particular, he wrote what was called a mayhem fest. When I saw that on the quiz, you know, I became very concerned for the safety of our students in the classroom and for the school as well.

NORRIS: Just those words, mayhem fest?

Prof. McGAHEE: Right. And it was written in bold capital print, written in pencil and three exclamation points, along with some other random sketches or scribblings on the margins of the paper.

NORRIS: How did you handle a student like that?

Prof. McGAHEE: I mean, it was challenging. You know, you didn't know the next day at class if he was going to bring a weapon, and he was going to try to end everybody's lives. One of the students, she was scared for her life after her first day, and she told me that personally after class. It got me concerned that every time I looked at him with a stern look and even when I wrote on the whiteboard, I would keep a lookout the corner of my eye just to keep close surveillance on him and make sure he was not doing anything unusual or pulling out a weapon out of his bag or anything to hurt anyone.

NORRIS: What did you do about this? Is there a protocol at your school for reporting students that you worry might turn violent?

Prof. McGAHEE: Yes. There is a specific protocol. We need to contact either the counselor or the dean immediately, so I decided to follow it and do that.

NORRIS: Was there anything that he said in the classroom that somehow expressed his political views or things that he might have been angry about?

Prof. McGAHEE: The day we got everybody from class, he said that it violated his rights of free speech. And he had pointed to the Constitution on the wall, and, yeah, I told him I'm not violating your free speech. It's just that your free speech is limited in class because you can't just say any kind of random stuff. It has to be math related. And if you say anything that's irrelevant to class or disrupting class, I have to ask you to leave.

NORRIS: And did he leave?

Prof. McGAHEE: He eventually was removed from the class after the third or fourth week. With the help of the counselor and the dean, he was not to return to the campus, again, either.

NORRIS: We have to be very careful here because there's still much that is not known. But when you look back at how this case was handled and your concerns about him in your classroom, was there a failure of any kind to follow through on this case to make sure that authorities knew that this was someone who might pose a danger at some point?

Prof. McGAHEE: I don't think there was a failure as far as the community college goes. I think that we did a pretty good job, you know, the counselors and the dean and myself got involved and working as a team to remove him from class. Maybe, he could have been removed a little bit earlier, but, you know, that's (unintelligible) how it goes at the school so I think being a community college that's the best they could.

NORRIS: Ben McGahee, thank you very much for making time and talk to us.

Prof. McGAHEE: Oh, you're welcome.

NORRIS: Ben McGahee taught Jared Loughner at Pima Community College in Tucson. The college declined our request for an interview, citing privacy regulations and the ongoing investigation.

In a statement on Saturday, it described the suspension of Jared Loughner last year. After he agreed to leave the school, the college said it sent a letter indicating that if he wanted to return, he would have to present a clearance from a mental health professional that he, quote, "does not present a danger to himself or others."

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