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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

This is a moment when we should repeat an eternal truth of breaking news stories. Much of what we think we know, even facts that seem beyond dispute in the early going, turn out later to be suddenly different. We're totally wrong.

Today, hundreds of FBI agents are trying to establish what really went on in the life and the mind of the man accused of killing half a dozen people in Tucson, Arizona. The wounded included a member of Congress.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston is following their efforts. She's with us live.

Dina, good morning.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are investigators learning?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, you know, they're still very focused on motive. I mean the person who could shed the most light on what happened is the suspect Jared Loughner, himself. And he's in custody but he's not talking. So there are hundreds of these FBI agents who are basically having to piece together his life, without his help.

And usually in a case like this, they'll try to account for literally every day of a suspect's life, going back years. So they're looking for other associates, any indication that someone might have talked him into this shooting. Even though it appears he was caught red-handed, as you said, you know, in this case, he was tackled with a gun at the scene.

You know, a case has to be built. And it helps the prosecution if there actually is a motive found.

INSKEEP: And that motive rests somewhere in a mind that, by the indications we have so far, was in some way disturbed. Which does raise the question of how, even with hundreds of agents, you pin that down.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, and motive also has to do with, you know, the paper trail that you might leave behind, or evidence that they find. That's what they're looking for now. It's a basic shoe leather investigation.

You know, for example, we know that Loughner took math classes and literature classes at a local community college. So the FBI will interview every single person who was in class with him. Then they'll talk to the teacher. They'll talk to administrators. Campus police had contact with Loughner - the FBI will talk to them too. He tried to join the Army - they'll talk to the recruiter who talked to him.

These are all little clues that they might, you know, pull together in trying to understand what he might have been thinking, what might have led to this shooting.

You know, in some ways this investigation is easier than, say, the Timothy McVeigh case - the Oklahoma bomber case. Because, you know, Timothy McVeigh had been in the military and was all over the world. So agents were traveling all over the place to find every single person he'd been in contact with.

And it looks like Loughner, his circle is smaller. You know, he's just around the Tucson area. So the FBI has already searched his residence, where they allegedly they have found some menacing notes that were related to Giffords. They're searching his computer. They're getting phone records.

Basically, anybody who's had any contact with him in the past three to five years, they're trying to find him - find those people and find out what might have motivated him.

INSKEEP: No doubt, talking with people like that, community college teacher. We heard from that teacher. NPR's Michele Norris interviewed him earlier in the week, and he was describing disturbing writings that he had made while in class.

Now, these hundreds of agents, Dina, you described this as a Bureau Special or they describe it as a Bureau Special. What does that mean exactly?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, a Bureau Special is sort of all hands on deck. Just to give you an idea the numbers we are talking about. Back in 1979, the first federal judge to be assassinated in the U.S. was this judge called John Wood in Texas. And he was murdered outside his house. And the bureau had literally 500 agents working on the case for months.

You know, he was killed, as it turns out, by an organized crime figure named Charles Harrelson. And just as an aside, do you remember Woody Harrelson from "Cheers," the bartender?

INSKEEP: Oh, sure.

TEMPLE-RASTON: It was his dad who actually killed this judge. Anyway, this was an early Bureau Special. And now this Tucson case is the latest one.

INSKEEP: Now, you said that that took months to do that investigation. Does anybody have any idea how long it might take to have the fullest view possible of what really happened in Tucson, Arizona, and what the shooter was really thinking - the alleged shooter was really thinking?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, if you just look at phone records and follow up on those, I'm hearing from my sources that it could take days and weeks just to follow up on that. Then there could be, you know, Loughner using Internet cafes, or libraries, or Skype, and they have to get all those records. So this is going to take a long time to put together.

And they have to build a case, and then, of course, bring it before jury.

INSKEEP: Dina, thanks as always.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston this morning.

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