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College asked ATF about Loughner before rampage

Updated at 11:58 p.m. ET

PHOENIX - Nearly three months before the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that left six people dead and 13 wounded, an Arizona college campus' police department asked a federal agency if Jared Lee Loughner had a gun.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told Pima Community College it didn't have any information on Loughner, the man charged in the January rampage.

The inquiry came to light from the trove of emails released by the college Thursday after The Arizona Republic sued the college for withholding some records mentioning Loughner.

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The emails paint a portrait of school administrators trying to deal with a student whose behavior they described as "bizarre" and "intimidating" -- he had at least four contacts with campus police and was described as laughing and ranting inappropriately -- but who did not act in an overtly violent or threatening way.

"Really at this point, I'd like to do everything that we can to have him removed from the class," writing teacher Steven Salmoni wrote to a school official about Loughner. "I think his presence alone is interfering with the kind of environment that I'm trying to foster."

The same email made reference to a student who wrote in February 2010 that she thought she saw Loughner place a pocket knife on his desk in a class.

"It was just a little alarming, especially since I have been observing the way he carries himself," wrote the student, whose name was withheld by the school.

Loughner, 22, had five run-ins with campus police for disruptions in class that left at least one teacher fearful and had officers discussing his mental stability. He was told in October to get a mental health evaluation or not return.

A campus police officer wanted to expel Loughner after he caused an outburst in a math class in June 2010, but a dean said she wasn't ready to do so and expressed concerns about Loughner's due-process rights.

The apparent final straw was a Sept. 23, 2010, disturbance by Loughner. Campus police records say a teacher asked an officer to meet her outside her classroom to deal with Loughner because he was "being verbal disruptive." They do not elaborate on what Loughner allegedly did.

In related emails, a dean said the matter needed quick attention, while another school official wrote that campus police were looking into Loughner's background.

Loughner drew the attention of college officials again when he caused a disturbance in a math class on June 1, 2010. The teacher said Loughner appeared to be under the influence of drugs. The next day, counselor DeLisa Siddall met with Loughner.

Loughner told Siddall he felt he was being "scammed" in class and was scared that his freedom-of-speech rights were being jeopardized. He also complained about having been removed from the class the day before.

The counselor asked Loughner about the questions he asked during the disturbance. "He said, `My instructor said he called a number 6 and said I call it 18.' He also asked the instructor to explain, `How can you deny math instead of accept it."'

Loughner told Siddall he wanted to remain in the class and would stop asking the teacher questions. He also showed proof he was doing the assignments. Siddall says in an email to the math teacher and others that because Loughner said he would remain silent, she had no grounds to remove him.

He returned to the class after their meeting without incident. But the following day, he exhibited intimidating behavior including staring at the teacher and some classmates with an "evil" smile and laughing inappropriately at a remark the instructor made, according to the documents.

Pima Community College Dean Patricia Houston said in an email that a campus police officer wanted to expel Loughner, but Houston said she wasn't ready to do that and more investigation was needed.

"It is a matter of balancing the disruptive student's right to due process with the rights of the other students in the class," Houston wrote.

Houston and other administrators decided to let Loughner return to class but to take him aside and talk to him again. But this time, they planned to have an officer nearby.

In his ruling, Pima County Superior Court Judge Stephen Villarreal rejected the college's argument that the emails were part of Loughner's official school record and protected from disclosure under a federal privacy law.

Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 federal charges stemming from the Jan. 8 shootings at a meet-and-greet event outside a Tucson supermarket. A 9-year-old girl and a federal judge were among those killed in the rampage. Giffords survived a bullet wound to the head and is undergoing rehabilitation at a Houston hospital.

The emails were outside the scope of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which requires schools to protect specific student information such as grades and transcripts or risk losing federal funding, Villareal said. The federal law applies only to official education documents maintained by the college, such as transcripts kept in a permanent student file, he said.

Last month, the college released thousands of pages of emails sent to and from college faculty, students and staff in the days after the shootings. However, many of those emails were partly or wholly redacted.

College chancellor Roy Flores on Wednesday said the college wouldn't challenge the latest ruling and could release the emails later this week.

Villareal made his decision after privately reviewing the 255 emails. The judge is still weighing whether to release additional documents about Loughner that the college provided to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Loughner was returned to a federal prison facility in Tucson late last month after spending five weeks at a Bureau of Prisons facility in Missouri, where he underwent mental exams. A mental competency hearing is scheduled Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tucson.

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