The Tucson Shooting: Descent Into Madness

Scott Pelley Talks To Jared Loughner's Friends, Classmates and Ex-Secret Service

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If you think what happened in Tucson is incomprehensible, you're about to meet people who understand the madness behind a massacre. The United States Secret Service has studied 83 assassins and would-be assassins, and it has found remarkable similarities among them.

As you see what we've learned about the accused Tucson gunman, notice how he fits what the Secret Service discovered. The horrific loss of innocent life seemed to come from nowhere. But it appears Jared Loughner followed a well-worn path on his final descent into madness.

The Secret Service & An Assassin's Mind
A decade of "60 Minutes" reporting on the definitive Secret Service study, the best tool for understanding the Arizona shooting spree.

Descent Into Madness
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Extra: Loughner and "Lucid Dreaming"
Extra: The College Police Chief

In the hours before the massacre, Loughner was busy wrapping up his troubled life. At a drug store, just before midnight, he dropped off a roll of film - pictures he shot of himself posing with his gun. Then he checked in to a motel two miles from his home and his parents.

At 2 a.m., the moon was out, it was a little above freezing, and life as he knew it would be over in about eight hours.

He seemed upset as he said his goodbyes. It appears he made one call to Bryce Tierney, a close friend. That call, at 2:05 a.m. went unanswered, so Loughner left this brief message: "Hey. Hey it's Jared. I just want to tell you 'good times.' Peace out. Later."

"Peace out" is slang these days for goodbye.

"There's this heavy sigh at the end," correspondent Scott Pelley remarked.

"It was all in past tense. And it sort of bothered me how he said 'We've had good times,'" Tierney replied.

Tierney heard his cell phone ring at 2:05 a.m., but instead of a number, his screen said "restricted" so he didn't pick up. "I was afraid I was going to wake up and find and see his name in an obituary in a couple of days," he told Pelley.

Tierney and Tyler Conway met Loughner in high school and hung out with him four or five times a week.

"Up until he was about 19 or 20 he was always, you know, pretty enthusiastic, pretty passionate. He was always quiet but you could see that there was that passion in him. He did care, he was happy. He was always an observer and especially around the time he started getting mentally ill," Conway said.

We don't know what was happening to Loughner and a lot of what you're about to hear isn't going to make sense. But Tierney and Conway say that's because their friend was slipping into insanity and it was showing up in the poetry he wrote.

"I started seeing heavy influence of just chaos and just non-connective patterning in his, in his poetry. Just ranting or mixing of ideas," Conway explained.

"Did you ask him what he was driving at, what he was thinking?" Pelley asked.

"Oh, yeah," Conway replied. "And I told him, I was like, 'Like, because I read it and I just don't find, I find nothing. It's like nothingness to me and he was like, 'Exactly!' You know, that's where the meaning is. He, people are gonna say he doesn't believe in anything but it's not that he doesn't believe in anything he literally believes in nothing, nothingness."

Tierney and Conway told "60 Minutes" Loughner was interested in a philosophy called nihilism; it essentially says life is meaningless. They say he was obsessed with the film "Waking Life" in which a man walks through his dreams listening to various philosophies.

A character in the film echoes something at the center of Loughner's apparent delusions: that big government and media conspire to silence the average guy.

To protest his lack of voice, the character in the film sets himself on fire.

Loughner told his friends reality has no more substance than dreams.

"He was obsessed with how words were meaningless, you know, you could say 'This is a cup.' And he'd be like, 'Is it a cup or is it a pool? Is it a shark? Is it, you know, an airplane?' You know?" Conway said.