Yesterday, Jared Loughner, the 24-year-old man who murdered six people and injured 13 including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Az.) was sentenced to life imprisonment and spared a death sentence for being a hopeless nutcase. In the courthouse yesterday, some his victims confronted Jared for the first time, including Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. They shamed him with their tales of suffering, and Kelly said that his wife engaged in "quite the staring contest" with the man who put a bullet in her brain. Jared said nothing.
Soon after Loughner was arrested, reporters and investigators found easy evidence that his killing spree was premeditated. Therapists, teachers and classmates at the Tucson community college Loughner attended knew he was deranged beyond repair and something really bad was inevitable. They waited, it happened, and six people died, including a 9-year-old girl.
A few weeks after Loughner showed up to the supermarket parking lot rally and blasted away, his Gmail account was hacked. It was not done by a sophisticated web terrorist, but by a curious voyeur who wanted to see if "email@example.com" was still active. The password was easy- his dog's name-and then it appeared. After being contacted by a second-hand source in possession of the material, I decided to purchase them. Most of his inbox was inconsequential and unrevealing -a resume, gym membership notifications, a crude stick figure drawing (seen in the page break) spam and other innocuous correspondence you'd find in many dormant email accounts. But there was more.
The most interesting interactions Jared had were with himself, most of which were saved in a draft folder. Inside there were his dream logs, a pivotal part of the investigation which not many have seen. Loughner's interest in lucid dreaming was well publicized and some news orgs speculated that maybe, perhaps, Loughner thought killing all those people that day was all just a dream. In one email, Loughner reached out to a man named Ryan Hurd, proprietor of Dreamstudies.orgl:
From: Jared Loughner
Date: Fri, Feb 6, 2009 at 3:31 AM
Subject: Lucid dreams
I read your knol and visited your website. I liked the Dream Herb
section of your website. What do yo think about melatonin? How long
have you been studying lucid dreaming?
I enjoyed the knol because of the history and was well wrote.
I contacted Hurd last night to see if he remembered the correspondence. He did not, instead he laughed - the type of holy-shit laugh that happens when it turns out a mass murderer had emailed you for dream advice. He requested I send him the email so he could check to see if he wrote Jared back. This was his response:
[Y]eah, turns out I did reply to his email a few days later. Wow, that was a chilling surprise to find in my inbox.
I basically told him that I've never tried melatonin and I am always a little wary with experimenting with things that directly affect your neurotransmitters, but that it's considered safe in low doses.
[P]retty wild. His request was so routine, polite and sensible —never would have noticed this correspondence without your call. This was some 18 months before the shooting, I guess, so it makes sense that I never would have noticed.
As a dream researcher and educator, you just hope your work helps people. I teach lucid dreaming from a holistic perspective and take pains to make sure people understand that an important prerequisite to lucid dreaming is having a safe container — a social network, a stable homelife, good friends to talk to — because lucid dreaming can be intense and sometimes bring up fears and challenges. I take lucid dreaming more seriously than a lot of people who use it to control the dream and "do whatever you want." For me, lucid dreaming is part of a spiritual life practice: it's more about listening to the dream than telling it what to do.
More to the point as we talked about on the phone, lucid dreaming is not a cause of mental illness, most likely it is a symptom that goes along with the changes occurring in the sleep/wake cycle. We know that lucid dreaming can be caused by stress (over-vigilance), and we also know that those suffering from trauma can have lucid nightmares. But even though lucid dreaming isn't a slippery slope to mental illness, but that doesn't mean that those suffering with mental illness can't have lucid dreams. That's the logical fallacy that keeps getting re-inserted in the media.
Gabrielle Giffords was mentioned several times in Loughner's journals, even back in 2009. Here is a sampling of some of the other dreams he had more than year before he finally snapped:
[Image by Jim Cooke]