UPDATE: Gunman wounds congresswoman, kills six others

Suspect, 22, left trail of convoluted Internet postings

Published:

Updated: January 8, 2011, 4:17 PM

 

Lawmakers, aides urged to take safety precautions

The U.S. Capitol Police force is advising members of the House and their aides to "take reasonable and prudent precautions" about their own security in the wake of a congresswoman's shooting in Arizona.

In an e-mail obtained by The Associated Press, the Capitol Police say they are directly involved in the investigation of the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The notice says federal, state and local law enforcement authorities are involved in the investigation.

-The Associated Press

The Washington Post

TUCSON, Ariz. - The surgeon who operated on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., said he was “optimistic” she would recover from being shot in the head Saturday by a man with a semi-automatic weapon outside a grocery store.

Six others at the congressional outreach event did not.

Federal law enforcement sources said that John Roll, the senior U.S. district judge in Arizona, was shot and killed in the incident. The Pima County Sheriff’s Office said that five others including a 9-year-old child had died, and 18 people were injured.

Earlier in the afternoon, CNN and NPR reported that Giffords had died.

In brief public remarks, President Barack Obama said he had dispatched FBI director Robert Mueller to the scene.

“We do not yet have all the answers. What we do know is that such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society,” Obama said. “I ask all Americans to join me and Michelle in keeping Representative Giffords, the victims of this tragedy, and their families in our prayers.”

A 22-year-old man was taken into custody after being tackled by people in the small crowd after the shooting. A pistol was recovered, and it had what police described as “an extended clip.”

The man was identified as Jared Loughner, who appears to have left a trail of Internet postings, including some that express convoluted observations about government. Law enforcement officials said they believed he was a military veteran.

Giffords, who in November narrowly won re-election to a third term, was hosting a “Congress on Your Corner” event when a gunman ran up and began shooting her and others in her entourage with a Glock handgun, according to law enforcement sources.

Eyewitness Steven Rayle, a Tucson doctor, said he saw a young man approach Giffords with a semi-automatic handgun raised. The man shot Giffords once in the face, he said.

After Giffords fell, he said, a number of people near Giffords sought to flee but were trapped, hemmed in by the table and a concrete post. The gunman fired into the crowd, he said.

“It was so close, and sort of a tight thing, there was nowhere easy to run,” Rayle said. “So most of the crowd got it, you know.”

“People that were there were just sitting ducks,” Rayle said. “I don’t think he was even aiming. He was just firing at whatever.”

After a few seconds, Rayle said, the man stopped shooting and tried to flee.

Last March, Giffords was one of 10 House Democrats who were the subject of harassment over their support for the national health care overhaul. The front door of Giffords’ Tucson office was shattered in an early morning incident.

Giffords had been a top target of Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections, but managed to win a tough re-election battle against a candidate backed by the tea party movement.

The lawmaker, known as a moderate Democrat who paid close attention to constituent concerns, had been singled out by Sarah Palin’s SarahPac as one of the 20 Democrats on the ballot in November who represented states that supported Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for president in 2008.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement saying: “I am horrified by the senseless attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. . . . An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society.”

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement that “Congresswoman Giffords is a brilliant and courageous member of Congress, bringing to Washington the views of a new generation of national leaders. It is especially tragic that she was attacked as she was meeting with her constituents whom she serves with such dedication and distinction.”

NPR reported that Giffords was talking to a couple outside a local Safeway grocery when the suspect ran up and fired indiscriminately from about four feet away. The man, described by witnesses as in his late teens or early 20s, was tackled when he tried to flee the scene. Police confirmed that a young man was in custody in connection with the shooting.

The “Congress on Your Corner” program was popular among Democrats elected in recent years from swing districts, as a way of keeping in regular contact with local concerns. The event was the first of Giffords’ third term; she took the oath of office for the 112th Congress on Tuesday.

Giffords is a member of the House Blue Dog Democrat coalition, a bloc of moderate and conservative Democrats whose ranks were ravaged by losses in November. Her husband is astronaut Mark Kelly.

Her 8th Congressional District borders Mexico, and Giffords was judicious in her response to the Arizona immigration law, describing it as a signal that “the federal government needs to do a better job.”

This was not the first time someone had brought a gun to a Giffords event. Police were alerted in August after a protester at a Congress on Your Corner event in Douglas dropped the firearm.

“When you represent a district that includes the home of the O.K. Corral and Tombstone, ‘the town too tough to die,’ nothing’s a surprise out in Cochise County,” Giffords said Tuesday in an interview with The Arizona Republic Editorial Board.

The man in question shouted “some pretty disparaging comments,” Giffords said, but “at no point did I ever feel in danger and at no point did I ever feel there was a problem.”

Giffords is a former Arizona state senate and house member who had previously served as president of a tire company founded by her father. She was a top recruit in 2006 by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Rahm Emanuel, viewed as the type of young, middle-of-the-road candidate with crossover appeal. She is a Spanish speaker whose hobbies include motorcycle racing.

Giffords beat a crowded Democratic primary field in 2006, and won 54 percent of the vote in the general election against immigration opponent Randy Graf, to succeed retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz. She easily won re-election in 2008.

But a new Arizona law allowing local police to aggressively pursue suspected undocumented immigrants became a defining issue in Giffords’ campaign last year. She denounced the law as “extreme” and has supported legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrations. But she supported a Republican effort to add National Guard troops along the border, and opposed a crusade led by her home-state colleague Rep. Raul Grijalva, D, to boycott Arizona businesses in protest of the state law.

Known to her colleagues as Gabby, Giffords was sworn in for a third term Wednesday after a grueling campaign that she won with less than 50 percent of the vote, and by fewer than 4,000 votes.

Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this story.