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In AZ Attack’s Wake, Political Repercussions
email this pageprint this pageemail usMarc Lacey & David M. Herszenhorn - New York Times
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January 09, 2011

Emergency personnel used a stretcher to carry Representative Gabrielle Giffords outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday. (James Palka/Associated Press)
Tucson — Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, and at least 17 others were shot Saturday morning when a gunman opened fire outside a supermarket where Ms. Giffords was meeting with constituents.

Six of the victims died, among them John M. Roll, the chief judge for the United States District Court for Arizona, and a 9-year-old girl, the Pima County sheriff, Clarence W. Dupnik, said.

Ms. Giffords, 40, whom the authorities called the target of the attack, was in critical condition Sunday morning at the University Medical Center in Tucson, where she was operated on by a team of neurosurgeons on Saturday. Dr. Peter Rhee, medical director of the hospital’s trauma and critical care unit, said Saturday that she had been shot once in the head, “through and through,” with the bullet going through her brain.

President Obama, speaking at the White House, confirmed that a suspect was in custody and said that the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, was on his way to Arizona to oversee the investigation.

Investigators identified the gunman as Jared Lee Loughner, 22, and said that he was refusing to cooperate with the authorities and had invoked his Fifth Amendment rights. Mr. Loughner was in custody with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Saturday night, the Pima Country sheriff’s office said.

Mr. Loughner had exhibited increasingly strange behavior in recent months, including ominous Internet postings — at least one showing a gun — and a series of videos in which he made disjointed statements on topics like the gold standard and mind control.

Pima Community College said he had been suspended for conduct violations and withdrew in October after five instances of classroom or library disruptions that involved the campus police.

The authorities were seen entering the Loughner family house about five miles from the shooting scene. Investigators said they were looking for a possible accomplice, believed to be in his 50s.

The shootings raised questions about potential political motives, and Sheriff Dupnik blamed the toxic political environment in Arizona. There were immediate national reverberations as Democrats denounced the fierce partisan atmosphere in Ms. Gifford’s district and top Republicans quickly condemned the violence.

Mark Kimble, an aide to Ms. Giffords, said the shooting occurred about 10 a.m. in a small area between an American flag and an Arizona flag. He said that he went into the store for coffee, and that as he came out the gunman started firing.

Ms. Giffords had been talking to a couple about Medicare and reimbursements, and Judge Roll had just walked up to her and shouted “Hi,” when the gunman, wearing sunglasses and perhaps a hood of some sort, approached and shot the judge, Mr. Kimble said. “Everyone hit the ground,” he said. “It was so shocking.”

The United States Capitol Police, which is investigating the attack, cautioned lawmakers “to take reasonable and prudent precautions regarding their personal security.”

Because of the shootings, House Republicans postponed all legislation to be considered on the floor this week, including a vote to repeal the health care overhaul. The House majority leader, Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, said lawmakers needed to “take whatever actions may be necessary in light of today’s tragedy.”

Speaking of Ms. Giffords’s condition, Dr. Rhee said at a news conference, “I can tell you at this time, I am very optimistic about her recovery.” He added, “We cannot tell what kind of recovery, but I’m as optimistic as it can get in this kind of situation.”

Ms. Giffords remained unconscious on Saturday night, said her spokesman, C. J. Karamargin.

Several aides to Ms. Giffords were wounded, and her director of community outreach, Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, was among those killed. The girl who died was identified as Christina Green, a third grader. The others killed were Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79.

Ms. Giffords, who represents the Eighth District, in the southeastern corner of Arizona, has been an outspoken critic of the state’s tough immigration law, which is focused on identifying, prosecuting and deporting illegal immigrants, and she had come under criticism for her vote in favor of the health care law.

Friends said she had received threats over the years. Judge Roll had been involved in immigration cases and had received death threats.

The police said Ms. Giffords’s district office was evacuated late Saturday after a suspicious package was found. Officers later cleared the scene.

Ms. Giffords, widely known as Gabby, had been speaking to constituents in a store alcove under a large white banner bearing her name when a man surged forward and began firing. He tried to escape but was tackled by a bystander and taken into custody by the police. The event, called “Congress on Your Corner,” was outside a Safeway supermarket northwest of Tucson and was the first opportunity for constituents to meet with Ms. Giffords since she was sworn in for a third term on Wednesday.

Ms. Giffords was part of the Democratic class of 2006 that swept Democrats into the majority in the House. She narrowly won re-election in November, while many fellow Democrats were toppled and the House turned to Republican control.

“I saw the congresswoman talking to two people, and then this man suddenly came up and shot her in the head and then shot other people,” said Dr. Steven Rayle, a witness to the shootings. “I think it was a semiautomatic, and he must have got off 20 rounds.”

Dr. Rayle said that Ms. Giffords slumped to the ground and that staff members immediately rushed to her aid. “A staffer had his arm around her, and she was leaning against the window of the Safeway,” the doctor said. “He had a jacket or towel on her head.”

At least one of the other shooting victims helped Ms. Giffords, witnesses said.

Television broadcasts showed a chaotic scene outside a normally tranquil suburban shopping spot as emergency workers rushed to carry the wounded away in stretchers. Some of the victims were taken from the site by helicopter, three of which had arrived.

Law enforcement officials said that the congresswoman had received numerous threats.

Congressional leaders of both parties issued statements throughout the day expressing outrage at the shooting as well as concern and prayers for Ms. Giffords and her family.

The new House speaker, John A. Boehner, said: “I am horrified by the senseless attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and members of her staff. 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. Our prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords, her staff, all who were injured and their families. This is a sad day for our country.”

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, issued one of the strongest statements, saying: “I am horrified by the violent attack on Representative Gabrielle Giffords and many other innocent people by a wicked person who has no sense of justice or compassion. I pray for Gabby and the other victims, and for the repose of the souls of the dead and comfort for their families.”

He added, “Whoever did this, whatever their reason, they are a disgrace to Arizona, this country and the human race.”

Ms. Giffords is a centrist Democrat who won re-election in part by stressing her strong support for gun rights and for tougher immigration controls, including tighter border security, even though she opposed the controversial Arizona law.

Last March, after the final approval of the Democrats’ health care law, which Ms. Giffords supported, the windows of her office in Tucson were broken or shot out in an act of vandalism. Similar acts were reported by other members of Congress.

In August 2009, when there were demonstrations against the health care measure across the nation, a protester who showed up to meet Ms. Giffords at a supermarket event similar to Saturday’s was removed by the police when the pistol he had holstered under his armpit fell and bounced on the floor.

In an interview at the Capitol this week, Ms. Giffords said she was excited to count herself among the Democrats who joined the new Republican majority in reading the Constitution aloud from the House floor. She said she was particularly pleased with being assigned the reading of the First Amendment.

“I wanted to be here,” she said. “I think it’s important. Reflecting on the Constitution in a bipartisan way is a good way to start the year.”

As a Democrat, Ms. Giffords is something of anomaly in Arizona and in her district, which has traditionally tilted Republican. Last year, she barely squeaked to victory over a Republican challenger, Jesse Kelly. But she had clearly heard the message that constituents were dissatisfied with Democratic leaders in Washington.

At the Capitol last week, Ms. Giffords refused to support the outgoing Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, in her symbolic contest with the Republican, Mr. Boehner of Ohio. Instead, she cast her vote for Representative John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and hero of the civil rights movement.

“It’s not surprising that today Gabby was doing what she always does: listening to the hopes and concerns of her neighbors,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference Saturday, calling her a “friend of mine” and an “extraordinary public servant.” “I know Gabby is as tough as they come,” he said. “Obviously, our hearts go out to the family members of those who have been slain.” “We’re going to get to the bottom of this, and we’re going to get through this,” he said.

The shooting mobilized officials at the White House and throughout the highest levels of government, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department.

Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, who in 2007 officiated at the wedding of Ms. Giffords and the astronaut Mark E. Kelly, and leads Congregation Chaverim in Tucson, said the congresswoman had never expressed any concern about her safety. “No fear. I’ve only seen the bravest possible, most intelligent young congresswoman,” Rabbi Aaron said. “I feel like this is really one of those proverbial — seemingly something coming out of nowhere.”

At Ms. Giffords’s district office, a group of about 50 people formed a prayer circle. Chris Cole, a Tucson police officer whose neighborhood beat includes the district office, said of the shooting, “This kind of thing just doesn’t happen in Tucson.”

Behind the office, in the parking lot, campaign volunteers stood around a car with the door open, listening to a live radio broadcast of a hospital news conference updating the congresswoman’s condition. A cheer went up when it was announced that she was still alive.

The volunteers included Kelly Canady and her mother, Patricia Canady, both longtime campaign workers. Patricia Canedy had worked for Ms. Giffords since she served in the State Senate while Kelly, her daughter, moved to Tucson 13 years ago and was active in last year’s campaign and in the health care debate.

“She’s one of those people who remembers you. She always spoke to me by my first name,” Kelly Canady said. “She loved everybody. She was very easy to talk to. She was one of the main reasons I will stay involved in politics.”

Marc Lacey reported from Tucson, and David M. Herszenhorn from Washington. Reporting for the Arizona shooting coverage was contributed by Emmarie Huetteman, Janie Lorber, Michael D. Shear and Ashley Southall from Washington; Lisa M. Button, Ford Burkhart, Devlin Houser, Ron Nixon, Nancy Sharkey and Joe Sharkey from Tucson; J. David Goodman and Sarah Wheaton from New York; and Kitty Bennett from Tampa, Fla.

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