Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was the intended target of a shooting Saturday afternoon in Tucson, Ariz., that left six dead and 14 more, including Giffords, injured, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said in a news conference.
Dupnik also said police are searching for a second “person of interest” in the deadly attack. Although Dupnik said that the second person was not believed to have been a shooter, he confirmed police “have a person we are in active pursuit of” whom he described as a white male in his 50s.
Dupnik said the suspect who is in custody — 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner — has not provided police with a motive behind his attack.
Loughner attacked Giffords during a “Congress on the Corner” event at about 10 a.m. Mountain time, firing a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol into the crowd. Giffords, 40, was hit in the head and was rushed to the University Medical Center in Tucson along with other victims of the attack.
Dupnik said that while little is known about why Loughner attacked, Giffords “was the target” and lambasted the nation’s increasingly heated rhetoric as a contributing factor.
“When you look at unbalanced people and how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government the anger, the hatred the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous,” he said.
Dupnik also said that Arizona has “become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”
Doctors at the University Medical Center in Tucson announced on Saturday afternoon that Giffords was in critical condition but that they were optimistic about her chances of recovery.
A surgeon involved in the case told reporters Saturday afternoon that Giffords had been shot in the head and that the bullet had passed completely through. Despite initial reports that Giffords had died, the surgeon confirmed that “the Congresswoman is not deceased” and that he is “very optimistic about [her] recovery.”
Although Giffords, 40, was heavily sedated, the surgeon also indicated that following neurosurgery Giffords was able to respond to commands.
According to police, a single gunman approached the lawmaker and a group of people during the event and began firing. A hospital official had previously said that four people had died, and the doctor said a small child died at the hospital from her injuries.
According to the Arizona Republic, the child who was killed during the attack was 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green. Green’s uncle told the paper that a neighbor of the family took Christina to the event in part because the girl had recently been elected to the student council of her school.
“The next thing you know this happened. How do you prepare for something like this? My little niece got killed — took one on the chest and she is dead,” Greg Segalini told the paper.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.