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.
Additionally, three of Giffords’ aides were also involved in the attack, including Gabe Zimmerman, her outreach director. The 30-year-old Zimmerman, who had recently become engaged, died from his wounds.
According to Congressional sources, the other two aides injured are District Director Ron Barber and caseworker Pam Simon. Barber and Simon were both expected to fully recover.
Chief Judge John Roll of the U.S. District Court for Arizona was also shot and killed, according to numerous sources. While presiding over an immigration case in 2009, Roll received death threats and he testified before Congress in 2006 regarding the issue of illegal immigration.
According to court records, Loughner was arrested October 17, 2008, on unspecified criminal charges. Although what he was charged with remains unknown, a source familiar with the Marana County legal system said that in the case of misdemeanor offenses, city prosecutors will opt to dismiss the charges if the defendant agrees to participate in a “diversion” program, which they did in this case. Those programs can include community service, rehabilitation or a fine.
Whatever the charge — and type of diversion program Loughner received — the court records show that he completed it March 4, 2009.
Meanwhile, local officials were taking steps to ensure the safety of other lawmakers from the region.
Tucson Chief of Police Roberto Villaseñor said that his office had secured the homes and offices of other Congressmen in the area.
“We did that as a precautionary measure,” Villaseñor said.
President Barack Obama announced Saturday that FBI Director Robert Mueller was traveling to Arizona to oversee the investigation.
Giffords is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democrat Coalition. Although a moderate, she was listed on former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R) “hit list” of Members whom Palin wanted defeated in 2010. Giffords’ office was vandalized during the health care debate by opponents of the reforms.
Giffords’ work on border issues, particularly drug trafficking, has also made her an enemy of the violent Mexican drug cartels. For instance, Giffords has worked on legislation designed to limit the cartels’ ability to smuggle money into the country using gift cards. Although typically used to provide small monetary gifts on temporary credit cards, the cards have been loaded with millions of dollars by cartels and then moved across the border to launder their funds, the aide said.
Around 5 p.m. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) and two staffers came to Giffords’ office carrying food for those gathered inside. A few moments later, a woman who would not give her name left a second bouquet of flowers in front of the Arizona Democrat’s office.
In 2009 an unidentified man brought a gun to a similar Congress on the Corner meeting at a Douglas, Ariz., Safeway.
Officer Marcus Gonzalez told Talking Points Memo at the time that the man had brought the weapon with him in a holster and that when he sat down, it fell out and onto the ground. Police did not file a report because they deemed it an accident.
Giffords is married to Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, who is also an astronaut scheduled to make a space shuttle mission in April.
Late Saturday afternoon, CNN was reporting that Loughner of the Tucson area had been detained in association with the attack and that a weapon had been recovered.
Loughner, 22, does not have a serious police record beyond a handful of traffic violations. A source familiar with Loughner’s record also said he had been detained in 2009 by police for unknown reasons and that charges were never filed against him.
Little is known at this point about Loughner. However, a YouTube channel that purports to be Loughner’s included rhetoric about immigration and “big government.”
Last summer Arizona joined Vermont and Alaska as being the only states in the nation that do not require a permit to carry a concealed weapon. MSNBC has reported that Loughner used a 9mm Glock in his attack.
Although much of Arizona is rural like both Alaska and Vermont, it also has a much larger population thanks to urban areas like Tucson and Phoenix. Gun control activists last year raised concerns about lifting the permit rules to carry concealed weapons, particularly in urban areas.
Additionally, the social networking site Myspace also included a page — since removed — that purportedly belonged to Loughner. Screen captures of the site show a photo of a U.S. history text book with what appears to be a 9mm Glock lying on top of it.