FINAL UPDATE: 8:44 PM EST
Police: Suspect may not have acted alone, arrived at store with someone else
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot Saturday during a public event outside a Tucson, Arizona grocery store.
Local law enforcement initially said she was killed in the attack, according to NPR and CNN, but moments after those reports a surgeon on the scene told MSNBC that she was still alive but in critical condition. CNN later redacted its report, as did Raw Story.
“We just heard that she is responding to commands. She made it through surgery,” Linda Lopez, Arizona state senator, told FoxNews.
Giffords is expected to live, according to Tucson’s deputy city manager, MSNBC reported.
She was among 19 people shot, including a federal judge, by alleged gunman Jared Loughner, 22, according to Pima County Sheriff’s Dept. So far, six have died from wounds sustained in the sudden attack, according to published reports.
During a mid-afternoon hospital press conference, a surgeon confirmed that 10 people were brought to the hospital, five were in critical condition; five went in for operations. Four of the victims are listed in stable condition.
The doctor said he was “very optimistic” about Giffords’ recovery. He explained that she was shot through the brain. One person – a nine-year-old child – died, he added.
US District Court Judge John M. Roll reportedly died in the incident; his reason for attendance is unclear at this time. An aide to Giffords was also reported dead.
The Tucson Citizen reported that she’d been shot point-blank in the head with a pistol with extended magazine. Giffords had been staging a “Congress on Your Corner” event outside a Safeway grocery store. Members of Giffords staff were among those reportedly injured.
The suspect – Jared Loughner – was described by witnesses as a young man in his late teens or early 20s who looked like a “fringe character.” He reportedly made his way behind her and shot her at very close range. He has been taken into custody after losing ammunition and detained by Giffords’ aides.
Loughner attempted to flee after running out of ammunition but was blocked by one of Giffords’ staffers. His MySpace page was removed; however, a YouTube account under his name is still online with three text-only videos, the first of which introduces him.
The Associated Press reported that Loughner had no other help. The gun authorities recovered at the scene is a 9mm Glock pistol.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Department said that up to 12 people were injured in the incident, and a witness told CNN they heard up to 20 gunshots.
“One Democratic source tells me shooter called out names of people as aiming at targets,” Ed Espinoza, DNC Western States Political Director, Latino Workgroup and Vets Council staff, tweeted Saturday afternoon.
Giffords, 40, took her seat in Congress in 2007 and has advocated for immigration reform, among other Democratic-led issues. She was among 20 members of Congress who were on former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s so-called “hit list,” depicted in a graphic online with targeting crosshairs over their individual districts, still viewable on her Facebook page.
“Palin has crosshairs on our district; people have to realize there are consequences to that,” Giffords told MSNBC.
The website for Palin’s PAC appeared to have withdrawn the crosshairs over Giffords’ name today. The former vice president candidate also posted her “condolences” to the victims on her Facebook page.
“My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today’s tragic shooting in Arizona,” she wrote. “On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice.”
The former US Marine that ran against Giffords who used violent imagery in campaign ads also expressed his sympathy for his political opponent.
“We are all deeply saddened by this morning’s shooting. Gabrielle Giffords, the other victims, and their families are in our prayers,” Jesse Kelly said in a tweet.
President Barack Obama in an early statement called the shooting “an unspeakable tragedy.”
“We do not yet have all the answers,” he said. “What we do know is that such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society. I ask all Americans to join me and Michelle in keeping Representative Giffords, the victims of this tragedy, and their families in our prayers.”
Obama, during a White House press conference, said he ordered FBI director Robert Mueller, to Tucson to coordinate an investigation into the attack.
“We are going to get to the bottom of this, and we are going to get through this,” he said.
In a statement hours after the shooting, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), newly-elected Speaker of the House, said: “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.”
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the former House speaker, said through a spokesperson that she would still hold her scheduled event today.
“The U.S. Capitol Police are directly involved in this investigation,” Pelosi’s office said in an advisory. “As more information is developed, it will be provided.”
Capitol Police warned lawmakers to guard themselves with “reasonable and prudent precautions” in light of the Tucson shooting. Specific precautions were not expounded upon in the advisory.
Calling the attack “senseless,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.), said, ”I join the entire Congress in condemning this horrifying act of violence.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) stated that he was “horrified by the violent attack” and lashed out at the suspected shooter.
“Whoever did this; whatever their reason, they are a disgrace to Arizona, this country and the human race, and they deserve and will receive the contempt of all decent people and the strongest punishment of the law,” he said.
Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, said in a press advisory that in 2009, Judge Roll was a target of death threats fueled by radio talks shows due to a civil rights lawsuit over which he presided.
“The threats materialized after one show, Judge Roll’s name logged more than 200 phone calls as some callers threatened the judge and his family,” she said. “This resulted in the judge and his wife were under a protection detail for one month as Judge Roll was given twenty four hours a day, seven days a week security by the US Marshals Service.
She continued, “An US Attorney’s investigation ruled that four men were identified as threat makers, but no charges were filed.”
Giffords appeared on Fox News Friday yesterday to promote her proposal to have Congress cut their pay by five percent. Giffords’ husband Mark Kelly – who is a commander in training for an April space shuttle mission – flew to be at her side Saturday afternoon.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), who experienced a shooting at his Yumma office this past July after he called for a boycott over Arizona for its strict immigration law, told a Tuscon TV station that he was “fightened” by today’s violence.
“We all enter this life of public service and being elected officials,” he said. “We don’t enter it believing that it’s a life and death situation. And to reach this point where we have peoples’ lives hanging by a thread, and having someone with as much potential and intelligence and future.”
Grijalva added, “To be in this situation it’s completely frightening. I’m still in shock about this situation.”
Although Giffords had received threats last year, the rabbi that married her to her husband, said that Giffords never spoke of any personal safety concerns.
“No fear. I’ve only seen the bravest possible, most intelligent young congresswoman,” Rabbi Stephanie Aaron told the New York Times. “I feel like this is really one of those proverbial — seemingly something coming out of nowhere.”
Giffords father told the New York Post that he knew his daughter had enemies.
“The whole tea party,” Spencer Gifford, 75, said.
Rep. Giffords’ staff in August 2009 called police after a handgun was dropped at one of her town-hall meetings. In March, vandals broke into her Tucson office after she voted for Obama’s health care reform package.
“The rhetoric is incredibly heated, not just the calls but the emails, the slurs,” she told MSNBC then. “Things have really gotten spun up.”
She continued: “We do have these polarized parts of our parties that really get excited, and that’s where … all of us have to come together and say, ‘OK, there’s a fine line here.’”
Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, ordered the state’s flags to be at half staff in honor of shooting victims.
Initial report by Stephen C. Webster. Updates by Nathan Diebenow and Stephen C. Webster.