Giffords was the primary target of the attack. A search of Loughner’s home uncovered a standard thank you letter which Giffords sent Loughner for attending one of her 2007 public events, as well as an envelope upon which Loughner had written, by hand, “I planned ahead,” My assassination,” and “Giffords.” In October, Loughner was forced to withdraw as a student at a local community college because of his erratic and disruptive behavior in class. At the time, school officials urged Loughner and his parents to seek psychiatric help for him.
Tucson doctor Steven Rayle, who was an eyewitness to the shooting, said he saw a young man wearing sneakers and what appeared to be navy-blue sweat clothes approach Giffords with a raised semiautomatic pistol. The man shot Giffords once in the face, he said.
After Giffords fell, Rayle said, people near her tried to flee but were trapped by a table and a concrete post. The gunman then fired into the crowd, he said.
“There was nowhere easy to run,” Rayle said. “People that were there were just sitting ducks. I don’t think he was even aiming. He was just firing at whatever.”
Alex Villec, 19, a volunteer for the event, told the Arizona Daily Star that the gunman asked to speak to Giffords, but Villec told him to go to the back of the line. The gunman did that, and minutes later he walked toward her.
“He was intent when he came back,” Villec said. “He had a pretty stone-cold glance and glare. I didn’t see his gun, but it was clear he was going for the congresswoman.”
Villec said the shooter walked past tables and toward Giffords, then raised his hand. Villec said he heard gunshots before ducking behind a pillar.
“It was bedlam,” he said. “People were getting down on the ground. They were screaming. I just did what I could to keep myself protected.”
AN ATTACK ON DEMOCRACY
A somber President Obama said shortly after the shooting that it was an attack on “our democracy,” and that “it is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our entire country.”
Giffords, who was widely known as “Gabby” to her colleagues in Washington, had issued an invitation on Twitter to constituents, shortly before the shooting, to “please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later.”
Obama said, in tribute to her, that, “It’s not surprising that today Gabby was doing what she always does, listening to the hopes and concerns of her neighbors. That is the essence of what our democracy is about.”
Obama sent FBI Director Robert Mueller to the Tucson. US Capitol Police urged House members to take “reasonable and prudent precautions” regarding their personal safety.
On Monday, there was a moment of silence observed outside the White House for the victims of the attack, led by President Obama. A similar gathering was held on the steps of the Capitol.
The shooting marked the first attempt on the life of a sitting member of Congress since the 1978 killing of Rep. Leo Ryan, D-CA. while investigating the Peoples Temple cult compound in Jonestown, Guyana.
In reaction to the shooting, and out of respect for their fallen colleague, House Republican leaders postponed a scheduled vote this week on repealing Obamacare, along with other legislative business.
“I am horrified by the senseless attack,” said House Speaker John Boehner. “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.”
SHOOTER’S DAY IN COURT
Loughner was arraigned in federal court Monday on five criminal counts related to the attack, including two counts of killing a federal employee, each of which carries the death penalty or a life sentence. He appeared to be alert and responsive to the judge’s questions during the hearing, and appeared to understand the proceedings. He is being represented by San Diego attorney Judith Clarke, who previously defended Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothey McVeigh.
The hearing took place in Phoenix because all of the federal judges in Tucson recused themselves, since Loughner is accused of killing their colleague, US District Judge John Roll. Judge Lawrence Anderson ordered the shooter to be remanded without bail because he posed a “danger to the community.”
GIFFORDS IS A WIDELY RESPECTED MODERATE
Giffords, 40, a former Republican, narrowly won re-election to a third term in November from a historically Republican Arizona congressional district.
Early in life, she was inspired by Arizona-born former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
She worked for Price Waterhouse in New York for a short time before returning to Tucson in 1996 to take over her family’s tire dealership.
In 1999, she changed her party affiliation to Democrat and a year later, was elected to the Arizona House of Representations. In 2006 she was recruited by former Obama chief of staff Rahm Immanuel, then chairman of the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee, as one of the moderate candidates who helped the Democrats to win a majority in the House in that midterm election.
Upon coming to Congress, she became a member of the “Blue Dog” Democrat faction and was known as an advocate for small business interests. During her campaigns, she touted the fact that she has been a longtime gun owner.
In her first year in Congress, Giffords introduced a bill banning the sale of F-14 jet fighter parts to Iran.
ON THE ARIZONA IMMIGRATION LAW
Giffords’ district includes 114 miles of the US border with Mexico, and she has taken a nuanced position on the controversial Arizona state anti-illegal immigrant law that was passed last year. She has called the law “extreme,” but refused to support the calls by her Arizona Democrat colleague, Congressman Raul Grijalva, to initiate a nationwide boycott of Arizona businesses in protest against it.
She said that Arizona’s passage of the law was a “clear call that the federal government needs to do a better job,” on border enforcement.
After an Arizona rancher was killed in March 2010, Giffords had called on Obama to send National Guard troops to beef up its patrol of the border.
In Washington, Giffords serves on the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs and Science and Technology committees. In 2007, she became the first member of her freshman congressional class to visit US troops in Iraq.
According to the Congressional Quarterly, Giffords has voted with her party only about 40 percent of the time. She also refused to vote for Nancy Pelosi to continue serving as House Democrat leader earlier this month.
THE PALIN CONNECTION
Giffords was singled out by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement as particularly vulnerable during last year’s midterm election cycle, in part because of her support for Obamacare. With help from the national Democrat party, she beat back the challenge and won re-election by a narrow 4,000 vote (1.5%) margin.
In the hours after the shooting, Palin issued a statement in which she expressed her “sincere condolences” to the family of Giffords and the other victims. Palin and her supporters angrily denied Democrat allegations that her political support for Giffords’ opponent last year was in any way responsible for the weekend attack by a madman.
A DAUGHTER OF INTERMARRIAGE
Giffords has been widely described in the media as Jewish. However, according to a report, she is, like so many thousands of others who consider themselves to be part of the non-Orthodox American Jewish community, the non-Jewish offspring of an intermarriage between a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. Her grandfather was the son of a Lithuanian rabbi who changed his name from Hornstein to Giffords out of concern about anti-Semitism in the Southwest.
Giffords is a member of the Reform Congregation Chaverim in Tucson. In 2007, she was married to non-Jew Mark Kelly, a Navy fighter pilot and space shuttle astronaut, by the congregation’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Stephanie Aaron. The wedding was held at an organic produce farm in Amado, Arizona. Giffords insisted that anything used at the wedding that wasn’t biodegradable had to be reusable. Hence, her wedding gown was borrowed from a family friend.
According to the New York Times description of the ceremony, “About 300 guests wore yarmulkes, military medals, silver concho studs or designer creations. As the ceremony opened, the wedding canopy was carried down the grassy aisle to the schmaltzy harmonies of live mariachi, accented by the rhythmic, homey slap of tortillas being made in the hacienda courtyard.”
Giffords is well liked and respected by members of both parties in Washington. She was part of a congressional delegation which visited Israel in early 2009. She also introduced an amendment to provide $205 million in federal funding for Israel’s Iron Dome Short Range Missile Defense System, which is being developed jointly by Rafael Defense Systems in Israel and Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson.
JUDGE IN THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME
Initial reports said that Judge Roll had stopped by the event on the spur of the moment, to thank Giffords for her help in getting a new federal courthouse built in Yuma, Arizona.
According to a Giffords spokesman, Roll was leaving a supermarket nearby when he spotted Gifford’s aide Ron Barber, and “stopped by to say hi,” shortly before the gunman opened fire.
However, federal prosecutors later claimed that Roll went there to discuss the current high caseload in his federal court with Giffords. This would turn the attack upon him into a federal crime. The attack already falls under federal jurisdiction because another one of the people killed was a Congressional staff member.
John Roll was appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 and had been chief judge of the district since 2006. A Pennsylvania native, he served as an Arizona state appeals court judge and assistant US attorney before joining the federal bench.
US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts released a statement praising Roll as “a wise jurist who selflessly served Arizona and the nation.” Roberts said his death “is a somber reminder of the importance of the rule of law and the sacrifices of those who work to secure it.”
Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., who recommended Roll for the federal bench, said the judge “will be missed very much. . . . Judge Roll dedicated his life to public service and was admired by many for his integrity, kindness and love for the law.”
THREATS AGAINST FEDERAL COURT PERSONNEL RISING
Roll is the first federal judge to be killed since US Appeals Court Judge Robert Vance was slain by a pipe bomb at his Birmingham, Ala., home in 1989. Roll had received death threats in 2009 following his controversial ruling in a high profile immigration case, but those threats seem unrelated to his shooting over the weekend. “He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” a law enforcement official said.
Federal court personnel were the targets of 1,278 threats in 2008, more than double the number in 2003. As threats have risen, more judges have altered their routes to work, installed security systems at home and shielded their addresses by listing the address of their courthouse on their household bills. Some even pack weapons on the bench.
Much of the current concern over judicial security was fueled by the slaying of US District Judge Joan Lefkow’s husband and mother in their Chicago home in 2005. But the killing of a judge is still extremely rare.
Law enforcement officials struggled to come up with reasons to explain the motives for the attack.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said in a press conference that the “ubiquitous nature of the Internet” has made hateful information “much more readily available to individuals than it was eight or 10 or 15 years ago and that absolutely presents a challenge to us particularly as it relates to lone wolfs.”
A PARTISAN POLITICAL VIEW OF THE ATTACK
The shooting touched off a debate over whether it could be blamed on the angry debate over bitterly partisan issues. It was started by Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who has jurisdiction over the shooting site in Tucson. At a press conference hours after the shooting, he blamed the incident on provocative comments promoted by the media.
“I think the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the [media]. . . This has not become the nice United States of America that most of us grew up in. And I think it’s time that we do the soul-searching,” Sheriff Dupnik said.
Later, Dupnik called Arizona the “Mecca” of hatred and bigotry. He also blamed the media for deliberately trying, “to inflame the public on a daily basis 24 hours a day, seven days a week which has impact on people, especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with.”
In a media interview, Dupnik repeated accusations used by liberal Democrats during the midterm election campaign that foreign donors had financed pro-Republican ads intended to stir up anger against politicians like Giffords. He was implying that these ads were ultimately responsible for the shooting, rather than simply attributing it to the act of a madman. In fact, many of the shooter’s high school friends described his political beliefs, incoherent as they were, as mostly liberal.
LIMBAUGH VS. THE SHERIFF
Duprik’s baseless accusations prompted an angry response from leading conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who pointed out that Duprik admitted that he had no evidence that the shooter listened to conservative talk radio, or watched Fox News, or ever viewed Sarah Palin’s face book page. Limbaugh argues that it is outrageous to try to attribute the murder to these forms of conservative speech, while completely ignoring the influence of the extreme violence which permeates popular music, television and movies.
Yet, Duprik’s highly political interpretation of the shooting was immediately seized upon by leading liberal Democrats such as Congressman Steny Hoyer, who said in a broadcast interview, “I think the sheriff was right. You and I grew up listening to the three major news outlets: NBC, ABC, and CBS. We listened to people like Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid, Huntley and Brinkley, and they saw their job as to inform us of the facts and let us draw a conclusion,” Hoyer said. “Far too many broadcasts now and so many outlets have the intent of inciting people to opposition, to anger, to thinking the other side is less than moral. I think that is a context in which somebody who is mentally unbalanced can somehow feel justified in taking this kind of action. I think we need to all take cognizance of that and be aware that what we say can, in fact, have consequences.”
NO EVIDENCE OF GOP INFLUENCE
Several Republicans argued that such accusations were grossly unfair. They pointed out that this was an isolated incident due to the actions of a mentally unbalanced individual, and that there is no evidence indicating that his actions were due to media influence.
Congressman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. said, in a media interview, there was no evidence that the shooter was tied to any political movement or was engaged in a politically motivated act.
“You know, his favorite books are ‘the Communist Manifesto’ and ‘Mein Kampf.’ I think it’s important that we recognize that this is an individual that has mental challenges, and we need to act appropriately in dealing with him and making sure that justice prevails here,” she said.
WILD LIBERAL ACCUSATIONS
Nevertheless, liberal media outlets, such as the New York Times, speculated without any evidence that the shooter might have been influenced by the tea party and Sarah Palin to commit mass murder. An article on the website Politico, quoted an unnamed “veteran Democratic operative” as advising the White House “to deftly pin this [shooting] on the tea partiers,” just as “the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people” in 1995.
Palin was specifically criticized for putting Giffords’ Congressional seat in cross hairs on her website as one of 20 Democrats targeted by Palin for a tea party challenge early last year. Liberal critics suggested that the cross-hairs somehow incited the gunman to murder, even though there is no indication that he ever viewed her website. The liberals also ignored the fact that left wing political web sites have used similar graphics to “target” conservative elected officials.
The left wing criticism of Palin was so extreme that veteran ABC reporter Barbara Walters, a liberal media personality, came to her defense. Speaking out on a network talk show, Walters said that she was “feeling bad for Sarah Palin” and that she should not be blamed for the shooter’s actions. “”This is a deranged young man. . . We don’t know what his motives are and we can hope that all the vitriol calms down. But to blame Sarah Palin as some are doing I think is very unfair to her.”
GIFFORDS’ PROSPECTS FOR RECOVERY
Congressman Giffords received first aid at the scene of the attack from one of her congressional aides, Daniel Hernandez, who had nursing training. She was rushed to a local hospital, arriving in the operating room within 38 minutes of being shot, and underwent emergency surgery to remove skull fragments and halt the bleeding.
Her doctors have been increasingly optimistic about Giffords chances for recovery, even though the bullet went completely through her head, from back to front, exiting above her left eye.
Dr. Michael Lemole, a surgeon at the University Medical Center in Tucson, reported that Giffords has been responding to simple commands like squeezing someone’s hand or raising a finger. “It implies not only that those higher centers of the brain are working, but communicating with one another,” Lemole said.
Three days after the shooting, Giffords was sedated. She was being brought back to consciousness periodically to test her ability to respond to commands.
The extent of Giffords’ injuries depends upon the path the bullet took through the left side of her brain, which contains the brain’s speech center and controls movement and sensation on the right side of the body. Doctors were hopeful that the bullet’s relatively high trajectory through her brain means that it missed key control centers.
Giffords is being watched for the most dangerous complication from such a wound, brain swelling. Doctors removed a large part of her skull during the initial surgery to relieve any pressure due to brain swelling. The removed parts of her skull will be re-implanted once the swelling has abated.
On Monday, Dr. Lemole said that CAT scans showed that the swelling of her brain had stopped. He cautioned, “we are not out of the woods, but every day that goes by and we don’t see an increase in swelling, we are more optimistic.” Giffords was still listed in critical condition.
After three days on a respirator, she began breathing on her own on Tuesday. The next major step in her recovery will be the removal of her breathing tube, to reduce the risk of pneumonia.
TIME WILL TELL
Giffords’ chances for a full recovery, will not be apparent for a week or two. Depending upon the results of her neurological tests, she could face an extended course of physical therapy and rehabilitation, lasting for months or years. In many cases, even those who survive such brain injuries and recover normal physical function are still subject to seizures and require anti-epilepsy medications.
Giffords’ chances for a full recovery were improved by the fact that the bullet damaged only one side of the her brain, and its high trajectory avoided key motor control centers. In some cases, lost brain function on one side of the brain can be restored by equivalent areas on the other side of the brain.
Dr. Eugene Flamm, chairman of the neurosurgery department at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, said in an interview with AOL News, “the whole thing with gunshot wounds is, what part of the brain is involved. If it’s near the top, it may not injure a part that is significant in terms of intellect.”
THE OTHER VICTIMS
Others who were killed included Gabe Zimmerman, 30 who worked in Giffords’ Tuscon office as director of community outreach. Christina Taylor Green, a 9-year-old girl, was also killed, along with Doryn Stoddard, 76, Dorothy Morris, 76 and Phyllis Schneck, 79, who were on the line to speak with Giffords.
In reaction to the death of Zimmerman, who was a member of Giffords’ Congressional staff, flags on Capitol Hill were lowered to half-staff. Two other Giffords staffers, district director Ron Barber and community outreach aide Pam Simon, were among the wounded.
Loughner is believed to have planned and carried out the attack alone. He opened fire with a 9mm Glock automatic handgun with an ammunition clip that held 30 bullets. He was carrying 3 more ammunition clips holding a total of 60 bullets and a knife when he was arrested. The gun was purchased from a Tucson gun store on November 30.
PROFILE EMERGING OF THE TROUBLED SHOOTER
Loughner lived with his parents in a middle class Tucson neighborhood about a five-minute drive from the site of the attack. He had previously posted videos on YouTube with angry, vague and confused messages accusing the US government of using mind control and brainwashing techniques.
He was rejected when he tried to join the US Army, because he had admitted to extensive use of marijuana. A high school classmate of the shooter described him as a “liberal political radical” and a reclusive substance abuser.
Former fellow students at Tucson’s Pima Community College last year said that they had been frightened by Loughner’s disruptive and incoherent behavior in class, and speculated that he might have been on drugs. His teacher was so disturbed by Loughner’s erratic behavior that he reported him to school police and the school administration.
Loughner was eventually forced to withdraw as a student last fall. School officials told Loughner and his parents that he could not return until he had obtained certification that, “in the opinion of a mental health professional, his presence at the college does not present a danger to himself or others.”
David Lipman, a clinical psychologist, said that Loughner’s erratic behavior, including delusions of persecution and false beliefs, were classic indicators of psychosis. They meant that he was suffering from psychotic illness, most likely paranoid schizophrenia. Another psychologist was very critical of the failure by the community college and Loughner’s parents to give him the psychiatric care he obviously needed, and which might have prevented the attack.
Hours before the shooting, Loughner put a message on his Internet social media page that said, “Goodbye friends. Please don’t be mad at me.”