TUCSON, Ariz. — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head Saturday by a gunman who opened fire outside a grocery store during a meeting with voters, killing a federal judge and four others in a rampage that rattled the country and left politicians fearful for their safety. "It is a tragedy for Arizona, and a tragedy for our entire country," President Barack Obama declared.
Giffords was among at least 10 people wounded, and the hospital said her outlook was optimistic as she was responding to commands from doctors despite having a bullet go through her head. The death toll included a 9-year-old girl, a federal judge, and a staffer for the Democratic congresswoman.
The reaction to the shooting rippled across the country as Americans were aghast at the sight of such a violent attack on a sitting member of Congress. The shooting cast a pall over the Capitol as politicians of all stripes denounced the shooting as a horrific and senseless act of violence. Capitol police asked members of Congress to be more vigilant about security in the wake of the shooting, and some politicians expressed hope that the killing spree serves as a wakeup call at a time when the political climate has become so emotionally charged.
Giffords, 40, is a three-term moderate Democrat who narrowly won re-election in November against a tea party candidate as conservatives across the country sought to throw her from office over her support of the health care law. Her office in Tucson was vandalized in the hours after the House passed the tcoverhaul last March as anger over the law spread across the country.
Police say the shooter was in custody, and was identified by people familiar with the investigation as Jared Loughner, 22. Pima County Sheriff's officials said he used a 9 mm pistol to carry out the shooting spree. U.S. officials who provided his name to the AP spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release it publicly.
His exact motivation was not clear, but a former classmate described Loughner as a pot-smoking loner who had rambling beliefs about the world. Federal law enforcement officials were poring over versions of a MySpace page that belonged to Jared Loughner and over a YouTube video published weeks ago under an account "Classitup10" and linked to him. The MySpace page, which was removed within minutes of the gunman being identified by officials, included a mysterious "Goodbye friends" message published hours before the shooting and exhorted his friends to "Please don't be mad at me."
In one of several Youtube videos, which featured text against a dark background, Loughner described inventing a new U.S. currency and complained about the illiteracy rate among people living in Giffords' congressional district in Arizona.
"I know who's listening: Government Officials, and the People," Loughner wrote. "Nearly all the people, who don't know this accurate information of a new currency, aren't aware of mind control and brainwash methods. If I have my civil rights, then this message wouldn't have happen (sic)."
U.S. District Judge John Roll was one of the dead. Giffords had worked with him in the past to line up funding to build a new courthouse in Yuma, and Obama hailed him for his nearly 40 years of service as a judge.
Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin said three Giffords staffers were shot in the attack. One died, and the other two are expected to survive. Gabe Zimmerman, a former social worker who served as Giffords' director of community outreach, died.
Giffords was first elected to Congress amid a wave of Democratic victories in the 2006 election, and has been mentioned as a possible Senate candidate in 2012 and a gubernatorial prospect in 2014.
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