A U.S. Congresswoman is in critical condition and six people are dead after a gunman opened fire in an Arizona parking lot where Representative Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with constituents. The dead include a federal judge. More than a dozen people were wounded, including Giffords. A federal probe has been launched amid a national outpouring of sorrow and outrage.
Shock, grief and unanswered questions abound in the wake of Saturday’s carnage. Eyewitnesses to the rampage spoke of the ordeal.
"I was lucky not to be in the line of fire. I am shaken to my core," said one witness.
"He seemed determined and just let loose with a barrage of bullets," added another witness.
The alleged gunman now in police custody is 22 year-old Jared Lee Loughner, who posted rambling Internet videos denouncing the U.S. government, which he accused of mind control and brainwashing. Law enforcement officials say it is too early to speculate on a motive for the shooting.
Local Sherriff Clarence Dupnik speaking shortly after the incident said, "There is reason to believe this individual may have a mental issue."
Reaction has poured in from across the nation. Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner and President Barack Obama said the effect of the violence was widespread. "An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Such acts have no place in our society," said Speaker Boehner.
"This is more than a tragedy for those involved," said President Obama. "It is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our entire country."
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, paid tribute to her Democratic colleague. "I am just heartbroken. Gaby [Gabrielle Giffords] is more than a colleague. She is actually a friend. She has always been a noble public servant," she said.
Despite being shot in the head at point-blank range, Congresswoman Giffords was conscious before emergency surgery, and remains in critical condition. Doctor Peter Rhee says he is heartened that she is able to follow simple commands. "When you get shot in the head and a bullet goes through your brain, the chances of you living are very small, and the chances of you waking up and actually following commands is much smaller than that. So, this so far has been a very good situation [optimistic prognosis]. Hopefully it will stay that way," he said.
Conservative and progressive blogs have traded accusations over underlying causes for the violence, and pointed to extreme hyperbole that often emerges in politics.
A moderate Democrat, Giffords’ Arizona office was vandalized last year. Before the November election, her Republican opponent used gun-related imagery in a political advertisement.
Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s political organization posted an Internet ad with a graphic showing Giffords’ district in crosshairs. Palin famously posted an Internet message saying "Don’t retreat, reload" to rally Republicans to oust Democrats from office.
There is no evidence the suspected shooter was influenced by anti-Giffords rhetoric or in any way affiliated with the Republican Party or any other political group. But the incident has led several members of Congress to urge more civility and less inflammatory language in the nation’s discourse.
Many have also noted that Giffords was dutifully meeting with constituents when she was shot. House Speaker Boehner said, "This inhumane act should not and will not deter us from our calling to represent our constituents and to fulfill our oath of office."
The House of Representatives has suspended all scheduled business for one week. Members of Congress are being urged to pay greater attention to security in their home districts and in Washington.