Only a few hours before a shooting rampage that killed six people and gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona Democrat, a state wildlife officer pulled over the suspected killer after he apparently ran a red light, authorities said Wednesday.
The officer from the Arizona Game and Fish Department gave Jared Loughner, 22, a warning after a check of his driver’s license and vehicle registration found no outstanding warrants.
“He had a valid license; the car was registered; he had insurance,” Games and Parks spokesman Jim Paxon said. “He was warned and released because we had no probable cause to hold or do an extensive search.”
Mr. Paxon said wildlife officers usually do not make traffic stops unless public safety is at risk, such as running a red light.
Before the 7:30 a.m. stop, authorities said Mr. Loughner, who is in jail and faces federal charges that could bring the death penalty, argued with his father, Randy. Police said the young man ran from his family’s Tucson home into the desert to escape his angry father, who chased him after seeing him remove a black bag from the trunk of a family car. Investigators are still searching for the bag.
At 10 a.m., police said, Mr. Loughner took a cab to a Tucson supermarket where Mrs. Giffords was holding a meet-and-greet event. Authorities said Mr. Loughner, a loner who displayed paranoid and frequently anti-government views in numerous Internet postings, targeted the congresswoman before firing indiscriminately into the crowd, stopping only when bystanders subdued him.
Those killed were U.S. District Chief Judge John M. Roll; Gabriel Zimmerman, a 30-year-old aide of Mrs. Giffords; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; Phyllis Scheck, 79, and 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who went to the event because of a budding interest in politics. The shooting was captured on a supermarket security camera, police said.
The 13 others wounded along with Mrs. Giffords, a three-term centrist lawmaker, are expected to survive.
Despite being shot in the head at close range, Mrs. Giffords is expected to survive. Doctors said Wednesday that her condition has remained critical, but stable and that she has not suffered brain swelling, which was their greatest concern.
“She was able to actually even feel her wounds herself,” said Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of the medical center’s Division of Trauma, Critical Care and Emergency Surgery at Tucson’s University Medical Center. Dr. Rhee said she also had pulled at her gown, but declined to further elaborate about her latest progress.
Mrs. Giffords‘ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, a captain in the U.S. Navy, has remained by her bedside. Capt. Kelly is supposed to command the Endeavour’s STS-134 final mission in April, but NASA has refused to discuss his flight status. He is a veteran of three spaceflights, serving as the pilot on STS-108 in 2001 and STS-121 in 2006, and was the Discovery’s Commander on STS-124 in 2008.
Though Mrs. Giffords hasn’t suffered any setbacks in her recovery, her long-term outlook remains unclear. Dr. Rhee said he expected some permanent damage to occur from the bullet passing through the left side of her brain.
“Will she be functional, viable, normal? I can’t say for sure, but I’m very hopeful she will be,” he said.
Mr. Loughner’s next court appearance is Jan. 24, during which he will be represented by defense attorney Judy Clarke. She formerly was the attorney for Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph; “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski; Zacarias Moussaoui, the al Qaeda conspirator in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; and Susan Smith, the woman who drowned her two young sons.
Also Wednesday, a fringe anti-gay group said it did not plan to protest at Christina Taylor Green’s funeral, but the Westboro Baptist Church said it still will demonstrate at the funeral services for Judge Roll.
The group demonstrates at high-profile funerals, such as those of soldiers killed in combat, to draw attention to its claims that American tragedies are God’s punishment for the nation’s permissive attitudes regarding homosexuality. The Arizona Legislature passed a law Tuesday night banning protests at or near funeral sites.
And former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin responded to criticism that her role in the current political discourse created a poisonous atmosphere that may have contributed to the shooting.
In her first public comments since the massacre, Mrs. Palin said she is heartbroken over the shootings, but accused some in the news media and others of “blood libel” for saying heated political rhetoric from her and others are to blame.
“Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred they purport to condemn,” she said in a roughly 8-minute speech posted on her Facebook page. “That is reprehensible.”
The term blood libel usually refers to accusations that religious minorities, almost always Jews, murdered children to use their blood as part of religious rituals and holidays.
• Joseph Weber contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.