Tucson shootings a federal case

Doctors hold out hope for survival of Rep. Giffords

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama join government employees on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Monday, Jan. 10, 2011, to observe a moment of silence for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of an assassination attempt against her. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama join government employees on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Monday, Jan. 10, 2011, to observe a moment of silence for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of an assassination attempt against her. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Authorities on Sunday lodged federal charges against a man they said killed six people and gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona Democrat, during a brazen shooting that FBI director called “an attack on our institutions and our way of life.”

While doctors sounded hopeful about Mrs. Giffords chances for survival, federal and state investigators continued to piece together clues in an effort to explain why she was targeted for assassination during a town-hall-style meeting with constituents in Tucson.

Authorities said they are not yet sure what drove the suspect, Jared Loughner, 22, to carry out the attack, which left dead Arizona’s top federal judge, three senior citizens, an aide to Ms. Giffords and a 9-year-old girl who recently had won a school election and went to the event because of her interest in government.

But investigators did seize from a safe in Mr. Loughner’s home an envelope that suggested the attack on Mrs. Giffords was thought out beforehand. Scribbled on the envelope were the words “I planned ahead,” “My Assassination,” and “Giffords,” according to court documents.

Authorities also found a letter from Mrs. Giffords‘ office thanking Mr. Loughner for attending a similar “Congress in Your Corner” event in 2007.

Saturday’s shooting took place at a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, about five minutes from the home where Mr. Loughner lives with his mother.

Mr. Loughner is alleged to have shot Mrs. Giffords in the head and indiscriminately opened fire on staffers and others standing in line to talk to the congresswoman, said Mark Kimble, a communications staffer for Mrs Giffords.

“He was not more than three or four feet from the congresswoman and the district director,” Mr. Kimble said, describing the scene as “just complete chaos, people screaming, crying.”

Event volunteer Alex Villec said Mr. Loughner “was definitely on a mission.”

A 911 call released Sunday has a witness describing a frantic scene, saying, “I do believe Gabby Giffords was hit.”

Mr. Loughner, whom friends described as a pot-smoking, community college dropout who had unsuccessfully tried to join the Army, is set to appear Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence Anderson at the federal court in Phoenix.

He was named on five federal counts of attempting to kill Mrs. Giffords; the killing of U.S. District Chief Judge John M. Roll; the killing of Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, a Giffords aide; the attempted murder of Pamela Simon, a Giffords aide; and the attempted murder of Ron Barber, also an aide to the congresswoman. The judge had stopped by after Mass to say hello to Mrs. Giffords, a longtime friend.

The Rules of Criminal Procedure require that a grand jury review the evidence and issue an indictment within 30 days of Mr. Loughner’s initial court appearance.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said additional charges could be coming, including possibly domestic terrorism charges.

Authorities said the dead also included Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; Phyllis Scheck, 79, and Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old granddaughter of former Philadelphia Phillies manager Dallas Green, who was born on Sept. 11, 2001, and featured in a book called “Faces of Hope” that chronicled one baby from each state born on the day terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center in New York.

“Tragedy seems to have happened again,” said the author of the book, Christine Naman. “In the form of this awful event.”

Thirteen of the people wounded are expected to survive, and doctors treating Mrs. Giffords said they were “very, very encouraged” by her ability to respond to simple commands along with their success in controlling her bleeding after a bullet went through her brain. She spent much of Sunday in a medically induced coma.

“We are still in critical condition. Brain swelling at any time can take a turn for the worse,” said Dr. Michael Lemole, the neurosurgeon who operated on Mrs. Giffords. “But I am cautiously optimistic.”

Meanwhile Sunday, mourners squeezed into the tiny sanctuary of Mrs. Giffords‘ synagogue in Tucson to pray for her recovery. Outside Tucson’s University Medical Center, candles flickered at a makeshift memorial. Signs read “Peace + love are stronger,” “God bless America and “We love you, Gabrielle.” People also laid down bouquets of flowers, American flags and pictures of the Giffords.

Authorities also revealed Sunday that the Glock semiautomatic pistol used in the attack was purchased last November by Mr. Loughner from Sportsman’s Warehouse in Tucson.

Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik of Pima County, where Tucson is located, said the shooting occurred at deadly intersection of mental illness, readily available weapons and a vitriolic political climate.

“I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in this state carry weapons under any circumstances that they want, and that’s almost where we are,” Sheriff Dupnik said during a news conference. “The Legislature at this time is proposing that students and teachers be allowed to have weapons in schools and in college. You know, colleges ought to be run by the college presidents, not the Arizona Legislature. But that’s the ridiculous state to where we have become.”

In Internet postings that are angry and at times incoherent, Mr. Loughner described inventing a new U.S. currency and complained about the illiteracy rate among people living in Mrs. Giffords‘ congressional district.

“I know who’s listening: Government Officials, and the People,” Mr. Loughner wrote in one posting. “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].”

Sheriff Dupnik said he did not know whether Mr. Loughner had ever been treated for mental illness, but suggested it was a likely factor in the shooting, which could have been exacerbated by bitter and overheated political rhetoric.

“There’s reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And I think people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol,” he said. “People tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.”

Mr. Mueller, who was dispatched to Arizona by President Obama shortly after the shooting, was considerably more measured in his remarks. He said investigators were still piecing together what happened and why, stressing that no information suggests “any specific threat remains.”

Later Sunday, authorities said Mr. Loughner acted alone as an unidentified man who had been sought for questioning was cleared of any involvement. Authorities said the man, whose image was captured on supermarket surveillance video, is a cabdriver who drove Mr. Loughner to the event.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Ben Conery

Ben Conery

Ben Conery is a member of the investigative team covering the Supreme Court and legal affairs. Prior to coming to The Washington Times in 2008, Mr. Conery covered criminal justice and legal affairs for daily newspapers in Connecticut and Massachusetts. He was a 2006 recipient of the New England Newspaper Association’s Publick Occurrences Award for a series of articles about ...

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