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Associated Press, Published January 09 2011

Gunman shoots Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, kills 6

TUCSON, Ariz. – A gunman unloaded a semiautomatic weapon outside a busy supermarket Saturday during a public gathering for Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, killing Arizona’s chief federal judge and five others in an attempted assassination that left Americans questioning whether divisive politics had pushed the suspect over the edge.

The shooting targeted Giffords and left the three-term congresswoman in critical condition after a bullet passed through her brain. A shaken President Barack Obama called the attack “a tragedy for our entire country.”

Minnesota and North Dakota congressional officials were among those expressing shock, sorrow and disgust after Giffords was shot.

Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District called the shooting “a senseless act of violence.”

“My prayers are with her and her family as she fights to survive,” he said.

North Dakota’s former Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy served with Giffords for three terms before his congressional tenure ended last month.

“I am sickened that such a contemptible attack would be made against my friend, Gabby, members of her staff and other members of the general public,” Pomeroy said. “It is unthinkable to think that such dedicated public servants would be gunned down while performing their duties in service to the others.”

Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said: “Congresswoman Giffords was doing what so many public servants do every day, meeting with her constituents, listening to the people who sent her to Washington. This is a horrific tragedy.”

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann says her “tears are flowing” at the news. She says Giffords governed with integrity and wisdom.

North Dakota Congressman Rick Berg said in a statement Saturday the attack on Giffords and others was “senseless” and says his thoughts are with Giffords, her staff, those who were injured and their families.

Giffords, 40, is a moderate Democrat who narrowly won re-election in November against a tea party candidate who sought to throw her from office over her support of the health care law. Anger over her position became violent at times, with her Tucson office vandalized after the House passed the overhaul last March and someone showing up at a recent gathering with a weapon.

Police say the shooter is in custody, and he was identified by people familiar with the investigation as Jared Loughner, 22. U.S. officials who provided his name to the AP spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release it publicly.

It’s still not clear if Loughner had the health care debate in mind or was focused on his own unique set of political beliefs, many outlined in rambling videos and postings on the Internet.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described the gunman as mentally unstable and possibly acting with an accomplice. He said Giffords was among 13 people wounded in the melee that killed six people, including a 9-year-old girl, an aide for the Democratic lawmaker and U.S. District Judge John Roll, who had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after celebrating Mass. Dupnik said the rampage ended only after two people tackled the gunman.

During his campaign effort to unseat Giffords in November, Republican challenger Jesse Kelly held fundraisers where he urged supporters to help remove Giffords from office by joining him to shoot a fully loaded M-16 rifle. Kelly is a former Marine who served in Iraq and was pictured on his website in military gear holding his automatic weapon and promoting the event.

“I don’t see the connection,” between the fundraisers featuring weapons and Saturday’s shooting, said John Ellinwood, Kelly’s spokesman. “I don’t know this person. We cannot find any records that he was associated with the campaign in any way. I just don’t see the connection.

“Arizona is a state where people are firearms owners – this was just a deranged individual.”

Law enforcement officials said members of Congress reported 42 cases of threats or violence in the first three months of 2010, nearly three times the 15 cases reported during the same period a year earlier. Nearly all dealt with the health care bill, and Giffords was among the targets.

The shooting cast a pall over the Capitol as politicians of all stripes denounced the attack as a horrific. Capitol police asked members of Congress to be more vigilant about security in the wake of the shooting.

Mark Kimball, a communications staffer for Giffords, described the scene as “just complete chaos, people screaming, crying.” The gunman fired at Giffords and her district director and started shooting indiscriminately at staffers and others standing in line to talk to the congresswoman, Kimball said.

Doctors were optimistic about Giffords surviving as she was responding to commands from doctors. “With guarded optimism, I hope she will survive, but this is a very devastating wound,” said Dr. Richard Carmona, the former surgeon general who lives in Tucson.

A former classmate described Loughner as a pot-smoking loner, and the Army said he tried to enlist in December 2008 but was rejected for reasons not disclosed.

Federal law enforcement officials were poring over versions of a MySpace page that included a mysterious “Goodbye friends” message published hours before the shooting and exhorted his friends to “Please don’t be mad at me.”


Forum reporter Kristen Daum contributed to this report.

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