The placid routines of a morning trip to the supermarket were shredded by gunfire in Tucson, Arizona Saturday, leaving Judge John Roll and five others dead and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded, law enforcement officials said.
At the White House, President Obama promised "to get to the bottom of this" and said, "It's not surprising that today Gabby was doing what she always does -- listening to the hopes and concerns of her neighbors. That is the essence of what our democracy is all about. That is why this is more than a tragedy for those involved. It is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our entire country."
In an emotional news conference this evening, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County said the number of dead, including 63-year-old Judge Roll, was six.
Among those killed in the attack was a member of Giffords' staff, 30-year-old Gabe Zimmerman, director of community outreach, C.J. Karamargin, the congresswoman's press secretary, said Saturday evening in an interview with CNN. Also killed in the rampage were 9-year-old Christina Greene, 76-year-old Dorthy Murray, 76-year-old Dorwin Stoddard and 79-year-old Phyllis Scheck, the sheriff's office said.
Officials at University Medical Center in Tucson said that the Giffords remained in critical condition on Sunday and has not been conscious since the shooting.
Giffords, who represents Arizona's 8th Congressional District, was holding a public meet-and-greet event outside of a Safeway. Judge Roll was at the event because he had attended Mass nearby, as is his custom on Saturday mornings, and had decided to stop by and see Giffords, Dupnik said.
"There was no indication of any problems," he said. "At about 10 minutes after 10, a gunman approached and started shooting." Dupnik said Giffords appeared to be the intended target.
"Two brave individuals at this crime scene tackled the suspect," the sheriff said.
Giffords, who was struck once in the head, was taken to University Medical Center in Tucson, where she was listed in critical condition after undergoing surgery. Several news outlets had reported earlier in the day that she had died.
Giffords now is in University Medical Center in Tucson and underwent two hours of surgery. Doctors there said Sunday she can hear and follow "simple commands" but is unable to speak, in part because she is on a ventilator.
Dr. Peter Rhee said she had been struck by one bullet, in the head, and that the bullet had passed through her brain. Dr. Rhee also said the medical center was treating five people who were in critical condition and five people who were in surgery. Other victims were being treated at other hospitals in the area.
At a Sunday briefing, Rhee said he was "cautiously optimistic" about her condition.
In a brief statement just before the hospital news conference, a spokesman for the Pima County Sheriff's Department said that six people had been killed and 12 wounded when a gunman opened fire about 10:15 a.m. Giffords, a 40-year-old Democrat, was reportedly talking to a couple when a man ran up, began shooting, then fled on foot before being tackled by a bystander and taken into custody.
Sheriff Dupnik said that a 22-year-old suspect was being held Saturday in connection with the shooting and that a semiautomatic pistol had been recovered at the scene. He described the suspect as a troubled person who was known to law enforcement authorities.
"We're not convinced that he acted alone," Dupnik said of the suspect, who has been identified in news reports as Jared Loughner. "There's some reason to believe that he came to this location with another individual. And there's reason to believe that the other individual might in some way be involved."
The sheriff described the other individual as a white man who appeared to be in his 50s. "Don't know where he's headed; don't know who he is," Dupnik said.
The U.S. Army issued a statement saying that Loughner had tried to enlist but that he had been rejected. The Army did not specify the reason for his rejection, citing privacy issues.
The wide-ranging investigation is being conducted jointly by the Pima County Sheriff's Department and the FBI. And other agencies, including the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Bureau, are cooperating. The U.S. Capitol Police said that it was helping with the investigation and had advised House members "to take reasonable and prudent precautions regarding their personal safety and security."
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said all legislation scheduled for consideration in the coming week has been postponed "so that we can take whatever actions may be necessary in light of today's tragedy." Among the measures that were to be considered was the repeal of the health care overhaul.
The scene of the shooting Saturday was chaotic and the shopping center was shut down as law enforcement authorities investigated. Giffords' banner still hung between two pillars, even after the parking area was set off behind yellow crime scene tape.
Ken Penner, who works in the area, told KOLD television
that he had seen Giffords speaking to an elderly couple Saturday morning shortly after 10 a.m. and that about 15 or 20 people had been waiting to speak with her. He had just entered the Safeway store when the shooting started, he said, and customers began running toward the back of the store. When he looked out after the shooting stopped, he said he saw Gifford lying on the ground, motionless.
Speaker John Boehner released a statement saying he was horrified about the shooting. "An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve," Boehner said, adding, "This is a sad day for our country."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the attack a "national tragedy and a very sad day for our country." Giffords, Pelosi said, is a "brilliant and courageous member of Congress."
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, issued a statement saying, "Whoever did this; whatever their reason, they are a disgrace to Arizona, this country and the human race, and they deserve and will receive the contempt of all decent people and the strongest punishment of the law."
Giffords' rabbi, Stephanie Aaron, told KOLD in a telephone interview, "I don't understand how something like this can happen in our town, in our state and in our country."
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence issued a statement that said in part: "We find it unacceptable that when Americans and our elected leaders are assembling in public places, their lives are at risk from gun violence. We also are deeply concerned about the heated political rhetoric that escalates debates and controversies, and sometimes makes it seem as if violence is an acceptable response to honest disagreements."
Giffords, who was elected in November to a third term, was holding an event called "Congress on Your Corner." The congresswoman routinely makes herself available for one-on-one conversations with constituents, typically in front of supermarkets on Saturday mornings. But this was the first she had held since her re-election.
Giffords, generally regarded as a centrist on Capitol Hill, was criticized by some in Arizona for her support of the health care reform law. A few hours after the House vote on the health care bill, her office in Tucson was vandalized. She has called Arizona's tough anti-illegal immigration law "divisive" and said it did not make her district safer. But Giffords did not back the boycott of Arizona businesses that was supported by some opponents of the law.
Earlier this week, Giffords participated in the reading of the Constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives. She read the First Amendment, according to The New York Times
"I wanted to be here, I think it's important," The Times quoted Giffords as saying. "Reflecting on the Constitution in a bipartisan way is a good way to start the year."
KOLD reported that Giffords is a gun owner and a supporter of gun rights. The station also said she was known for riding her Harley Davidson motorcycle to events.
Giffords, who has served in Congress since January 2007, is an Arizona native and a graduate of Cornell University. She married Cmdr. Mark E. Kelly, a NASA astronaut who is based in Houston, on Nov. 10, 2007.
Judge Roll was the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for Arizona, a post he had held since 2006. He was at the center of Arizona's immigration debate, according to The Washington Post, and faced death threats in 2009 after he allowed a lawsuit by illegal immigrants against a rancher to move forward. He had also been an Arizona state appeals court judge and a former assistant U.S. attorney in Arizona.