A gunman opened fire as a congresswoman met with constituents outside a grocery store, killing Arizona's chief federal judge and five others and leaving the lawmaker fighting for her life in an attempted assassination that had Americans questioning whether divisive politics had driven the attack.
The shooting targeted Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, authorities said, and left the three-term congresswoman in critical condition after a bullet passed through her head. A shaken President Barack Obama called the attack "a tragedy for our entire country."
Giffords, 40, a moderate Democrat, narrowly won re-election in November against a Tea Party candidate who opposed her support of the health care law. Anger over her position became violent at times, with her Tucson office vandalized a few hours after the House passed the overhaul last March. More recently, at a Giffords event someone dropped a weapon out of their pants.
The Pima County Sheriff's office listed the dead as:
- John M. Roll, 63, a federal district court judge.
- Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, Giffords' director of community outreach.
- Dorwin Stoddard, 76, a pastor at Mountain Ave. Church of Christ.
- Christina-Taylor Green, 9, a student at Mesa Verde Elementary.
- Dorthy Morris, 76.
- Phyllis Schneck, 79.
Police say the shooter was in custody, and people familiar with the investigation told NBC News that he was Jared Lee Loughner, 22. Other sources gave The Associated Press the same name.
His motivation was not immediately known, but Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described him as mentally unstable and possibly acting with an accomplice. He said in addition to the six deaths, 13 people were wounded in the melee. Dupnik said the rampage ended only after two people tackled the gunman.
Investigators said they were looking for an accomplice, believed to be in his 50s, who may have assisted in the attack.
A 9mm Glock handgun that had what police described as "an extended clip" with 30 bullets was recovered at the scene, The Washington Post reported. Officials told The Associated Press the gun used in the attack was purchased legally. The Post said it was bought Nov. 30 from the Sportsman's Warehouse in Tucson.
The shooter had another magazine that held about 30 bullets and two that held about 15 bullets each, sources told the Post, and he also had a knife.
Doctors were optimistic about Giffords surviving as she was responding to commands from doctors despite having a bullet go through her head. "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.
Dupnik pointed to the vitriolic political rhetoric that has consumed the country as he denounced the shooting.
"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," the sheriff said. "And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
Giffords expressed similar concern before the shooting. In an interview after her office was vandalized, she referred to the animosity against her by conservatives, including Sarah Palin's decision to list Giffords' seat as one of the top "targets" in the midterm elections.
"For example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action," Giffords said in an interview with MSNBC.
In the hours after the shooting, Palin issued a statement in which she expressed her "sincere condolences" to the family of Giffords and the other victims.
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. Obama dispatched his FBI chief to Arizona.
The office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said all legislative activity in the House scheduled for next week would be postponed.
The suspect's exact motivation was not clear, but a former classmate described Lougher as a pot-smoking loner who had rambling beliefs about the world.
He tried to enlist in the Army in 2008 but was rejected for service, NBC News reported. Army officials would not discuss details of his December application.
Federal law enforcement officials were poring over versions of a MySpace page that belonged to Loughner and over a YouTube video published weeks ago under an account "Classitup10" and linked to him. The MySpace page, which was removed within minutes of the gunman being identified by officials, included a mysterious "Goodbye friends" message published hours before the shooting and exhorted his friends to "Please don't be mad at me."
In one of several Youtube videos, which featured text against a dark background, Loughner described inventing a new U.S. currency and complained about the illiteracy rate among people living in Giffords' congressional district in Arizona.
"I know who's listening: Government Officials, and the People," Loughner wrote. "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)."
Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin said three Giffords staffers were shot. Two are expected to survive, but Gabe Zimmerman, a former social worker who served as Giffords' director of community outreach, was killed.
Giffords had worked with the judge in the past to line up funding to build a new courthouse in Yuma, and Obama hailed him for his nearly 40 years of service as a judge.
Roll, a married father of three children, was the chief judge in Arizona, appointed in 1991 by the first President Bush, NBC News reported.
Law enforcement sources told NBC News that Roll lived nearby and stopped by Safeway to say hello to Giffords.
"The devoted husband, father of three, grandfather of five, and friend to all who knew him, will be greatly missed by his family and community," said a statement released by the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. "He was a warm, compassionate judge and inspirational leader in what is one of the busiest districts in the country."
An uncle of the 9-year-old girl told the Arizona Republic Saturday evening that a neighbor was going to the event and invited Green along because she had just been elected to the student council and was interested in government.
"The next thing you know this happened. How do you prepare for something like this? My little niece got killed — took one on the chest and she is dead," Greg Segalini told a reporter for the Arizona newspaper.
Giffords was first elected to Congress amid a wave of Democratic victories in the 2006 election, and has been mentioned as a possible Senate candidate in 2012 and a gubernatorial prospect in 2014.
Giffords is married to astronaut Mark E. Kelly, who has piloted space shuttles Endeavour and Discovery. The two met in China in 2003 while they were serving on a committee there, and were married in January 2007. NBC News reported that Kelly flew to Tucson on a NASA aircraft after the shooting.
Sen. Bill Nelson, chairman of the Senate Commerce Space and Science Subcommittee, said her husband is training to be the next commander of the space shuttle mission slated for April. His brother is currently serving aboard the International Space Station, Nelson said.
'Chaos, people screaming, crying'
The shooting occurred at a shopping center called La Toscana Village as Giffords met with voters outside a Safeway grocery store.
Giffords, known as "Gabby," tweeted shortly before the shooting, describing her "Congress on Your Corner" event: "My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later."
"It's not surprising that today Gabby was doing what she always does, listening to the hopes and concerns of her neighbors," Obama said. "That is the essence of what our democracy is about."
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.
"He was not more than three or four feet from the congresswoman and the district director," he said.
Law enforcement officials and reporters from around the country quickly descended on Tucson, the second biggest city in the state and home to the University of Arizona. The scene has been converted into a command post with about a dozen or so emergency vehicles and agents in FBI jackets milling about the location.
Outside Giffords' office on Capitol Hill, a handful of congressional staffers could be seen walking into her office without comment, some with roller bags and one who was in tears. About a half dozen yellow flowers placed by one mourner sat outside the door.
'We are freaked out'
In Loughner's middle-class neighborhood — about a five-minute drive from the scene — sheriff's deputies had much of the street blocked off as curious neighbors asked what was going on. The neighborhood sits just off a bustling Tucson street and is lined with desert landscaping and palm trees.
Neighbors said Loughner kept to himself but that they often saw him walking his dog, almost always wearing a hooded sweat shirt listening to his iPod. Neighbors said Loughner lived with his parents.
"We're getting out of here. We are freaked out," 33-year-old David Cleveland, who lives a few doors down from Loughner's house, told The Associated Press.
Cleveland said he was taking his wife and children, ages 5 and 7, to her parent's home when they heard about the shooting.
"When we heard about it we just got sick to our stomachs," Cleveland said. "We just wanted to hold our kids tight."
High school classmate Grant Wiens, 22, said Loughner seemed to be "floating through life" and "doing his own thing."
"Sometimes religion was brought up or drugs. He smoked pot, I don't know how regularly. And he wasn't too keen on religion from what I could tell," Wiens said.
Tyler Ramsier, who graduated from Mountain View High School a year before Loughner, told the Arizona Republic that Loughner dressed in dark clothes.
The shooting comes amid a highly charged political environment that has seen several dangerous threats against lawmakers but nothing that reached the point of actual violence.
A San Francisco man upset with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's support of health care reform pleaded guilty to threatening the Democratic congresswoman and her family, calling her directly on March 25 and threatening to destroy her Northern California home if she voted for health care reform.
In July, a California man known for his anger over left-leaning politics engaged in a shootout with highway patrol officers after planning an attack on the ACLU and another nonprofit group. The man said he wanted to "start a revolution" by killing people at the ACLU and the Tides Foundation.
Giffords is known in her southern Arizona district for her numerous public outreach meetings, which she admitted in an October interview with The Associated Press can sometimes be challenging.
"You know, the crazies on all sides, the people who come out, the planet earth people," she said with a following an appearance with Adm. Mike Mullen in which the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was peppered with bizarre questions from an audience member. "I'm glad this just doesn't happen to me."