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Suspect charged in congresswoman's attack

Federal prosecutors brought charges Sunday against the gunman accused of attempting to assassinate U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killing six people at a political event in Arizona.
Emergency personnel attend to a shooting victim outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday where U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and others were shot as the congresswoman was meeting with constituents.
Emergency personnel attend to a shooting victim outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday where U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and others were shot as the congresswoman was meeting with constituents. James Palka / AP
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

Federal prosecutors brought charges Sunday against the gunman accused of attempting to assassinate U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killing six people at a political event in Arizona.

Investigators said they carried out a search warrant at suspect Jared Loughner's Tucson home and seized an envelope from a safe with messages such as "I planned ahead," "My assassination" and the name "Giffords" next to what appears to be the man's signature. He allegedly purchased the Glock pistol used in the attack in November at Sportsman's Warehouse in Tucson.

Court documents also show that Loughner had contact with Giffords in the past. Other evidence included a letter addressed to him on Giffords' congressional stationery in which she thanked him for attending a "Congress on your Corner" event at a mall in Tucson in 2007. Giffords was shot at her first "Congress on your Corner" event with constituents of the new year.

Authorities weren't saying Sunday where Loughner was being held, and officials were working to appoint an attorney for him ahead of a scheduled Monday afternoon court appearance in Phoenix.

Heather Williams, the first assistant federal public defender in Arizona, said they're asking that San Diego attorney Judy Clarke be appointed.

Clarke, a former federal public defender in San Diego and Spokane, Washington, served on teams that defended Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Timothy McVeigh, "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski and Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman who drowned her two sons in 1994.

Williams' office is asking for an outside attorney because one of those killed was U.S. District Judge John M. Roll.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said Sunday that Loughner acted alone.

Meanwhile, authorities released emergency calls in which a person witnessing the mass shooting outside a grocery store in Tucson describes a frantic scene and says, "I do believe Gabby Giffords was hit."

Loughner fired at Giffords' district director and shot indiscriminately at staffers and others standing in line to talk to the congresswoman, said Mark Kimble, a communications staffer for Giffords.

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

Loughner is accused of killing six people, including a federal judge, an aide to Giffords and a 9-year-old girl who was born on Sept. 11, 2001. Fourteen others were wounded, including the three-term Democratic lawmaker. FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was sent by Attorney General Eric Holder to Arizona to help coordinate the investigation, said the shooter's motive for the 10 a.m. attack was not known.

Agents are "working around the clock to gather the facts to determine why someone would commit such heinous acts," Mueller said during a news conference.

Federal prosecutors charged Loughner with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee. He also could face state charges in the killings.

Doctors treating Giffords at Tucson's University Medical Center provided an optimistic update about her chances for survival, saying they are "very, very encouraged" by her ability to respond to simple commands along with their success in controlling her bleeding.

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) is seen in an undated handout photo provided by her Congressional campaign, January 8, 2011. Giffords was hit in a shooting on Saturday at a public event of the Congresswoman's at a Tucson, Arizona grocery store that also injured at least nine other people, hospital and law enforcement sources said. REUTERS/Giffords for Congress/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW) NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO COMMERCIAL USEHO / X80001

In a statement released Sunday night, Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly thanked supporters and mourned the loss of those killed in the attack. "We must never forget them, and our prayers are with their families," the statement read. Kelly noted many offers of help, but asked people to consider donating to two organizations that "Gabby has long valued and supported: Tuscon's Community Food Bank and the American Red Cross."

Mourners crammed into the tiny sanctuary of Giffords' synagogue in Tucson to pray for her quick recovery. Outside the hospital, 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 Giffords.

One of the victims was 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was a member of the student council at her local school and went to the event because of her interest in government. She is the granddaughter of Dallas Green, former manager of the Philadelphia Phillies major league baseball team. Her father, John Green, is as a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

She was born on 9/11 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 in the U.S.

The fact that Christina's life ended in tragedy was especially tragic to those who knew her. "Tragedy seems to have happened again," said the author of the book, Christine Naman. "In the form of this awful event."

Authorities said the dead included U.S. District Judge John M. Roll; Green; Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79. Judge Roll had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after attending Mass.

An unidentified man who authorities earlier said might have acted as an accomplice was cleared Sunday of any involvement in the attack. A security camera captured an image of a man with Loughner shortly before the attack.

Dupnik said the man was a cab driver who walked into the Safeway grocery store with Loughner because the driver didn't have change for a $20 bill. He said the shooting occurred just after the two exchanged money.

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)."

In Loughner's middle-class neighborhood — about a five-minute drive from the scene — sheriff's deputies had much of the street blocked off. The neighborhood sits just off a bustling Tucson street and is lined with desert landscaping and palm trees.

Neighbors said Loughner lived with his parents and kept to himself. He was often seen walking his dog, almost always wearing a hooded sweat shirt and listening to his iPod.

The assassination attempt left Americans questioning whether divisive politics had pushed the suspect over the edge.

A shaken President Barack Obama called the attack "a tragedy for our entire country."

"We are in a dark place in this country right now and the atmospheric condition is toxic," Democratic Representative Emanuel Cleaver told NBC's "Meet the Press."

In a brief statement Sunday morning, House Speaker John Boehner said flags on the House side of the Capitol in Washington will be flown at half staff to honor Giffords' slain aide, Gabe Zimmerman. Boehner says normal House business this week is postponed to focus on any necessary actions in the shooting aftermath.

Giffords faced frequent backlash from the right over her support of the health care reform last year, and had her office vandalized the day the House approved the landmark measure.

Dupnik lashed out at what he called an excessively "vitriolic" atmosphere in the months leading up to the rampage as he described the chaos of the day.

The sheriff said three people helped subdue the gunman. Dupnik said Patricia Maisch was waiting in line with her husband to get a photo with Giffords. When the shooting started, she ran up to the suspect and grabbed the empty magazine, then grabbed a full magazine as he was loading it into the gun.

Two men helped subdue the suspect — Roger Sulzgeber, who was also in line, and Joseph Zimudie, who was at a nearby drug store and heard the shooting, Dupnik said.

"He was definitely on a mission," according to event volunteer Alex Villec, former Giffords intern.

Strong reaction came from overseas, as well.

British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed shock at the shooting, and added that he shared President Barack Obama's belief that "we must never allow violence and hate to extinguish the open political discourse which is our surest protection."

Fidel Castro also denounced the attack as atrocious. "Even those of us who don't share at all the politics and philosophies (of the Obama administration) sincerely desire that no children, judges, legislators or citizens of the United States die in such an absurd and unjustifiable way," Castro said in an opinion piece titled "An Atrocious Act," published in Cuban state-controlled media.

Giffords 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.

Giffords had expressed concerns about inflammatory political rhetoric, even 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.The suspect Loughner was described by a former classmate 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."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)."

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.

Lynda Sorenson said she took a math class with Loughner last summer at Pima Community College's Northwest campus and told the Arizona Daily Star he was "obviously very disturbed." "He disrupted class frequently with nonsensical outbursts," she said.

In October 2007, Loughner was cited in Pima County for possession of drug paraphernalia, which was dismissed after he completed a diversion program, according to online records.

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.

She 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. Sen. Bill Nelson, chairman of the Senate Commerce Space and Science Subcommittee, said Kelly 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.

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Associated Press Writers Amanda Lee Myers and Terry Tang in Tucson, Jacques Billeaud, Bob Christie and Paul Davenport in Phoenix, and David Espo, Matt Apuzzo, Eileen Sullivan, Adam Goldman and Charles Babington in Washington contributed to this report.