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Police Try To Piece Together Ariz. Shooter’s Motive

People gather for a vigil at University Medical Center for U.S. Rep. Gabriell...

Photo by Laura Segall / Getty Images

Above: People gather for a vigil at University Medical Center for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who was shot during an event in front of a Safeway grocery store January 8, 2011 in Tuscon, Arizona.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) remained in critical condition Sunday, a day after she was seriously wounded in a shooting rampage that killed at least six people and injured at least a dozen others in Tucson. Police and investigators were trying to piece together the alleged shooter's motive as they searched for a possible accomplice.

Giffords, 40, was battling for her life after the gunman opened fire at a supermarket parking lot, where the congresswoman was meeting with constituents. U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, Giffords' aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30, and Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old granddaughter of former Philadelphia Phillies manager Dallas Green, were among the dead.

Giffords, a three-term Democrat, was shot once in the head with the bullet going from the back left quadrant to the front, said Dr. Michael Lemole, chief of neurosurgery at University Medical Center.

Dr. Peter Rhee, the hospital's chief of trauma, said he was encouraged because Giffords was able to follow simple commands, but she was unable to speak yet, because she is on a ventilator.

"Overall, this is about as good as it is going to get," Rhee said.

Wrestled To The Ground

The alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was wrestled to the ground by two bystanders at the scene and taken into police custody. Little was immediately known about his motive. Loughner, 22, apparently posted several videos on YouTube, which featured mostly rambling text that discussed the invention of a new currency and a distrust of the government.

Loughner allegedly targeted Giffords as well as her 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 3 or 4 feet from the congresswoman and the district director," Kimble said, describing the scene as "just complete chaos, people screaming, crying."

Doctor Steven Rayle, who said he "pretended to play dead" to avoid getting shot, estimated that 15-20 rounds were fired by the gunman. "He shot Gabrielle Giffords once and then just started shooting everybody," he said. "Apparently, he was trying to reload when he was tackled."

The Pima County Sheriff's office said another man, described as dark haired and between 40 and 50 years of age, was being sought as a "person of interest" who was caught on video by a security camera near the scene.

Hours after the shooting, police in Tucson had to deal with a suspicious package.

Police department spokesman Lt. Fabian Pacheco said an officer checking Giffords' office had found "a real strange" device that he said resembled a coffee can and had writing on it. Pacheco would not disclose what the writing said. A loud noise rattled more than 100 people attending a candlelight vigil on Saturday near Giffords' headquarters. A bomb squad had been working to render the device safe before the loud noise was heard.

Videos By Alleged Shooter

Saturday's shooting has prompted outrage and speculation about the possible motive of the man who allegedly opened fire in the Safeway parking lot.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said there's reason to believe Loughner has "a mental issue" and described him as "unhinged."

"As we understand it, there have been law enforcement contacts with the individual where he made threats to kill," Dupnik said during a news conference Saturday evening. But he wouldn't say who those threats were aimed at.

Dupnik called Arizona the capital of anger, hatred and bigotry, and he said unbalanced people can respond to that in dangerous ways.

Giffords, who was re-elected after a bruising fight against a Tea Party candidate had her office vandalized on the eve of her vote in support of the health care overhaul. She herself warned months ago that the verbal assaults were beyond the pale and could have dire results.

About Gabrielle Giffords

Personal

  • Born: June 8, 1970, in Tucson
  • Family: Married to Mark Kelly, a Navy pilot and astronaut with NASA; two children
  • Home: Tucson, Ariz.
  • Religion: Jewish

Career

  • U.S. House Representative, elected 2006
  • State senator, Arizona 2002-05
  • State representative, Arizona 2000-02
  • CEO El Campo Tire 1997-00
  • Price Waterhouse Coopers 1996-97

Education

  • Scripps College, BA, 1993
  • Cornell University, MS, 1996
  • Fulbright Scholar in Mexico, 1996

Loughner apparently was the source of six videos posted on YouTube in recent months. The most recent one, titled "America: Your Last Memory In A Terrorist Country!" shows a hunched-over man in a hooded sweatshirt burning an American flag in a desert landscape. The soundtrack is a song called "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor."

Other videos have long, written tirades against government, currency and grammar.

In one, he says, "The majority of citizens in the United States of America have never read the United States of America's Constitution."

In another, he says "I can't trust the current government because of the ratifications: The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar."

In one of the videos, Loughner describes himself as a U.S. military recruit, but an Army spokesman said he attempted to enlist and was rejected.

Loughner "was a guy in high school who definitely had his opinions on stuff and didn't seem to care what people thought of him," high school classmate Grant Wiens, 22, told The Associated Press.

Wiens also said Loughner used to speak critically about religion. He also talked about how he liked to smoke pot.

"He wasn't really too keen on religion it seemed like," Wiens said. "I don't know if floating through life is the right term or whatever, but he was really just into doing his own thing."

The MySpace page, which was removed within minutes of the alleged gunman's 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."

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.

Second Man Sought

Dupnik said Saturday that law enforcement has reason to believe Loughner came to the store with another individual who may in some way be involved, but was not himself a shooter.

Later Dupnik gave a bit more information, saying that the other suspect is a white male, possibly in his 50s. A photograph of the man was later released, but police said they don't know his identity.

The sheriff's office said early Sunday that authorities were still seeking for a second man "possibly associated with the suspect" who was filmed by a video camera near the scene of the shooting and is wanted for questioning.

The second man was last seen wearing blue jeans and a dark blue jacket, the sheriff's department said in a statement.

Politicians React

In Washington, lawmakers from both parties were deeply shaken. The House's newly installed Republican leaders postponed Wednesday's scheduled vote to repeal the new health care law. That divisive issue was at the center of the harshest criticisms of Giffords and many other Democrats for the past two years.

President Obama on Saturday called the attack "a tragedy for our entire country."

Giffords is among the group of centrist Democrats known as "Blue Dogs," and on her website she calls the federal debt "the single biggest threat to our economy and national security."

House Speaker John Boehner, speaking briefly on Sunday morning, asked for lawmakers and their staff to keep Giffords in their prayers.

He said the shooting of the Arizona Democrat was an "inhuman act" that "should not and will not deter us from our calling to represent our constituents and fulfill our oaths of office."

"An attack on one who serves, is an attack on all who serve," he said. "Such attacks have no place in our society."

State Democratic Party Chairman Don Bivens said words could not express his shock and devastation over the attack.

"If we can't keep our public servants safe we are a serious peril," he said.

Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva, who represents parts of Tucson as does Giffords, said the nation must assess the fallout of "an atmosphere where the political discourse is about hate, anger and bitterness."

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