This is a simply unbelievable and stunning tragedy… Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head today at a public event held outside of a Safeway grocery store in Tucson.
Ms. Giffords, 40, was shot in the head, the witnesses said. She was taken to the University Medical Center in Tucson, where a spokeswoman, Darci Slaten, said around 1 p.m. local time that she was in surgery. At a news conference several hours later, an official with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department said that six people had been killed and 18 wounded in the shooting. Among the six dead was a child, but officials did not comment on Ms. Giffords’s condition.
Richard Kastigar, a supervisor with the sheriff’s department, identified the gunman as a 22-year-old “with limited law enforcement experience.”
Witnesses said Ms. Giffords was speaking to constituents when a man ran up and began firing. He then tried to escape on foot but was tackled by a bystander and taken into custody by the police.
The NY Times reports that Dr. Steven Rayle, a witness to the shootings said, “I saw the congresswoman talking to two people, and then this man suddenly came up and shot her in the head and then shot other people. I think it was a semiautomatic, and he must have got off 20 rounds.”
Dr. Rayle said that Ms. Giffords slumped to the ground and that staff members immediately rushed to her aid. “A staffer had his arm around her, and she was leaning against the window of the Safeway. He had a jacket or towel on her head,” the doctor said.
President Obama said in a statement released earlier that Giffords had been “gravely wounded.” CNN reports that Obama is expected to speak live on the tragedy at some point today.
The NY Times also reports on previous threats to Giffords:
Sylvia Lee, a friend of Ms. Giffords, told CNN that the congresswoman had received numerous threats.
Last March, after the final approval of the Democrats’ health care law, which Ms. Giffords supported, the windows of her office in Tucson were broken or shot out in an act of vandalism…
And in August 2009, when there were demonstrations against the health care measure across the nation, a protester who showed up to meet Ms. Giffords at a supermarket event similar to Saturday’s was removed by the police when the pistol he had holstered under his armpit fell and bounced on the floor.
During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election; those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.
In the wake of the tragic shootings, more than a few liberal bloggers have pointed to Palin’s “crosshair target” map posted on Facebook in March 2010. Sarah Palin has published a very brief statement on the shooting on Facebook.
A nine year old child and Federal Judge John Roll were also killed in the shooting. The WaPo reports that a “22-year old man was taken into custody after being tackled by people in the small crowd after the shooting.”
One pistol was recovered and it had what police described as “an extended clip.”
The man was identified as Jared Loughner, who appears to have left a trail of Internet postings, including some that express convoluted observations about government. Law enforcement officials said they believed he was a military veteran.
UPDATE: A short time ago, President Obama in live remarks to the nation said he had dispatched F.B.I. director Robert Mueller to the scene of the tragic rampage.