In­ci­dent in Ari­zona raises con­cern about tone of na­tional po­lit­i­cal de­bate


tuc­son — The mass shoot­ing Satur­day morn­ing that gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Gif­fords (D-Ariz.) and killed a fed­eral judge raised se­ri­ous con­cerns that the nation’s heated po­lit­i­cal dis­course had taken a dan­ger­ous turn.

Po­lice are hold­ing a 22-yearold man in the shoot­ing ram­page, which oc­curred out­side a su­per­mar­ket where Gif­fords was greet­ing con­stituents. The gun­man shot Gif­fords in the head at close range and then con­tin­ued to fire into the small gath­er­ing of peo­ple, po­lice said.

Po­lice said they think that Gif­fords was the tar­get of the at­tack.

Law en­force­ment and med­i­cal of­fi­cials in Ari­zona said that at least 18 peo­ple were shot in the melee and that six of them had died, in­clud­ing John M. Roll, the chief U.S. District judge in Ari­zona, and Gabe Zim­mer­man, Gif­fords’s lo­cal di­rec­tor of com­mu­nity out­reach. A 9-year-old girl was also killed. Two other Gif­fords staffers, district di­rec­tor Ron Bar­ber and com­mu­nity out­reach aide Pam Simon, were wounded.

Au­thor­i­ties said they were seek­ing a sec­ond man as a “per­son of in­ter­est” who might have been at the scene with the gun­man. He is not a sus­pect in the shoot­ing, au­thor­i­ties said.

It was un­clear what might have mo­ti­vated the sus­pect, iden-tuc­son

ti­fied as 22-year-old Jared Lough­ner. On YouTube, an in­di­vid­ual us­ing the same name had posted con­vo­luted videos with a vague anti-govern­ment mes­sage, that law en­force­ment of­fi­cials said they were an­a­lyz­ing. As of late Satur­day, Lough­ner wasn’t co­op­er­at­ing with in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

In an emo­tional news con­fer­ence late Satur­day, Pima County Sher­iff Clarence W. Dup­nik (D) de­nounced the nation’s vit­ri­olic po­lit­i­cal cli­mate and noted Ari­zona’s part in the ran­cor af­ter a con­tro­ver­sial crack­down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

“ The anger, the ha­tred, the big­otry that goes on in this coun­try is get­ting to be out­ra­geous, and un­for­tu­nately Ari­zona has be­come sort of the cap­i­tal,” Dup­nik said. “We have be­come the mecca for prej­u­dice and big­otry.”

The fiery rhetoric that has taken hold in pol­i­tics, Dup­nik said, “may be free speech, but it’s not with­out con­se­quences.”

Pres­i­dent Obama dis­patched FBI Di­rec­tor Robert S. Mueller III to the scene, and U.S. Capi­tol Po­lice, charged with pro­tect­ing mem­bers of Congress, urged House mem­bers to take “rea­son­able and pru­dent pre­cau­tions” re­gard­ing their per­sonal safety.

Peter Rhee, trauma di­rec­tor at Uni­ver­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Tuc­son, where Gif­fords was listed in in­ten­sive care, said a sin­gle bul­let had struck Gif­fords in the head and trav­eled through her brain. Sources close to Gif­fords said the law­maker was re­spon­sive when she was air­lifted from the scene and be­fore surgery.

De­spite cau­tious op­ti­mism about Gif­fords’s con­di­tion, for­mer U.S. sur­geon gen­eral Richard Car­mona, a fam­ily friend of Gif­fords’s, told re­porters Satur­day night that she could need fur­ther surgery. “ This is a very dev­as­tat­ing wound,” Car­mona said.

Lough­ner was tack­led by two peo­ple in the small crowd that had formed around Gif­fords, and he was taken taken into cus­tody. A 9mm Glock hand­gun was re­cov­ered. It had what po­lice de­scribed as “an ex­tended clip.”

Dozens of friends and col­leagues gath­ered at the Capi­tol on Satur­day night for a vigil for Gif­fords. A somber Obama ad­dressed the tragedy late Satur­day af­ter­noon.

“It’s not sur­pris­ing that to­day Gabby was do­ing what she al­ways does — lis­ten­ing to the hopes and con­cerns of her neigh­bors,” Obama said, re­fer­ring to Gif­fords by her nick­name. “ 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.”

Gif­fords, who nar­rowly won re­elec­tion to a third term in Novem­ber and was sworn into of­fice Wed­nes­day, was host­ing her first “Congress on Your Corner” event of the new Congress when the gun­man ap­peared, law en­force­ment sources said.

Steven Rayle, a Tuc­son doc­tor, said he saw a young man wear­ing sneak­ers and what ap­peared to be navy-blue sweats ap­proach Gif­ford with a raised semiau­to­matic pis­tol. The man shot Gif­fords once in the face, he said.

Af­ter Gif­fords fell, Rayle said, peo­ple near her tried to flee but were trapped by a ta­ble and a con­crete post. The gun­man fired into the crowd, he said.

“ There was nowhere easy to run,” Rayle said. “Peo­ple that were there were just sit­ting ducks. I don’t think he was even aim­ing. He was just fir­ing at what­ever.”

An in­tern to the con­gress­woman who had nurs­ing train­ing was able to at­tend to Gif­fords be­fore emer­gency work­ers ar­rived, a po­ten­tially crit­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion, a Gif­fords aide con­firmed.

Law en­force­ment sources said the gun used in the at­tack was fit­ted with a mag­a­zine that held about 30 bul­lets. The shooter had an­other mag­a­zine that held about 30 bul­lets and two that held about 15 bul­lets each, sources said, and he also had a knife. Reese Wid­mier, man­ager of the Sports­man’s Ware­house in Tuc­son, con­firmed that the gun was sold by the store Nov. 30.

The shoot­ing marked the first at­tempt on the life of a sit­ting mem­ber of Congress since the 1978 killing of Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Calif.) while in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Peo­ples Tem­ple cult com­pound in Jon­estown, Guyana.

Al­though Lough­ner’s mo­tive re­mained a mys­tery, the in­ci­dent was viewed by many in the po­lit­i­cal world as a grim book­end to a bit­terly con­tentious cam­paign sea­son, in which Ari­zona and Gif­fords fea­tured promi­nently.

Last March, Gif­fords was one of 10 House Democrats who were ha­rassed for their sup­port of the na­tional health-care over­haul. Af­ter Gif­fords voted for the fi­nal bill, the front door of her Tuc­son of­fice was shat­tered in an early morn­ing act of van­dal­ism.

House Repub­li­can lead­ers had sched­uled a vote Wed­nes­day on re­peal­ing the health-care law, but they an­nounced af­ter the shoot­ing that it would be post­poned, along with other leg­isla­tive busi­ness.

Gif­fords’s seat was tar­geted by Repub­li­cans in the 2010 midterm elec­tions, but she man­aged to win a tough bat­tle against a tea party-en­dorsed op­po­nent. The up-and-com­ing law­maker, known as a mod­er­ate Demo­crat who stayed in touch with her district, had been sin­gled out by Sarah Palin’s SarahPac as one of 20 Democrats rep­re­sent­ing states that sup­ported Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for pres­i­dent in 2008.

Lib­er­als on Satur­day blamed the tea party move­ment’s some­times mil­i­tant rhetoric: for ex­am­ple, Palin’s telling sup­port­ers via Twit­ter, “Don’t Re­treat, In­stead — RELOAD,” and Ne­vada GOP Se­nate can­di­date Shar­ron An­gle’s ad­vo­cat­ing “sec­ond-amend­ment reme­dies” to some of the nation’s prob­lems.

The link to Palin touched off a war of words Satur­day via so­cial me­dia sites such as Twit­ter and Face­book, as prom­i­nent left-wing blog­gers ac­cused Palin and oth­ers of en­cour­ag­ing ex­trem­ism. Palin weighed in by is­su­ing a call for “peace” on her Face­book page.

Politi­cians from across the spec­trum re­acted with shock and alarm. “I am hor­ri­fied by the sense­less at­tack on Con­gress­woman Gabrielle Gif­fords,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “An at­tack on one who serves is an at­tack on all who serve. Acts and threats of vi­o­lence against pub­lic of­fi­cials have no place in our so­ci­ety.”

The “Congress on Your Corner” pro­gram was in­tended as a way for Demo­cratic law­mak­ers like Gif­fords to re­main con­nected to lo­cal con­cerns, es­pe­cially in highly com­pet­i­tive dis­tricts. Gif­fords was stand­ing out­side the gro­cery store un­der a ban­ner with her name on it when the sus­pect ap­proached her and started fir­ing.

Gif­fords is a for­mer mem­ber of the Ari­zona state Se­nate and House, and she had served as pres­i­dent of a tire com­pany founded by her fa­ther. She speaks Span­ish, and her hob­bies in­clude mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing. She is mar­ried to Mark Kelly, an as­tro­naut and Navy pi­lot.

In 2006, she was a top re­cruit of Rahm Emanuel, then chair­man of the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, and was viewed as the type of young, mid­dle-of-the-road can­di­date with cross­over ap­peal. That year, she won the Demo­cratic pri­mary in a crowded field. In the gen­eral elec­tion, she re­ceived 54 per­cent of the vote against the GOP can­di­date, anti-il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion ac­tivist Randy Graf, to suc­ceed re­tir­ing Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.).

She eas­ily won re­elec­tion in 2008.

The de­bate sparked by the Ari­zona crack­down last year on il­le­gal im­mi­grants be­came a defin­ing is­sue in Gif­fords’s 2010 cam­paign. The 8th Con­gres­sional District bor­ders Mex­ico, and al­though Gif­fords de­nounced the law as “ex­treme,” she re­fused to join a cho­rus of lib­eral ou­trage. She de­scribed the mea­sure as a “clear call­ing that the fed­eral govern­ment needs to do a bet­ter job.”

She sup­ported a Repub­li­can ef­fort to add Na­tional Guard troops along the border and op­posed an ef­fort by a home-state col­league, Rep. Raul Gri­jalva (D), to boy­cott Ari­zona busi­nesses in protest of the state law. Gif­fords won re­elec­tion by fewer than 4,000 votes.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who as 2010 chair­man of the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee made Gif­fords’s re­elec­tion a pri­or­ity, called her “one of our very bright­est lights.”

One of her as­sign­ments un­der the Demo­cratic House ma­jor­ity was to chair a sub­com­mit­tee that over­saw NASA. Kelly, who mar­ried Gif­fords in 2007, re­cently com­manded the space shut­tle En­deavor’s trip to the in­ter­na­tional space sta­tion. Mur­ray re­ported from Washington and Horwitz from Tuc­son. Staff writ­ers Paul Kane, Anne E. Korn­blut, David A. Fahren­thold and Sand­hya Somashekhar con­trib­uted to this re­port.


A well-wisher drops roses out­side the Capi­tolHill of­fice of Rep. Gabrielle Gif­fords af­ter the shoot­ing ram­page in Tuc­son.


Gif­fords tweeted an in­vi­ta­tion to con­stituents be­fore the shoot­ing.

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