TUCSON (CN) – Federal prosecutors on Sunday charged a 22-year-old Arizona man with shooting to death a federal judge, critically wounding Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and killing 5 other people, including a 9-year-old girl. Jared Lee Loughner is charged 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.
U.S. District Judge John Roll and five others were killed in a shooting spree at a “Congress on Your Corner” event outside a Tucson grocery store. Fourteen people were injured; Giffords clings to life in a hospital, shot through the head.
Loughner is charged with shooting Judge Roll, Rep. Giffords, and three members of her staff – Gabe Zimmerman, Pamela Simon, and Ron Baber – in a spree that began at 10:11 a.m. Saturday.
Judge Roll and Zimmerman died at the scene; Simon and Baber were “seriously wounded.”
Loughner also allegedly killed senior citizens Phyllis Schneck, Dorothy Morris and Dorwin Stoddard, and 9-year-old Christine Green before witnesses tackled and disarmed him.
Christine Green, a precocious 9-year-old who wanted to go into politics, was born on Sept. 11, 2001.
A search of Loughner’s house after the shooting turned up a safe with a letter from Congresswoman Giffords to Loughner, dated Aug. 30, 2007, “thanking him for attending a ‘Congress on Your Corner’ event at the Foothills Mall in Tucson,” according to the criminal complaint.
“Also recovered in the safe was an envelope with handwriting … stating ‘I planned ahead,’ and ‘My assassination’ and the name ‘Giffords,’ along with what appears to be Loughner’s signature,” the complaint states.
Giffords was shot through her head at close range, and is in intensive care at University Medical Center after brain surgery. Doctors said in a press conference Sunday that she was able to communicate through simple commands – such as squeezing a hand and holding up two fingers.
“When you get shot and a bullet goes through your brain, the chance of you living is very small. And the chance of you waking up and following commands is much smaller than that,” said Dr. Peter Rhee, medical director of the UMC trauma center. “This is very early in her course. We don’t know what’s going to happen, what her deficits may by in the future or anything.”
Doctors said Giffords was shot in the brain, from the back to the front, on one side.
Judge Roll, chief judge of Arizona since 2006, was recommended for the federal bench by Arizona Sen. John McCain, and appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1991. According to the criminal complaint, Judge Roll “had worked with Congresswoman Giffords within the last several months to resolve issues related to the volume of cases filed in the District of Arizona.”
He is seen on digital surveillance video speaking to Barber for several minutes before he was shot and killed. He attended the event to express his appreciation for the support Giffords had given him “about issues related to the volume of federal cases in the District of Arizona,” the complaint claims.
Giffords had been threatened repeatedly after she voted for the Obama administration’s health-care reforms, and for speaking against Arizona’s punitive immigration measures.
Sen. John McCain, in a statement about Judge Roll, said, “Words are inadequate to express such a profound loss to his family, friends, state and country, but it is appropriate to note that a man of great qualities and character was struck down today.”
Judge Roll also had served as an Arizona state judge; he graduated from the University of Arizona in 1969 and the University of Arizona College of Law in 1972.
“He was a warm, compassionate judge and inspirational leader in what is one of the busiest districts in the country,” the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona said in a statement. “His death will leave a significant void in the District of Arizona and the entire federal judiciary, and we are all deeply saddened.”
Loughner is set to make his initial court appearance at the Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse in Phoenix today at 2 p.m., before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence Anderson.
After the shootings, Republican Party officials and activists hustled to distance themselves from the violence. Sarah Palin took off her website a chart with gunsights trained on Congresswoman Giffords’ district, though the gunsight image remained on Palin’s Facebook page, according to newspaper reports.
Republican leaders, who now control the House, and had scheduled a vote this week to repeal the Obama administration’s health-care law, announced that they would suspend that action.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, a longtime elected official in the county that includes Tucson, deplored the recent years of vitriolic language from Congress, talk radio and TV, and from the Arizona Legislature.
“Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital” of the inflammatory rhetoric, Dupnik said. “We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”
In March last year, Congresswoman Giffords commented on the gunsights that Palin had posted on the Internet, according to a report in the Sunday New York Times.
“We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list,” Giffords said. “But the thing is, the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.”