US congresswoman in critical condition after shooting (Fourth Lead)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

WASHINGTON - A member of the US Congress and 18 others were shot Saturday in an attack at a shopping centre in Tucson, Arizona, police said.

Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, 40, had been holding a meeting with local residents outside a grocery store when a gunman opened fire. Six people were confirmed dead, police said in a press conference.

The dead included federal Judge John Roll, a member of Giffords’ staff and a 9-year-old child.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said two people at the scene tackled the shooter, ending the attack.

A 22-year-old man was in police custody in connection with the attack. ABC News identified him as Jared Lee Loughner and said he had posted a series of angry anti-government rants on YouTube.

Another man was also being sought by police, Dupnik said.

The congresswoman had received threats, but it was not clear whether the suspected shooter had made any threats directed at her. Later Saturday, police evacuated Giffords’ Tucson headquarters after a report of a suspicious package, Dupnik said.

Giffords was in critical condition following surgery, but was expected to survive, her doctor said. A single bullet fired at close range had passed through her head.

The hospital, where Giffords was a patient, was treating a total of 10 people injured in the attack, five of whom were in critical condition.

Giffords had left surgery and was transferred to an intensive care unit. “At the present time, I’m very optimistic about recovery,” the doctor said.

A previous report from broadcaster NPR had incorrectly said Giffords was among those killed.

US President Barack Obama said the federal government would offer its full resources to the investigation and FBI Director Robert Mueller was on his way to Tucson.

“This is more than a tragedy for those involved,” Obama said in remarks to reporters at the White House. “It is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our entire country.”

Political colleagues from both parties, including, John Boehner, the new speaker of the House of Representatives, also condemned the attack and violence against public officials.

“I am horrified by the senseless attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and members of her staff. An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve,” Boehner said in a statement.

“Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society. Our prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords, her staff, all who were injured, and their families. This is a sad day for our country.”

Peter Michaels, news director with Arizona Public Media, told NPR that the gunman approached as Giffords was speaking to a couple and began firing from a little more than one metre’s distance.

Giffords has been in office since 2007 and was sworn in this week for her third term in office. It is not unusual for members of the US legislature to attend citizen’s events in their home districts during weekend breaks from Congress with little or no special security.

Giffords is married to Mark Kelly, an astronaut with the US space programme NASA, who is scheduled to command the last scheduled flight of a space shuttle mission, set for April.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden was among those offering support to the family. He called Giffords “a long-time supporter of NASA” and “a member of the NASA family”.

Considered a political moderate, Giffords serves on congressional committees for the armed services, foreign affairs and science and technology.

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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