An assassination attempt has left a Democratic congresswoman in a critical condition, killed Arizona’s chief federal judge and five other people and forced Americans to question the toxic legacy of their divisive politics.
Republican Gabrielle Giffords was among 13 people wounded in the shooting at a public event in Tucson, Arizona. The gunman was in custody.
The Pima County Sheriff’s department released a photo today of a possible accomplice they were seeking, a white man with dark hair, 40-45 years old.
A shaken President Barack Obama called the attack “a tragedy for our entire country” and sent his FBI chief to Arizona to help the investigation.
Giffords, 40, is a moderate Democrat who narrowly won re-election in November against a tea party candidate who sought to throw her from office over her support of the health care law. During the campaign, Sarah Palin had urged supporters to oust Gifford.
Gifford and nine other wounded were being treated at University Medical Center. Spokeswoman Darcy Slaten said five were in critical condition today and five in serious condition. She said the three other wounded were treated and released.
Firing a semi-automatic weapon, the gunman targeted Giffords as she met constituents outside a busy Tucson supermarket, shooting her in the head. He also fired at her district director and shot indiscriminately at the crowd, said a member of Giffords’ staff.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said the rampage ended only after two people tackled the gunman. He was identified by people familiar with the investigation as Jared Loughner, 22.
Authorities said the dead included US District Judge John Roll, 63; Christina Greene, nine; Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Scheck, 79. Judge Roll had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after attending Mass.
The sheriff blamed the vitriolic political rhetoric that has consumed the country, especially Arizona. Giffords expressed similar concern, even before the shooting. In an interview after her office was vandalised last year, she referred to the animosity against her by conservatives.