A gunman described as a pot-smoking loner was said to have specifically targeted US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the Arizona supermarket massacre that killed five people and left the politician fighting for her life.
Democrat Ms Giffords was shot in the head at point-blank range as she met voters outside the Safeway supermarket in Tucson on Saturday.
The gunman killed a judge and four others including a nine-year-old girl and a member of Ms Giffords’ staff in the rampage, before apparently being tackled by two men.
Ms Giffords, 40, was among at least 10 people wounded. Doctors said her outlook was optimistic as she was responding to commands from doctors despite the bullet travelling through her head.
Meanwhile authorities said they were investigating a suspicious package sent to Ms Giffords’ headquarters. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik gave few other details about the package, which he said was found after the attack.
President Barack Obama said: “It is a tragedy for Arizona, and a tragedy for our entire country.” Politicians of all parties condemned the shooting as a horrific and senseless act of violence and Capitol police warned congress members to be more vigilant about security.
The gunman, in police custody, was identified by people familiar with the investigation as Jared Loughner, 22. Pima County Sheriff’s officials said he used a 9mm pistol. A former classmate described Loughner as a pot-smoking loner with rambling beliefs about the world.
Investigators were poring over versions of a MySpace page that belonged to Loughner and a YouTube video published weeks ago under an account “Classitup10” and linked to him. The MySpace page, which was removed within minutes of the gunman being identified by officials, included a mysterious “Goodbye friends” message published hours before the shooting, which exhorted his friends: “Please don’t be mad at me.”
In one of several Youtube videos, which featured text against a dark background, Loughner described inventing a new US currency and complained about the illiteracy rate among people living in Ms Giffords’ constituency.
US district judge John Roll, who had worked with Ms Giffords in the past to line up funding for a new court in Yuma, was among the dead. He had served as a judge for nearly 40 years. Ms Giffords’ spokesman CJ Karamargin said three of her staffers were shot in the attack. Gabe Zimmerman, a former social worker who served as her director of community outreach, died.