In the chaotic moments after a gunman wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, investigators quickly turned a patrol car into a makeshift whiteboard, using markers to scrawl relevant information about the investigation.
By the end of the day, the car was covered with details on the man who carried out the rampage, the hospitals where victims were being treated and a crude diagram of the crime scene.
Photos of the car were among 600 images that were taken by investigators in the aftermath of the January 2011 attack and were made public May 21 by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
The images provided a window into the early hours of the investigation and included the first publicly released photos of the handgun and high-capacity pistol magazines Jared Lee Loughner carried during the attack.
The image of the patrol car was a striking reminder of how investigators scrambled following the shooting, using whatever resources they could to inform officers at the scene.
The handwriting included phone numbers of investigators, medical conditions of victims, and the name and birth date of Loughner.
Police also made a note on the car’s trunk that Loughner had previously been cited for possession of drug paraphernalia, a charge that was dismissed after he completed a diversion program. Someone drew a stick-figure sketch of the scene, including where Loughner and Giffords were located at the time of the attack.
A Post-it note on the patrol car listed the name of Bryce Tierney, a high school friend of Loughner’s who hadn’t talked to Loughner in months.
Loughner had left a message on Tierney’s cellphone hours before the shooting, saying, “Hey Bryce, it’s Jared. We had some good times together. Peace out.”
Loughner was sentenced in November to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years, after he pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges in a shooting that inspired Giffords to become a national leader on gun control. The images contained the very high-capacity magazines that her organization is trying to restrict. Giffords did not comment on the release of the photos.
At the time of the shooting, Loughner had two magazines that held up to 31 bullets, two 15-round magazines, a 4-inch knife and other items.
Loughner had cleared a federal background check and legally bought the 9 mm Glock 19 semi-automatic weapon at a sporting goods store months before the shooting. Though he was carrying the knife during the attack, Loughner didn’t use it to injure anyone.
The images were made public nearly two months after the Sheriff’s Department released roughly 2,700 pages of investigative reports examining the shooting, marking the public’s first view into documents that authorities had kept private since the attack. The records provided more detail about the deteriorating psychological condition of Loughner in the hours leading up to the attack and the first glimpse into Loughner’s family.
News organizations seeking police records and photos from the shooting were denied access in the months after Loughner’s arrest. U.S. District Judge Larry Burns later cleared the way for the release of the photos and records, saying Loughner’s right to a fair trial was no longer on the line now that his criminal case has been resolved.
Mavy Stoddard, who lost her husband Dorwan Stoddard in the massacre and suffered three gunshot wounds herself, said seeing photographs of the gun that killed her husband was hurtful but she understood the public eventually would see them.
“It’s upsetting, of course. It’s what I know killed my husband,” she said.
Arizona’s chief federal judge and a 9-year-old girl were among those killed in the rampage. Thirteen people were injured, including Giffords, who was left partially blind with a paralyzed right arm and brain injury. She resigned from Congress last year.
Other photos show images of a credit card record for earplugs that Loughner bought, and dozens of vehicles that were in the parking lot of the shopping center where the shooting unfolded.
The most graphic image shows a small puddle of blood on the ground outside the Safeway supermarket where the attack occurred, with plastic bags and other trash. Another photo shows a specimen cup that contained a bullet fragment recovered from the shooting scene.
Other photos show sheriff’s deputies talking to people in the parking lot, the interior of the cab that Loughner took to the shopping center, the motel room where he stayed the night before the attack, and a motel record noting the time he checked in but also saying in a handwritten notation that the motel operators “don’t know when he left.”
Pam Simon, a former Giffords staffer who survived two gunshot wounds to her chest and wrist, hadn’t seen the photos yet but wasn’t avoiding them either.
For Simon, the release is a reminder of the magnitude of tragedy of gun violence. She said she has recognized the trauma it has created when talking to people who were working at the grocery store and nearby businesses.
“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t have any burning desire to see them (the photos) right now, I don’t feel any urgency,” she said. “I’ve worked really hard at gathering at the puzzle pieces for myself. I feel like I see that day through the people I’ve talked to and the pictures I have seen, clearly enough.”
Loughner’s guilty plea allowed him to avoid the death penalty. He is serving his sentence at a federal prison medical facility in Springfield, Mo., where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and forcibly given psychotropic drug treatments to make him fit for trial.