Calling a southern Arizona shooting that left six people dead and District 8 U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition “senseless and cruel violence,” Gov. Jan Brewer on Saturday asked the state and nation to pray for victims of the deadly shooting.
Giffords was one of 18 people wounded in the Saturday morning attack at a Pima County grocery store. The alleged shooter, a 22-year-old man, was reportedly tackled by bystanders. The attack, which interrupted a scheduled public event by Giffords, claimed the life of U.S. District Court Presiding Judge John Roll.
By mid-afternoon, surgeons at Tucson University Medical Center had operated on Giffords, who suffered a gunshot wound to her head that Dr. Peter Rhee described as “through and through,” meaning the bullet passed through her head and exited the other side. Some early accounts of the attack had said Giffords was killed after being shot at point blank range.
“She is in critical condition,” Rhee said. “I’m about as optimistic as you can be, given the situation.”
Brewer, in a hastily called Capitol press conference Saturday afternoon, praised Giffords, a Democrat, as a genuine and thoughtful representative who placed the concerns of her district above political pressures and gamesmanship.
“She’s always been a noble public servant, and my thoughts and prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords and her family, the congresswoman’s staff and their families, as well as other victims of this senseless and cruel violence,” Brewer, a Republican, said.
Rhee, speaking on behalf of University Medical Center, said 10 people were brought to hospital. Five were in critical condition. A girl, described by Rhee as being 9 years old, was among those killed.
Despite the severity of the wound suffered by Giffords, Rhee said he was encouraged by the fact that the congresswoman was able to respond to commands by physicians, though he said he could not give definitive statements or details about Giffords’ recovery.
The Arizona Daily Star reported late this afternoon that Ron Barber, Giffords’ district director, was wounded during the shooting, as was Pam Simon, a community outreach director present at the congresswoman’s “Congress on Your Corner” event. Both were expected to recover from their injuries. Giffords’ Director of Community Outreach, Gabe Zimmerman, was killed.
Authorities identified the suspect as Jared Lee Loughner, who was reported by various media outlets to have left a chilling message that read “goodbye friends” on a Myspace account that is not visible to the general public. Other social networking activity by the man revealed a fascination with literacy and grammar, as well as currency.
Brewer’s press conference was delayed for several minutes to allow President Barack Obama to deliver a nationwide statement on the attack. Brewer said she spoke with the president by phone and was encouraged by his pledge to assist in any way possible.
Brewer said she viewed the attack as a random irrational event that should not be taken as reason to skew national attitudes about Arizona.
“Tragedies happen, and we know that people need to be held accountable and responsible for their actions,” she said. “It certainly doesn’t favor on the state of Arizona, but we have a lot of good, decent people here. This is one of those horrible tragedies that we face.”
Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said the governor was in the House of Representatives rehearsing for her Monday State of the State address when she heard of the attack.
House spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said security measures at the Capitol will be reassessed before the event, and that visitors to the House should expect delays.
– Reporter Jim Small contributed to this report.