Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) has been shot in the head at point blank range at an event in her district.
The incident took place in the parking lot of Safeway in Tucson where Giffords was hosting a “Congress on Your Corner” event. The first 911 call came in at 10:11 local time, according to the Pima County sheriff’s office. Those officials indicated at 3:45 ET that a total of 18 people were injured. In a 4:00 ET press conference, University Medical Center trauma surgeon Peter Rhee confirmed that they had received a total of 10 victims, including Giffords. One of the victims taken to UMC died, five of whom were in surgery and 5 of whom were in critical condition at that time.
Giffords, Rhee said, was shot once in the head “through and through” but was responding to commands and had made it through surgery. Rhee said he was optimistic that she could recover.
The deceased victim at UMC was a 9-year-old girl. The New York Times reports that the sheriff’s office says that there are six dead, including the child and Chief Justice John Roll of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona.
AP sources identified the gunman as identified as 22-year-old Jared Loughner of Tucson, and local police said in a press conference that he had a pistol with an extended magazine. The Tucson Citizen reports that police arrested a second man and were seeking a third in connection with the investigation.
Gawker spoke to an apparent eyewitness, former ER doctor Steven Rayle, who assisted in apprehending the suspect now identified at Loughner.
The gunman, who may have come from inside the Safeway, walked up and shot Gifford in the head first, “point blank”. According to Rayle, who is a former ER doctor, Gifford was able to move her hands after being shot.
After shooting Gifford, the gunman opened fire indiscriminately for a few seconds, firing 20-30 rounds and hitting a number of people, including a kid no older than 10 years old. Rayle hid behind a concrete pole and pretended to be dead. When the gunman apparently ran out of ammunition he attempted to flee, but a member of Gifford’s staff tackled him.
Rayler told Gawker the suspect was “young, mid-to-late 20s, white, clean-shaven with short hair and wearing dark clothing and said nothing during the shooting or while being held down, although he struggled at first.”
A hospital spokesperson confirmed to CNN that Giffords was shot in the head. Her father, when asked by reporters if she had any enemies, said “Yeah. The whole tea party.” Local news reports stated that Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, was making his way from Houston to Tucson; NASA sources told NBC indicate that he landed in a NASA jet in Tucson around 4:30 ET.
[TPM SLIDESHOW: Dem Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Shot In Arizona]
President Obama issued a statement at 3:15 ET, calling for Americans to pray for Giffords and the other victims. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, issued a statement at 3:40 in which she said, “There is no place in our society or discourse for such senseless and unconscionable acts of violence.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office issued a statement this afternoon calling it a “national tragedy.” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) issued a statement condemning the attack. Her opponent from the November election, Jesse Kelly, issued a statement offering sympathy, and a statement from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) offered condolences to Giffords’ family and the other victims. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told the New York Daily News “Whoever did this; whatever their reason, they are a disgrace to Arizona, this country and the human race.”
Other statements from Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Elton Gallegly (R-CA) and DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (D-NY), condemned the violence and offered condolences, while Israel’s statement called it “a tragic reminder that we cannot remain silent when political rhetoric turns violent.”
Governor Jan Brewer (R) announced that flags in the state would be lowered to half staff for Giffords and the other victims.
Giffords has dealt with several violent incidents in the last year, mostly related to the health care reform vote. In August 2009 at another “Congress on Your Corner” event at a Douglas, Ariz., Safeway, one attendee dropped a gun. Her office was vandalized in March 2010 after the health care vote. That same month, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) put Giffords on SarahPAC’s “target” list with a gun site over her district. Giffords’ opponent in a tough reelection campaign last fall, tea partier Jesse Kelly (R), reportedly held an event in June 2010 in which supporters were invited to shoot an M-16 with him to “Get On Target For Victory.”
Earlier this week, Giffords read the First Amendment on the House floor during the reading of the Constitution.
[Additional reporting by Megan Carpentier]