By Amanda Lee Myers and David Espo | YahooNews.com
A gunman targeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords [left] as she met with constituents outside a busy supermarket Saturday, wounding the Democrat and killing Arizona’s chief federal judge and five others in an attack that left Americans questioning whether divisive politics had pushed the suspect over the edge.
The assassination attempt left the three-term congresswoman in critical condition after a bullet passed through her head. A shaken President Barack Obama called the attack "a tragedy for our entire country."
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. Anger over her position became violent at times, with her Tucson office vandalized after the House passed the overhaul last March and someone showing up at a recent gathering with a weapon.
Police say the shooter was in custody, and was identified by people familiar with the investigation as Jared Loughner, 22. [right] U.S. officials who provided his name to the AP spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release it publicly.
His motivation was not immediately known, but Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described him as mentally unstable and possibly acting with an accomplice.
Dupnik said Giffords was among 13 people wounded in the melee that killed six people — including 9-year-old Christina Greene, 30-year-old Gifford aide Gabe Zimmerman, and U.S. District Judge John Roll.
The 63-year-old judge had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after attending Mass. Dupnik said the rampage ended only after two people tackled the gunman.
Also killed were 76-year-old Dorthy Murray, 76-year-old Dorwin Stoddard, and 79-year-old Phyllis Scheck, investigators said.
The sheriff blamed the vitriolic political rhetoric that has consumed the country, much of it occurring in Arizona.
"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," he said. "And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
Giffords expressed similar concern, even before the shooting. In an interview after her office was vandalized, she referred to the animosity against her by conservatives, including Sarah Palin’s decision to list Giffords’ seat as one of the top "targets" in the midterm elections.
"For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action," Giffords said in an interview with MSNBC.
Greg Segalini, an uncle of Christina, the 9-year-old victim, told the Arizona Republic that a neighbor was going to the event and invited her along because she had just been elected to the student council and was interested in government.
Christina, who was born on Sept. 11, 2001, was involved in many activities, from ballet to baseball. She had just received her first Holy Communion at St. Odilia’s Catholic Church on in Tucson, Catholic Diocese of Tucson officials told The Arizona Daily Star.
The suspect Loughner was described by a former classmate as a pot-smoking loner, and the Army said he tried to enlist in December 2008 but was rejected for reasons not disclosed.
Federal law enforcement officials were poring over versions of a MySpace page that included a mysterious "Goodbye friends" message published hours before the shooting and exhorted his friends to "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 U.S. currency and complained about the illiteracy rate among people living in Giffords’ congressional district in Arizona.
"I know who’s listening: Government Officials, and the People," Loughner wrote. "Nearly all the people, who don’t know this accurate information of a new currency, aren’t aware of mind control and brainwash methods. If I have my civil rights, then this message wouldn’t have happen (sic)."
In Loughner’s middle-class neighborhood — about a five-minute drive from the scene — sheriff’s deputies had much of the street blocked off. The neighborhood sits just off a bustling Tucson street and is lined with desert landscaping and palm trees.
Neighbors said Loughner lived with his parents and kept to himself. He was often seen walking his dog, almost always wearing a hooded sweat shirt and listening to his iPod.
Loughner’s MySpace profile indicates he attended and graduated from school in Tucson and had taken college classes. He did not say if he was employed.
Giffords was first elected to Congress amid a wave of Democratic victories in the 2006 election, and has been mentioned as a possible Senate candidate in 2012 and a gubernatorial prospect in 2014.
She is married to astronaut Mark E. Kelly, who has piloted space shuttles Endeavour and Discovery. The two met in China in 2003 while they were serving on a committee there, and were married in January 2007. Sen. Bill Nelson, chairman of the Senate Commerce Space and Science Subcommittee, said Kelly is training to be the next commander of the space shuttle mission slated for April. His brother is currently serving aboard the International Space Station, Nelson said.
Giffords is known in her southern Arizona district for her numerous public outreach meetings, which she acknowledged in an October interview with The Associated Press can sometimes be challenging.
"You know, the crazies on all sides, the people who come out, the planet earth people," she said with a following an appearance with Adm. Mike Mullen in which the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was peppered with bizarre questions from an audience member. "I’m glad this just doesn’t happen to me."
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An Investigator photographs the area outside a Safeway store after a gunman targeting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz) opened fire in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/James Palka)