A gunman opened fire today onto a crowd at a public event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., killing at least six people and critically injuring the congresswoman.
The dead included U.S. District Judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl, President Obama said in a brief statement. Giffords, 40, was shot in the head. The Democrat was among at least 12 people injured, according to the Pima County, Ariz., sheriff’s office.
“Gabby Giffords was a friend of mine. She is not only an extraordinary public servant, but she is also someone who is warm and caring. She is well-liked by her colleagues and well-liked by her constituents,” Obama said.
“I know Gabby is as tough as they come and I am hopeful that she is going to pull through,” he said.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was re-elected to a third term in November.
News organizations reported earlier today that Giffords had died.
Giffords, who was re-elected to a third term in November, was hosting a “Congress on Your Corner” event at a Safeway in northwest Tucson when the gunman ran up and started shooting, according to Peter Michaels, news director of Arizona Public Media.
The suspect fired indiscriminately from about four feet away, Michaels said. The suspect ran off and was tackled by a bystander. He was taken into custody.
Law enforcement sources identified the suspect as Jared Loughner, 22. Pima County Sheriff’s officials said he used a pistol to carry out the shooting spree.
Giffords was first elected to represent Arizona’s 8th District in 2006. The “Congress on Your Corner” events, which she holds regularly, allow constituents to present their concerns directly to her.
Giffords’ Tucson office was one of three damaged last March by vandals who targeted Democrats in advance of the U.S. House vote on the controversial health care legislation. A glass panel at her office was shattered, and at the time her staff said that it appeared the window had been damaged by a pellet gun.
Giffords 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.
House Speaker John Boehner condemned the attack.
“An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve,” he said in a statement. “Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society.”
Her fellow Arizona congressman, Republican Jeff Flake, reached Saturday on his way to the hospital recalled that he had last spoken with Giffords on the House floor during this week’s swearing-in ceremony.
“We have a fairly small delegation and we’ve met often,” he said of Giffords, who in November beat back a tough challenge from a Tea Party-endorsed opponent.
“She got re-elected because she’s tenacious,” Flake said. “There was a very strong headwind against all Democrats and people did not expect her to come back to Congress.
“But she was tireless,” he said. “Others may have held back after things happen – like the damage to her office. She was fearless.”
Flake said emotions have been running high in Arizona over issues, including immigration.
“That’s obviously an issue that is a very passionate one for a lot of people,” he said.
Three hours after the shooting, the L-shaped shopping center in Tucson was blocked off by police and had fire trucks and other vehicles in its parking lot that blocked the view of the store’s front door. No shell casings could be seen from the area 500 yards from the store where reporters and photographers were kept.
Outside Giffords’ office on Capitol Hill, a handful of congressional staffers could be seen walking into her office without comment, some with roller bags and one who was in tears. About a half dozen yellow flowers, placed by one mourner, sat outside the door.