Atrocity in Arizona

19 people shot, six killed, and Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords clings to life in critical condition.

A town hall-style meeting held outside a supermarket in Tuscon, Arizona was the scene of a deadly rampage on Saturday. 19 people were shot.  Five were killed at the scene and one died in the hospital. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who hosted the event, was shot in the head at point blank range by a 22-year-old man identified as Jared Loughner.  She remains in critical condition in a local hospital, but is expected to survive.  Police claim Giffords was the target of the assassination attempt.  An additional man, described as a "Caucasian male with dark hair, approximately 40-50 years old," is also being sought in connection with the crime.

Forty year old Ms. Giffords is a former registered Republican who changed her affiliation to Democrat.  Despite that change, Ms. Giffords is not a lockstep party member. She was one of 19 Democrats who refused to support Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker last week, is reportedly a gun-rights advocate, and broke ranks with her party last summer, when she criticized president Obama for not sending enough National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.  She is married to astronaut Mark Kelly, a Navy captain and Desert Storm veteran, who is training to be the commander of the next space shuttle mission, slated for an April launch.  Her brother-in-law is currently serving aboard the International Space Station.

Ms. Giffords was re-elected to a third term representing Arizona's  8th Congressional district in November, winning a tight race against Iraq veteran Jesse Kelly, a candidate backed by the Tea Party movement. During that campaign Ms. Giffords' district was one of 20 which appeared on former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's Facebook page with the drawing of a gun scope superimposed over it.  "We're on Sarah Palin's targeted list," Giffords said at the time. "The way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they've got to realize there are consequences to that action."  What Ms. Giffords meant by that statement remains unclear.

Ms. Giffords has held several "Congress on Your Corner" events over the past four years, including three previous events at this venue.  According to Pima County investigators, Giffords had no security for this particular meeting, despite having a glass door and side window broken at her office last March, an act of vandalism purportedly related to "42 threats or acts or vandalism in the first three months of 2010" reported by lawmakers.  Nearly all of the incidents reportedly pertained to the health care bill.  Giffords voted in favor of the politically-charged legislation.

Ms. Giffords is currently in the ICU at the University of Arizona Hospital, having survived a "through and through"  gunshot wound to her brain.  State Sen. Linda Lopez, a friend of the Congresswoman, confirmed the bullet entered Giffords’ head at her temple and exited through her forehead. Lopez added that Giffords was responding to commands before surgery, but is unsure of her long-term prognosis.  Dr. Manny Alvarez, senior managing health editor of, said the survival rate of a gunshot would to the head is about five percent, and three percent of those who survive "will always have a neurological deficiency, such as memory loss or a lack or motor skills."  He added that the "next three or four days" are the most critical period, and that recovery "could take years to achieve."  On Sunday there was good news:  surgeon Dr. Michael Lemole said at a news conference that Giffords responded to doctors' commands.

The alleged shooter, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, was an army reject who has posted several disjointed videos online, on subjects such as mind control, the currency, terrorism and the Constitution.  A picture posted at his MySpace page showed a handgun resting on top of a U.S. history book. Reading material he listed as his favorites on MySpace included  Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Wizard Of OZ, Aesop Fables, (sic) The Odyssey, Alice Adventures Into Wonderland,(sic) Fahrenheit 451, Peter Pan, To Kill A Mockingbird, We The Living, Phantom Toll Booth, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Pulp,Through The Looking Glass, The Communist Manifesto, Siddhartha, The Old Man And The Sea, Gulliver’s Travels, Mein Kampf, The Republic, and Meno.

In 2007, he was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia. As a student at Pima college, Loughner posted a video online that school administrators considered so disturbing they suspended him from school.  According to the NY Times, school officials met with Loughner and his parents and told them he would need "mental health clearance" in order to return to classes.  Former classmates said he was prone to outbursts during those classes.  One student, Linda Sorensen, told the Arizona Daily Star that Loughner was "obviously very disturbed" and described his outbursts as "nonsensical."  Loughner's MySpace page has been removed from the site by investigators, but prior to that removal, Loughner had posted a message at 5AM on Saturday: "Goodbye...Dear friends ... Please don't be mad at me."

According to Fox News, the Department of Homeland Security has released information to state officials suggesting Loughner may have been influenced by American Renaissance, a group he made reference to in some internet postings.  According to DHS, "The group's ideology is anti government, anti immigration, anti ZOG (Zionist Occupational Government), anti Semitic," and promoted a "variety of white racial positions."  At this writing, Loughner has refused to cooperate with investigators.

The dead have now been identified:  U.S. District Judge John Roll, 63; Christina Greene, 9; Giffords aide Zimmerman, 30; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Scheck, 79. The names of the wounded have been withheld pending notification of relatives.  While there is no evidence of a broader threat, members of Congress have been advised  to take "reasonable and prudent precautions regarding their personal safety and security" by U.S. Capitol police.  The House Sergeant at Arms also said "it is essential" that lawmakers register their home and office addresses with local police.

Authorities have refused to provide details regarding the aforementioned second suspect, but indicate he was in "close proximity" to the store where the shooting took place.  The carnage might have been worse were it not for the bravery of two people who tackled the alleged shooter, armed with a 9mm Glock outfitted with a 30-round magazine, according to police.

These are the facts of the case as they are currently known.  All of the misinformation disseminated by the media, which initially reported that Ms. Giffords had been killed--based largely on what people were Twittering from the scene--as well as all of the political vitriol that inevitably attends such an incident, is disturbing.  With regard to the media, it seems more and more that "getting it first" has become more important than "getting it right." Perhaps that is the greatest casualty of 24/7 news cycle in which ratings are the primary consideration.

As for the ocean of political vitriol, it seems America has reached a point where virtually everything must be filtered through an ideological lens in which common sense and common decency are in critically short supply.  Anyone who can attribute a particular motive to the alleged shooter at this point in time is speculating at best, and embracing the lowest kind of partisan political manipulation at worst.  Six people are dead, and a Congresswoman hailed as a wonderful person by all of her fellow legislators--on both sides of the aisle--is fighting for her life.

Here's hoping for her full recovery.