Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head and critically injured Saturday morning during a meet-and-greet with constituents at a Tucson supermarket. As many as 18 other people, possibly including members of the congresswoman’s staff, were shot and six were dead, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department said.
Giffords, 40, a Democrat recently sworn in to her third term in Congress, was undergoing surgery, according to Northwest Medical Center spokeswoman Darci Slaten. Nine other victims, including a child, were also at the hospital in critical or serious condition, she said.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene at the Safeway supermarket at a crowded intersection in northern Tucson, where Giffords had announced about an hour before the shooting she was going to be spending the day meeting the public.
Rescue helicopters landed in the cordoned-off streets and carried away victims, some of whom appeared to be deceased, as onlookers ran shouting from the crowded store.
Local news reports said a 21-year-old man, who has not been identified, was taken into custody. About 15 to 20 shots in rapid succession were reported to news agencies by witnesses at the scene. Police did not immediately release any details.
President Obama called the shooting an “unspeakable tragedy.”
“We know that some have passed away, and that Rep. Giffords is gravely wounded,” he said in a statement. “We do not yet have all the answers. What we do know is that such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society. I ask all Americans to join me and Michelle in keeping Rep. Giffords, the victims of this tragedy, and their families in our prayers.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said he was “horrified by the senseless attack,” which he said also targeted members of Giffords’ staff.
“An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society,” Boehner said.
Only an hour before the shooting Giffords had posted an announcement on her Twitter account: “My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later.”
Giffords, elected to Congress in 2006 after several years in the Arizona state Senate, is a Blue Dog Democrat who has emphasized border security in her three terms in Congress, but has also opposed hardline anti-illegal immigrant measures, favoring comprehensive immigration reform.
This has been a winning formula in her conservative, border district. Giffords survived a tough challenge from a Tea Party-backed candidate in the November election.
Her district was littered with signs proclaiming, “Giffords Opposes SB1070,” referring to her opposition to tough anti-immigration measures.
She has been a perennial top target for Arizona Republicans. Her district office was vandalized after she voted for the healthcare reform bill and friends said she had received several unspecified threats.
She is married to Mark E. Kelly, 46, a pilot and astronaut who was commander of the space shuttle Endeavor. Her twin brother, Scott, is also an astronaut.