Jared Loughner to be charged in Arizona shootings targeting Gabrielle Giffords

Critically wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was able to respond to simple commands after surgery, doctors said Sunday as authorities prepared to file formal charges against the man held in connection with the Arizona shooting rampage that left six people dead and 14 injured.

Preliminary charges will likely include assault in connection with the attack on Giffords and the death of a federal judge, FBI director Robert Mueller said at a news conference. Court papers are expected to be filed as soon as Sunday afternoon, but it was unknown when Jared Loughner will make his first court appearance.

"This was an attack on our institutions and on our way of life," Mueller told reporters.

Though officials were still looking at the motive for the shootings, Mueller confirmed that Giffords was the likely the principal target of the attack and said Loughner had attended a public event that Congresswoman Giffords held in 2007. But the FBI chief, speaking at the joint news conference with Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnick, downplayed any current danger.

"There is no information at this time to suggest any specific threat remains," Mueller said but added that officials were continuing to investigate any possible ties between the suspect and any hate groups. Earlier, Pima County authorities said they wanted to talk with a "person of interest" who was photographed near the shooting and may have been involved in transporting the suspect to the scene.

Mueller said the shooting involved a legally purchased Glock 9-millimeter, a semiautomatic pistol.

Loughner fired all 31 bullets in the magazine and was reloading when a woman in the crowd, already wounded, attempted to grab the gun from him. He finally changed the magazine and tried to fire, but the gun jammed. Meanwhile, two men from the crowd grabbed him and subdued him, officials said.

Had Loughner been successful in firing the second magazine, "there would have been a huge, greater catastrophe," Sheriff Dupnik said. The sheriff also said that the toll had climbed to 20, six dead and 14 injured, including the congresswoman.

Just before Mueller outlined the latest investigative details, doctors treating the injured congresswoman gave an upbeat assessment about her condition after the attack, which shocked the nation and spurred a troubled country to reexamine its political culture.

At a televised news conference in Tucson, Dr. Michael Lemole, a surgeon at the University Medical Center, said Giffords had responded to doctors' commands following surgery. In great detail, he described how the gunshot went through the left side of the congresswoman's head and how doctors worked to remove bone fragments to help reduce the swelling and possible damage to the brain.

"This is about as good as it is going to get," said Dr. Peter Rhee, a trauma surgeon. "When you get shot in the head and the bullet goes through your brain, the chances of you living is very small and the chances of you waking up and actually following commands is even much smaller than that."

Though the news was positive, Giffords remained in critical condition, doctors said.

Among the dead was a 9-year-old girl, the granddaughter of noted former baseball manager Dallas Green and the daughter of Dodgers baseball scout John Green. In emotional appearances on several networks, Roxanna Green described her daughter, Christina Taylor Green, as an angel, born Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

Noting that her daughter's life began and ended in tragedy, Green called for an end to violence.

"I just want her memory to live on that she's a face of hope, face of change, face of … us coming together as a country to stop the violence and hatred and the evil wars," Green said on MSNBC. "We have to protect our government officials and our innocent young children."

Even as politicians on both sides of the aisle called the shootings horrific and unacceptable, investigators were stepping up their search for what they described as a person of interest who was wanted in connection with Saturday's shooting. The unknown person was photographed by a surveillance camera near the shooting suspect, Loughner, 22.

The person appears to be white with dark hair and about 40 years old.

"We want to know if the person of interest is associated with" the suspect, Pima County Deputy Jason Ogan said in a telephone interview. "We released the photo to see if anyone knows him."

The suspect was in federal custody Sunday, Ogan said. On the orders of President Obama, FBI Director Robert Mueller traveled to Arizona to head the investigation.

Loughner was apprehended by people in the crowd after the midmorning shooting at a Tucson supermarket. Witnesses described how he sprayed the area with bullets. Also among his victims was Arizona's chief federal judge, John M. Roll, 63, as well as Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Scheck, 79. Roll had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after attending Mass.

Officials wouldn't discuss the motive for the attack, but witnesses said it appeared focused.

"I feel like he knew what he came there to do, and he done it," Joe Zamudio said Sunday morning on MSNBC.

Police believed Giffords, who had been sworn in for her third term with the rest of the 112th Congress last week, was the primary target of the attack. Giffords, 40, was considered a moderate Democrat who favored immigration reform and who had been the subject of at least two "unfortunate incidents" during the recent campaign for reelection. Giffords defeated "tea party" candidate Jesse Kelly by just 4,000 votes.

In a typically heated congressional campaign in the recent, hyper-partisan midterm elections, Kelly blamed Giffords for supporting President Obama's healthcare overhaul and for her more liberal views on immigration reform, a sore subject in Arizona, a border state whose efforts to halt illegal immigration have drawn condemnation from liberals and the federal government.

She was one of the lawmakers targeted for defeat by Sarah Palin, former GOP vice presidential candidate and former governor of Alaska, who may be considering a presidential run in 2012. In a campaign posting on Palin's Facebook page, Giffords' district and 19 other were depicted within cross hairs. Palin has expressed her condolences about the shootings.

"The phrase 'Don't retreat; reload,' putting cross hairs on congressional districts as targets. These sorts of things, I think, invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"And I think that we all have an obligation, both political parties -- and let me salute the senior senator from Arizona, John McCain, whose statement yesterday was clear and unequivocal that we are not accepting this kind of conduct as being anywhere near the mainstream," he said.

In a televised statement from a government building near his home of West Chester, Ohio, House Speaker John Boehner ordered flags at the Capitol be flown at half-staff in honor of the victims. He again condemned violence."An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve," Boehner said. "Such acts of violence have no place in our society."

Boehner said the House will postpone its scheduled business this week to deal with any needed actions in the wake of the shootings, including if additional security measures were needed.

The House had been scheduled to vote on a repeal of the Obama healthcare program Wednesday. The action was largely symbolic, fulfilling a GOP pledge in the election campaign. But any repeal was expected to fail in the Senate and would face a veto from Obama.

In his comments, Boehner also stressed that the shootings should not stop lawmakers from fulfilling their responsibilities.

"This inhuman act should not, and will not, deter us from our calling to represent our constituents and to fulfill our oaths of office," Boehner said. "No act, no matter how heinous, must be allowed to stop us from our duties."

Boehner's comments echoed those by Obama right after the attack.

Praising Giffords as an extraordinary public servant, the president also condemned the shooting.

"We do not yet have all the answers," Obama said Saturday. "What we do know is that such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society."

michael.muskal@latimes.com

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