Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) survived being shot in the head at a constituents’ event on Saturday at grocery store in northwest Tucson. Giffords, 40, was shot once in the side of the head, “through and through,” said trauma surgeon Dr. Peter Rhee. Rhee also added that he’s “very optimistic about recovery.”
The third-term Congresswoman is out of surgery, but unconscious under anaesthesia. President Barack Obama, in a public address, said Giffords is “battling for her life.”
Four victims were killed immediately at the scene, including Federal Judge John Roll. A 9-year-old girl died at the hospital from gunshot wounds. Giffords’ staff members were among those shot at the site next to a Safeway grocery store. There are five victims in surgery in the hospital, and five others in recovery.
The Pima County Sheriff’s office told reporters that a 22-year old suspect is in custody. The gunman is allegedly Jared Loughner. The FBI and state and local police are investigating possible other accomplices.
Pima County Sheriff’s Deputy Rich Kastigar told reporters that a rifle with an extended magazine was found at the scene of the shooting spree.
“We don’t yet know what provoked this unspeakable act,” said Obama. “Gabby Giffords was a friend of mine. She is not only an extraordinary public servant, but she is also somebody who is warm and caring. She is well liked by her colleagues and well liked by her constituents.”
Giffords’s office put out a press release in advance of the 10 a.m. event at a Safeway. The event was one of her patented “Congress on Your Corner” gatherings, which she has held numerous times since taking office in of January 2007. The press release states that the event “allows residents of Arizona’s 8th Congressional District to meet their congresswoman one-on-one and discuss with her any issue, concern or problem involving the federal government.”
The Congresswoman’s public schedule was listed in the notice, as well as her staff members attendance. The names of her staff who have been shot have not been released.
Giffords was back in her home state after being sworn in on Wednesday for her third term in Congress. She was one of only 18 Democrats who voted against Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for Speaker of the House, instead voting for Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
She also read the First Amendment during the historic reading of the Constitution on the House floor on Thursday.
The reaction of Congressional leaders in Washington reflected shock and anger.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) released a statement, which said in part: “I am horrified by the senseless attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and members of her staff. An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. . . . This is a sad day for our country.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a statement, which read in part: “Congresswoman Giffords is a brilliant and courageous Member of Congress, bringing to Washington the views of a new generation of national leaders. It is especially tragic that she was attacked as she was meeting with her constituents whom she serves with such dedication and distinction.”
Rank-and-file Members of Congress like Giffords do not have security in their home districts. In Washington, the Capitol Police protect the office buildings and the U.S. Capitol. The leadership of both parties, however, have Capitol Police security when they travel outside of D.C.
The impact of the shooting will most likely change the Congressional schedule this week. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) who sets the floor schedule put out a statement that, “As this serious situation continues to develop, I remain in close communication with leaders of both parties, the Speaker’s office and the Sergeant at Arms. We will remain in constant communication regarding any schedule changes.”
Giffords is married to the astronaut Mark Kelly.