A United States Congresswoman was 'gravely wounded' after she was shot in the head by a gunman, who went on a shooting rampage at a public event in Tucson in Arizona, killing at least six people, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge, and injuring 12 others.
Democratic lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords, 40, a House Representative, was in a critical condition following a surgery late on Saturday night for a single gunshot wound to the head. Giffords was hosting a 'Congress on Your Corner' event with constituents at the supermarket in Tucson when the gunman shot her point blank in the head, police said, adding the Congresswoman was the target.
Five people, including Chief Judge John Roll of the US District Court for Arizona and Gabe Zimmerman, a Giffords staffer, died at the scene. The sixth victim, a 9-year-old girl, was pronounced dead at a hospital.
President Barack Obama termed the incident as an 'unspeakable tragedy' and said Giffords was 'gravely wounded' in the attack.
In a statement, Obama said that 'some have passed away' in the shooting incident. Though, "We do not yet have all the answers," he said. It was "a senseless and terrible act of violence that has no place in a free society," he said.
One suspect was in custody immediately after the shooting, and investigators were 'actively in pursuit' of a second man whom they believed to be involved in the attempted assassination, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said.
The 22-year-old gunman, who sprayed bullets at the event, was tackled by two people, police said, but declined to name him. However, CNN, quoting federal and local law enforcement sources, said the suspect was identified as Jared Lee Loughner, who was being held in the Pima County jail.
Eyewitnesses described the suspect as a young white man who looked like a 'fringe character', clean-shaven with short hair and wearing dark clothing. Dupnik said investigators were not convinced that the suspect came to the supermarket alone and were looking for a man seen near the suspect.
The attack took place about 10 minutes after the start of a previously scheduled constituent meeting outside a grocery store. Dupnik said the shooter moved towards the crowd and began firing. An employee of a nearby business, Jason Pekau, was quoted as saying by CNN that he heard 15 to 20 shots.
The police recovered a 9mm Glock Model 19 handgun believed to have been used in the shooting, law enforcement sources were quoted as saying by CNN, adding that the weapon had a 30-round magazine.
Giffords, who was shot once in the head at close range, underwent surgery at University Medical Centre in Tucson and was reportedly in a critical condition.
Following the incident, that also left 12 people injured, President Obama was briefed by Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.
Obama also made calls to Gifford's husband, whom he left a message for, Governor Jan Brewer and top Congressional leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner, to express his deep concern and update all of them on the developments.
Besides, the President sent FBI Director Mueller to help coordinate the joint investigation, which federal authorities stressed did not appear to have any connection to terrorism. Dupnik said the suspect has had contact with law enforcement in the past and he had made violent threats, but he declined to say against whom.
"All I can tell you is that there's reason to believe this individual may have a mental issue," he said. He said that the earlier two incidents occurred in 2010 involving Giffords, including one in which a gun fell out of a constituent's pocket during an angry town hall meeting and another in which the windows at her campaign office were broken.
Authorities said they did not know the motive for the shooting. Giffords' staffer Mark Kimble told CNN affiliate KGUN that the Congresswoman did not have any security with her, which was not unusual for her.
"She wants to be as accessible to the people who elected her as possible," Kimble said.
Dr Peter Rhee of the University Medical Centre said that Giffords had been moved to intensive care from surgery and added that he was 'very optimistic' about her recovery.
"I'm about as optimistic as it can get in this situation," he said, adding the next 24 hours will be key to determine the extent of her recovery.
Gifford's staffer who died, Gabe Zimmerman, was in charge of community outreach in Giffords' Tucson office, Karamargin said. He was engaged to be married.
Giffords, who became the first Jewish woman to be elected to Congress in 2006, has served as Chairwoman of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee and also holds seats on the House Science and Technology and Armed Services committees.
She is married to Navy Captain Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut who is scheduled to lead a space shuttle mission to the International Space Station.
Judge Roll, who was among the dead, was a 1991 appointee of then president George W Bush to the federal bench.
Image: US Representative Gabrielle Giffords | Photograph: Reuters