A Morning Massacre

One of Tucson's darkest times began shortly after 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 8

It was supposed to be just another Congress on Your Corner event, a chance for constituents to chat with U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on a sunny Saturday morning.

It turned into a massacre that left Giffords critically wounded with a gunshot to the head, a half-dozen people dead, 13 others wounded, and the nation's attention focused on Tucson.

Giffords, 40, had just begun meeting with people in front of the Safeway store on the southeast corner of Ina and Oracle roads when Jared Lee Loughner allegedly crashed through the tables and opened fire on Giffords and her district director, Ron Barber, with a Glock 9-millimeter pistol.

"He got right in front of Gabby and Ron—no more than 4 feet away, and probably less than that—and took numerous shots at them," says Mark Kimble, a Giffords staffer who watched in horror as the gunman began his rampage. "They both immediately fell. Then he was just shooting at everyone around in all directions. He just kept firing."

By the time Loughner ran out of ammunition in his 31-bullet extended clip, he had killed six people: Federal Judge John M. Roll, 63, who had reportedly just stopped by to say hello to Giffords; Christina Taylor Green, a 9-year-old Mesa Verde Elementary School student who had recently been elected to her student council; retirees Dorwan Stoddard, 76; Dorothy Morris, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79; and Gabe Zimmerman, 30, a Giffords staffer who headed up constituent services.

"Gabe was the face of the congresswoman's office in many communities," said C.J. Karamargin, chief spokesman for Giffords. "He was wise beyond his years, and dedicated and loyal and determined. He was there to help people."

Among the 13 people who were wounded were two members of Giffords staff: Barber and Pam Simon, who does community outreach for the office.

Loughner, who was wrestled to the ground by members of the crowd as he attempted to reload his gun, is now in custody in Phoenix and is facing federal charges of killing federal employees Roll and Zimmerman, and attempting to kill Giffords, Barber and Simon.

If convicted, Loughner could face the death penalty.

President Barack Obama, who was scheduled to visit Tucson on Wednesday, Jan. 12, for a memorial service, addressed the nation in the wake of the shooting on Saturday.

"We do not yet have all the answers," Obama said on Saturday. "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."

As of Tuesday morning, six people who were wounded in Saturday's shooting remained at University Medical Center. Three were in serious condition, and only one remained in intensive care: Giffords, who was reportedly the gunman's primary target.

Giffords was shot "through and through" the head, said Dr. Peter Rhee, a trauma surgeon who is treating Giffords alongside neurologist Michael Lemole. She has had a portion of her skull removed to prevent damage from her swelling brain tissue. Doctors said they were encouraged that CAT scans showed no progression of the swelling.

"We're not out of the woods yet," Lemole said. "That swelling can sometimes take three days or five days to maximize, but every day that goes by, and we don't see an increase, we're slightly more optimistic."

Doctors were keeping Giffords in a medical coma through anesthesia to spare her pain and keep her stable, although they would periodically bring her out of sedation to test her reactions. Lemole said that Giffords was able to follow basic commands, such as wiggling toes or moving a thumb, which he considered encouraging news.

"It implies that not only are the centers of the brain working, but that they're communicating with each other," Lemole said.

Giffords was on a ventilator that prohibited her from speaking, but Lemole said on Tuesday morning that she had been able to breathe on her own.

Lemole declined to speculate on how well Giffords would recover from the shooting, saying similar injuries ran "the full gamut." But he said he was very encouraged by the progress he'd seen so far.

"This kind of injury—a penetrating injury to the skull—really, the survival, let alone the recovery, is abysmal," Lemole said at the Tuesday press conference. "She has no right to look as good as she does. We're hopeful. But I do underscore the seriousness of this injury and the fact that we all have to be extremely patient."

Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, raced to Tucson on Saturday to be by her side. He released a brief statement to the media mourning the loss of the other victims of the shooting and expressing thanks to the medical professionals and citizens who responded in the crisis.

"On behalf of Gabby and our entire family, I want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the people of Arizona and this great nation for their unbelievable outpouring of support," Kelly said. "Gabby was doing what she loved most—hearing from her constituents—when this tragedy occurred. Serving Southern Arizonans is her passion, and nothing makes her more proud than representing them in Congress."

Kelly urged people who wanted to help to consider contributions to the Community Food Bank and the American Red Cross.

Karamargin said the members of Giffords' staff who were wounded in the attack were on the mend.

"I spoke with Pam Simon today, and she's doing amazingly well for someone who had a bullet enter her body and traverse her torso and not hit any major organs," Karamargin said on Monday night.

He said he'd been able to visit with Barber earlier in the day.

"Ron is amazing," Karamargin said. "We've been getting a lot of inquiries about his condition. I asked him, 'What do you want me to tell people, Ron?' He said, 'Tell them to pray for Gabby.'"

While Karamargin didn't want to take any credit away from the UMC medical team, he said on the morning after the shooting that there was another reason that Giffords had survived a shot to the head.

"Gabrielle Giffords is a fighter," Karamargin said. "That's she's still alive at this point is a testament that she is strong."

Hank Stephenson contributed to this story.

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