TUCSON, Ariz. – Authorities on Sunday charged Jared Lee Loughner with murder and attempted murder of federal employees in connection with the shooting rampage on Saturday in which six people were killed and 14 were injured, including the critically wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Among the evidence cited by federal agents is an envelope recovered in a safe during a search of Loughner’s residence in Tucson. The envelope had handwriting stating, “I planned ahead,” and “My assassination” and the name “Giffords” along with what appeared to be the suspect’s signature, according to the statement of probable cause released with a federal complaint.
The charges were announced by the U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke. Loughner, who is in federal custody, is scheduled to make his first court appearance today.
The complaint allows officials to hold Loughner for 30 days, during which an indictment can be presented, officials said.
The federal charges allege that Loughner, 22, attempted to kill Giffords and her two assistants. A third assistant and a federal judge died in the attack.
Meanwhile, officials said a man who had been identified by Pima County authorities as a “person of interest” was a cab driver who had no involvement in the shootings.
At a earlier news conference, FBI Director Robert Mueller described Saturday’s shootings as “an attack on our institutions and on our way of life.”
Though officials were still looking at the motive, Mueller confirmed that Giffords was probably the principal target of the attack and an official said Loughner had attended a public event that Giffords held in 2007. But Mueller, speaking at the joint news conference with Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, downplayed any current danger.
“There is no information at this time to suggest any specific threat remains,” Mueller said, adding that officials were continuing to investigate any possible ties between the suspect and any hate groups.
Mueller said the shooting involved a legally purchased Glock 9 mm, a semiautomatic pistol. Loughner allegedly 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, authorities said, but the gun jammed. Meanwhile, two men from the crowd grabbed him and subdued him, according to officials.
Had Loughner been successful in firing the second magazine, “there would have been a huge, greater catastrophe,” 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.
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 Christina Taylor Green, 9, the granddaughter of noted former baseball manager Dallas Green and the daughter of Dodgers baseball scout John Green. 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; Dorwan Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79.
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 her recent campaign for re-election. 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 Barack Obama’s health care bill 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 Republican vice presidential candidate and former governor of Alaska, who may be considering running for president in 2012. In a campaign posting on Palin’s Facebook page, Giffords’ district and 19 others 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. Richard 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 hometown of West Chester, Ohio, House Speaker John Boehner asked that 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.”