TUCSON: The US government on Sunday charged a 22-year-old man with attempted assassination in the Arizona shooting rampage and doctors expressed optimism that wounded congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords would recover.
The shooting of Giffords and 19 other people — six of whom were killed — in Tucson on Saturday fueled debate about extreme political rhetoric in the United States after an acrimonious campaign for congressional elections in November.
The US government charged Jared Lee Loughner with two counts of first degree murder, one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress and two other counts of attempted murder. He was due to appear in court in Phoenix on Monday afternoon, the Justice Department said.
Investigators said in the charges they found an envelope at his residence with the handwritten phrases “I planned ahead” and “My assassination,” along with the name “Giffords” and what appeared to be Loughner’s signature.
The suspect opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol at point-blank range outside a supermarket. US federal judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl were among the six people killed. Fourteen people were wounded.
The FBI said it had cleared a man officials had earlier sought to locate in connection with the shootings.
“At this time we don’t have any reason to believe that there were any other individuals” associated with Loughner in the shooting, said special agent and FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson.
Public officials should be on alert but there was no information to suggest a specific threat, FBI Director Robert Mueller told a news conference.
But Mueller said “hate speech and other inciteful speech” presented a challenge to law enforcement officials, especially when it resulted in “lone wolves” undertaking attacks.
President Barack Obama called on Americans to hold a moment of silence on Monday at 11 am local time to commemorate the victims of the shooting.
Giffords, a 40-year-old Democrat, was in critical condition but was able to follow simple commands, such as holding up two fingers when asked, doctors at University Medical Center in Tucson said.
A single bullet traveled the length of her brain on the left side, hitting an area that controls speech functions.
Given the devastating wound, doctors said they were uncertain about the extent of brain damage she had suffered.
Giffords has been put into a pharmaceutical coma but was being awakened frequently to check her progress.
“There are obvious areas of our brain that are less tolerant to intrusion,” said Dr. Michael Lemole. “I don’t want to go down the speculation road but at the same time we’re cautiously optimistic.”
Gun violence is common in the United States but political shootings are rare.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said a wounded woman grabbed away an ammunition magazine from the gunman, possibly preventing even more people from being shot. The gunman managed to reload his Glock pistol but the fresh magazine would not work and the suspect was then tackled by two men.
The violence shocked politicians in Washington. Some Democrats were quick to say a shrill climate of political vitriol might have played a role.
“We are in a dark place in this country right now and the atmospheric condition is toxic,” Democratic Representative Emanuel Cleaver told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.
But Jon Kyl, a Republican senator from Arizona, cautioned against a “rush to speculate.”
“We really don’t know what motivated this young person, except to know he was very mentally unstable,” Kyl said on the “Face the Nation” show on CBS.
The father of the slain 9-year-old girl said she was born on September 11, 2001 — the day of the hijacked plane attacks on New York and Washington. “She came into the world on 9/11 and then at 9 years old she leaves it all on this terrible day,” John Green told ABC News.
Investigators were looking at a rambling Internet manifesto left by Loughner or someone writing under that name. There was no coherent theme to the writing, which accused the government of mind control and demanded a new currency.
The US Army confirmed the suspect attempted to enlist in December 2008 but was rejected for unspecified reasons. CNN reported he was rejected for failing a drug test.
Lawmakers in Washington put off their agenda for this week, including a vote on the repeal of Obama’s contentious healthcare overhaul. The president postponed a visit on Tuesday to a division of General Electric in Schenectady, New York.
The new Congress convened last week after the Nov. 2 elections in which the Republican Party won control of the House and reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate.
The US Capitol Police cautioned members of Congress “to take reasonable and prudent precautions.” Still, most lawmakers are largely unguarded outside the Capitol, except the leaders of the House and Senate, who have security details.