Gabrielle Giffords battles for her life; shooting casts grim light on U.S. political discord

A surgeon at the University Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz., says Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is able to communicate. The gunshot went through the left side of her head and that surgeons worked to reduce pressure from swelling in the brain.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 9, 2011; 5:45 PM

Federal prosecutors filed murder and attempted murder charges Sunday afternoon against suspect Jared Loughner, who allegedly killed six people as part of an attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), according to officials and court records.

Loughner, 22, has been identified by law enforcement authorities as the lone gunman in a Saturday rampage outside a Tucson supermarket that left six dead and 14 wounded, included Giffords.

An envelope in a safe inside Loughner's home contained handwriting stating "I planned ahead," "My assassination" and the name "Giffords" along with what appears to be Loughner's signature, according to the federal charges filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

Loughner is charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of John M. Roll, a federal judge who stopped by to see the congresswoman after Saturday Mass, and Gabriel Zimmerman, a Giffords aide. He is also charged with three counts of attempted murder for the shootings of Giffords and two other federal employees.

Loughner is scheduled to appear Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, and prosecutors said they are drafting an indictment with further charges to present to a federal grand jury. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

The formal charges came hours after doctors in Tucson delivered a progress report for Giffords, who was able to respond to simple commands following emergency brain surgery. Giffords, who was shot once in the back of the head at close range, remains sedated and in critical condition at University Medical Center in Tucson.

"We are very encouraged by that," Michael Lemole Jr., the hospital's chief of neurosurgery, said about Giffords' responsiveness. "I am cautiously optimistic."

Authorities say the 40-year-old lawmaker was shot once in the back of the head at close range by Loughner, who then allegedly fired relentelessly on a small crowd that had gathered for one of Giffords' regular "Congress on Your Corner" events at the local Safeway.

The White House announced Sunday that President Obama will observe a moment of silence for the Arizona victims at 11 :00 a.m. Eastern time on Monday, and urged other Americans to do the same.

"It will be a time for us to come together as a nation in prayer or reflection, keeping the victims and their families closely at heart," Obama said in a statment.

Authorities on Sunday increased the number for those killed or wounded in the attack to a total of 20, up from 18, after adding two more injured people to the list.

In addition to Zimmerman and Roll, the gunman in the attacks also killed Christina-Taylor Green, a 9-year-old born on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks who attended the event because of her burgeoning interest in politics and public service.

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