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Investigators probe Loughner's gun purchase, examine finances

By Sari Horwitz, Dana Hedgpeth and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 12, 2011; 1:43 PM

TUCSON - Federal and local investigators are trying to determine how Jared Lee Loughner came up with the money to buy the weapon and ammunition he allegedly used to shoot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 other people at a Tucson constituent event Saturday, law enforcement sources said Wednesday.

The investigators believe that Loughner, 22, did not have sufficient income of his own to buy the Glock 19 semiautomatic handgun, the four magazines and the knife he allegedly carried to the event in front of a Tucson supermarket, the sources said. They estimated the cost at close to $1,000. Two of the magazines were extended ones capable of holding up to 33 rounds.

The FBI and Pima County Sheriff's Office investigators are examining the Loughner family's financial records, as well as Jared Loughner's telephone, Internet and e-mail records, as they try to ascertain where the money to buy the weapons came from, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about an ongoing investigation.

When authorities searched the house of Loughner's parents on the day of the shootings, they also found a shotgun that Jared Loughner had bought the year before at the same gun store where he purchased the Glock.

Loughner's parents issued their first public comments Tuesday night, saying that they, too, cannot comprehend what motivated the shootings that left six people dead and 13 others wounded.

"There are no words that can possibly express how we feel. We wish that there were, so we could make you feel better. We don't understand why this happened," said their statement, signed "the Loughner family." The parents made no mention of their son.

Hours after the statement's release, two law enforcement sources said that FBI agents had found a 2007 letter from Giffords (D-Ariz.) to the shooting suspect, with the words "Die, bitch" and "Die, cops" scrawled on it.

The letter, which thanked Loughner for attending an event of hers, was found in a safe in his Tucson home, the sources said.

On Tuesday, this grief-stricken city began to turn its attention away from the shock and frenzy of the crime toward healing the wounded and burying the dead. President Obama plans to fly in Wednesday and deliver remarks at an evening memorial service, one of at least half a dozen such events planned over the next several days.

The president is expected to focus on the victims and what he has learned about them from family members over the past few days, White House officials said.

The president will also pay special tribute to Giffords, who doctors said Tuesday was showing signs of improvement.

"She has no right to look this good. We're hopeful," said G. Michael Lemole Jr., chief of neurosurgery at University Medical Center.

Giffords is still heavily sedated, the doctors said, and has not completely opened her eyes. She is able to breathe on her own, though she remains on a breathing tube. And she has been able to follow commands: squeezing a hand, wiggling toes, giving a thumbs-up sign.

Her congressional office released photos Tuesday night that showed Giffords holding her husband's hand.

Even the simple act of scratching her nose, doctors said, was encouraging. To a neurosurgeon, that is an indication of brain function: the ability to sense an itch, process that signal and respond with movement.

Peter Rhee, chief of the hospital's trauma division, said he thinks Giffords has a "101 percent chance" of surviving. But there are difficulties ahead: the risks of infection and pneumonia, and new tests to determine the damage to her brain.

"I can't tell you whether she will be in a vegetative state," Rhee said. "I hope not."

Giffords, who represents the Tucson area, was shot in the head Saturday at close range while meeting constituents outside a local Safeway. The gunman then sprayed the crowd around her with bullets, killing six people and wounding 13 others.

Investigators with the Pima County Sheriff's Office have told the Associated Press that on the morning of the shooting, Loughner's father confronted him outside the family home as he was removing a black bag from the trunk of a family car.

Jared Loughner, mumbling, grabbed the bag and ran, Capt. Chris Nanos and Rick Kastigar, chief of the department's investigations bureau told AP. The elder Loughner gave chase in his truck. Investigators are still searching for the bag.

Among those injured hours later in the rampage was Susan Hileman, who had taken 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green to meet Giffords at the event. In the gunfire, the girl was killed - the rampage's youngest victim.

Hileman suffered a fractured hip. Her husband said she appeared to be having flashbacks to the shooting, as she came in and out of consciousness in the hospital. He said he heard her screaming: "Christina! Christina, let's get out of here!"

On Thursday, the 9-year-old is scheduled to be buried, an act that, in a media-saturated country, can no longer guarantee its own peace. Members of Westboro Baptist Church, known for picketing U.S. troops' funerals with signs decrying homosexuality, initially plan nedto protest at her service, but have agreed not to do so, the Associated Press reported. Instead, AP reported, they plan to picket the funeral of another victim, U.S. District Judge John Roll's funeral. Church members said that the gunman was "sent . . . to deal with idolatrous America."

But on Tuesday, the Arizona legislature approved and Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed new legislation designed to keep them at a distance. It bars any protests within 300 feet of funeral sites.

On Capitol Hill, congressional staffers were helping Giffords's staff answer e-mails and record the names of well-wishers. There will be a prayer service for members of Congress at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Capitol Visitors Center.

Obama will speak Wednesday evening at a memorial service at the University of Arizona's basketball arena. He will be joined by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who will read a Bible verse at the event, and Department of Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, who was Arizona's governor before joining the president's Cabinet.

White House officials gave few details about Obama's planned statement, except that it would probably be succinct. That would be in keeping with remarks by recent presidents, who have responded to massacres and accidents with short, spare comments about those lost.

In Tucson, people were waiting for Obama's words - and wondering if he could say anything that would help calm the nation's political argument.

"There is just so much hatred in this country, I don't know what to do," said Elaine Reznick, 78, who on Tuesday was visiting the shopping center where the shootings took place.

She said she wanted Obama to say something about tightening gun laws - but would accept anything that called on Americans to work together. "The healing of the nation is so much more important. It's so divided," Reznick said. "People are so angry and fearful. There's so much fear."

In their brief statement, the Loughners sought to express their concern for those affected by the rampage, most especially the victims of it.

"It may not make any difference, but we wish that we could change the heinous events Saturday," their statement said. "We care very deeply about the victims and their families. We are so very sorry for their loss."

hedgpethd@washpost.com fahrenthold@washpost.com

Fahrenthold reported from Washington. Staff writers Amy Gardner and Clarence Williams in Tucson and Anne E. Kornblut and Jerry Markon in Washington contributed to this report.

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