Rep. Giffords able to communicate with doctors

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Twenty-four hours after being shot in the head at a meet-and-greet in Tucson, U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is able to communicate with doctors by following simple commands. Even as Giffords remains in critical condition, investigators continue to search for a "person of interest" in Saturday morning's mass shooting. In the meantime, formal charges against Jared Lee Loughner, the suspected shooter, were expected some time Sunday.

Investigaors say Loughner opened fire, shooting 20 people, shortly after the 10 a.m. "Congress on Your Corner" event at a Tucson Safeway got under way.

Six people were killed. They have been identified as  Judge John McCarthy Roll, 63; Christina Taylor Green, 9; Gabe Zimmerman, 30; Dorothy Murray, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76, who tried to shield his wife from the barrage of bullets; and Phyllis Scheck, 79.

Zimmerman was the director of community outreach in the congresswoman's Tucson office.

Two more members of Giffords staff, Pam Simon and Ron Barber, are among the wounded.

The names of the other victims have not been released.

Although there were early reports that Giffords had been killed, that was not the case. She was taken to University Medical Center in Tucson where she underwent surgery for a head wound. She is now in critical condition in the intensive care unit and has been responding to doctors' commands.

In a news conference Saturday evening, former Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona described Giffords' wound as "devastating," but would not elaborate. He said doctors at UMC were cautiously optimistic, but further surgery could be necessary.

Dr. Peter Rhee, the chief of trauma, critical care and emergency surgery at UMC, said he was "very optimistic" about Giffords' recovery Saturday. "I'm about as optimistic as you can get in this situation," he stated. Rhee said Giffords' wound was "through and through," which means the bullet did not lodge in her brain. Doctors said the bullet traversed the entire length of Giffords' brain, from back to front, on her left side, but did not cross over to the other hemisphere. Rhee said the next few days would be critical. According to Dr. Michael Lemole, also of UMC, brain swelling is the biggest threat right now.

Doctors have removed a portion of Giffords' skull to allow her brain to breathe. Rhee on Sunday said that Giffords is heavily sedated to allow her to rest comfortably, but doctors wake her periodically to check her progress. While she cannot speak because of a ventilator, doctors said Giffords is able to communicate by following simple commands. Rhee and Lemole said that is encouraging. Lemole said the ability to follow those simple commands indicates a high level of brain functioning.

While they are optimistic, doctors said it is too soon to know what kind of brain damage Giffords might have suffered.

Rhee said UMC had 10 patients from Saturday's shooting, six of whom required surgery,. In addition, Green, the 9-year-old girl, died at the hospital. While Giffords remains in critical condition, the other patients are doing better.

Loughner is in custody, but there is no information yet on a motive for the shooting. Some witnesses said Loughner, described as a clean-shaven white male, was yelling names as he opened fire.

While authorities have not officially released any details about Loughner, 22, sources tell 3TV the Tucson resident had limited military experience although he never actually served, and is quite active on the Internet, even launching his own YouTube channel back in October. Some say Loughner's videos show anarchist leanings. He also had a MySpace page, but it was taken down shortly after he was identified as the suspect.

Loughner reportedly has a troubled past that includes a criminal history and possible mental issues.

"All I can tell you is that this individual may have a mental issue, and that people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol," said Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik during a news conference.

"Based on what we know right now, you're dealing with someone who is disaffected, angry, and a coward," said Dr. Steve Pitt, a forensic psychiatrist. "Beyond that, I think it is really, really difficult to come to any definitive conclusions based on Facebook postings or YouTube rantings."

According to officials close to the investigation, Loughner told authorities he acted alone, but Dupnik said Saturday that investigators did not initially believe that.

Investigators are calling this man a "person of interest" in the shooting. He is described as a white male between 40 and 50 years old. He has dark hair and was last seen wearing blue jeans and a blue jacket.
Click for larger image

"We're not convinced that he acted alone," Dupnik said. "There's some reason to believe that he came to this location with another person."

Dupnik would not divulge any other details except to say that authorities are actively pursuing another individual.

Investigators released a photo of the man they are looking for (right) Sunday morning. The photo was taken by a surveillance camera inside the Safeway where the shooting took place. The man is described as a white male between 40 and 50 years old. He has dark hair and was last seen wearing blue jeans and a blue jacket.

At this point, investigators do not believe this man was a participant in the actual shooting, but they do want to know what he saw or if he might have had any secondary involvement.

"Based on information we have developed since [yesterday], it would appear to us that the person may not have been involved at all, but we still need to verify that and we're still actively seeking this individual," Dupnik said Sunday.

That man was later interviewed and cleared.

While Dupnik did not confirm Loughner's name Saturday evening, he did say authorities were aware of the YouTube page and alluded in very general terms to Loughner's past brushes with the law.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said Sunday that formal charges against Loughner were expected later in the day.

Investigators said they have recovered the 9mm Glock 19 that was used in the shooting. Law-enforcement officials said that the semi-automatic pistol was legally purchased at a Sportsman's Warehouse in Tucson on Nov. 30. The gun reportedly had a 30-round magazine.

As Loughner tried to insert a new magazine into his gun, a woman tried to grab the gun from him. Two other people at the event tackled Loughner after the bullets stopped flying. He was then taken into PCSO custody and later transferred to FBI custody. Loughner reportedly has invoked his right against self-incrimination and is not talking to investigators.

One witness said it was clear that Giffords was Loughner's intended target. Mueller confirmed that on Sunday.

Authorities said they do not believe Saturday's shooting is part of a larger threat.

"Given this tragedy, all logical precautions are in place to best insure the safety of other public officials," Mueller said. "There is no information at this time to suggest any specific threat remains."

President Barack Obama called Saturday morning's shooting "an unspeakable tragedy" and said that such "a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society."

"All of Arizona is shocked and deeply saddened by the horrific tragedy that transpired this morning in Tucson," said a visibly emotional Gov. Jan Brewer. "I am just heartbroken. Gabby is more than just a colleague, she is my friend. She has always been a noble public servant. My thoughts and prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords and her family, the Congresswoman’s staff and their families, as well as the other victims of this senseless and cruel violence."

Sen. John McCain, who is in Cartagena, Colombia, said his "prayers are with the congresswoman's husband Mark and her entire family and the families of the other victims of this terrible, terrible tragedy.

Photo from Arizona Daily Star
Alleged shooter Jared Loughner is seen in the background. He was a volunteer during the Tucson Festival of Books.
Click for larger image

"I'm deeply saddened and shocked at the tragedy that has taken place in my home state of Arizona. The shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and the deaths of other individuals is a terrible tragedy and one that has shocked me and our nation," the longtime Republican senator said.

“We pray for the recovery of Representative Giffords and the others who remain in critical condition," said Sen. Jon Kyl. "Congresswoman Giffords is also a good friend, and I find it especially saddening that such a heinous crime would occur while she was fulfilling her congressional responsibilities."

"The pictures and stories we're seeing and hearing from Tucson today leave me more sad than I can describe," said Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon in a statement. "Rep. Giffords has long been a friend. Gabby is not only an admirable public servant, she is truly one of the most gracious, most caring people I've met in my life. She's in my heart today along with her family, Judge John Roll and his family, and everyone whose life was touched by today's shooting.

"No matter what we learn, I know that violence like this is unacceptable. It diminishes our communities, the state of Arizona and our nation. Such violence stands in dark, painful contrast to the America we all work so hard to build and to protect."

“We’re all praying for Congresswoman Giffords, her staff, and her constituents,” said Republican Congressman Jeff Flake in a statement. “Congresswoman Giffords is an extremely hard-worker and a fighter, and I pray that those attributes aid her as she receives treatment for her injuries.”

“As a victim of an on the job shooting, I understand how traumatizing this is to family members and friends alike,” said Brian Livingston, Executive Director of the Arizona Police Association, in a statement released shortly after shooting. “My family and I along with the Arizona Police Association (APA) family join in praying for a speedy recovery and condemning the actions of the gunman. Regardless of how one feels about an elected official, there is no excuse for shooting them. Levi Bolton and I were in D.C. last month and Congresswoman Giffords was the only member of the Arizona delegation to make time to talk to us about law enforcement concerns. Again, we pray for a speedy recovery for all those injured.”

Giffords' last campaign was a contentious one. At one point during the campaign, her office windows were shot out.

According to Giffords' website, the Arizona Democrat, known to most as Gabby, has hosted several “Congress on Your Corner” events since taking office in January 2007. Those previous events have drawn between 100 and 150 people. This morning's event, which was highly publicized, was the first of 2011.

One of the congresswoman's staff members said there was not security at the event, which was not uncommon for her. The staffer said Giffords liked to be accessible to her constituents.

"I like to roll my sleeves up and really get one-on-one with people, have a real chance to solve problems," Giffords told 3TV at a "Congress on Your Corner" event in Sierra Vista a few years ago.

Giffords, 40, took the oath of office for her third term representing Arizona's 8th Congressional District on Wednesday. On Thursday, she took part in a reading of the U.S. Constitution on the floor of the House.

A candlelight vigil was held Saturday evening at the Arizona State Capitol for Giffords and the other victims.

Several hours after the shooting, a suspicious package was found outside Giffords' Tucson office. Police were investigating, saying several things about the package had them quite concerned. People who had gone to Giffords' office to pay their respects were moved across the street and away from the office as a precaution. It was later determined that the package was not an explosive.