Briefly united, America falls silent in grief and remorse

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Tucson, Arizona

From the steps of the Capitol to a street corner in Tucson, and even aboard the Space Station, Americans everywhere paused yesterday for a minute of silence to honour those slain and wounded in Saturday's shooting rampage in Arizona. It was needed national therapy – soothing, shared but too quickly over.

Hundreds of staffers joined the President outside the White House to mark the moment as a Marine honour guardsman rang a bell three times. President Obama said the nation was "grieving and shocked". Now was the moment, he added, for "making sure we are joining together, pulling together as a country". In Tucson, small groups gathered in public spaces across the city to mark the moment.

And then, in Washington and in Tucson alike, the question barged back in. Why? To what end did this deranged man kill six and wound 16 more, including a Congresswoman still fighting for her life?

America wants explanations. But in cases such as these, they are never easily found. As in the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995, the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, the Virginia Tech rampage of 2007, the motives of the man responsible for the carnage will most likely always be shrouded in mystery.

The normal workings of justice, of grieving and, in this case, of medical care did not pause. The suspect in the shooting, Jared Lee Loughner, was to be brought before Magistrate Judge Lawrence Anderson in Phoenix to face federal charges of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee.

His wrists and ankles in chains, Loughner listened as the judge read out the five charges against him and repeated "Yes" several times when asked if he understood the proceedings. No family members or friends were present. FBI agents had earlier gone to Loughner's parents' house in Tucson as part of their investigation and found the door barricaded. They were able to gain access later.



Yesterday, detailed accounts emerged of the moment that he is alleged to have opened fire. At first, according to Alex Villec, an aide to Gabrielle Giffords, Loughner obediently followed instructions to stand in line to meet the Congresswoman. But a moment later, Mr Villec told The New York Times, Loughner left the queue and marched quickly, "eyes steeled", to the table where Ms Giffords was speaking. He opened fire, dancing up and down excitedly as he did so. By the time he was finished shooting, six people had sustained fatal injuries.

So far, at least, Ms Giffords is not among them. Surgeons at the University Medical Centre in Tucson confirmed that she was still "holding her own", even though she remained in a critical condition with a bullet wound to the brain. Brain swelling would remain a serious risk, they warned.

Loughner, 22, was not co-operating with police investigators, officials said. A second man whom they had sought as a possible accomplice turned out to be a taxi driver who delivered the suspect to the supermarket. Loughner was a loner, alienated from his peers, with nihilistic obsessions and an incoherent disdain for the government. He seemed creepy to neighbours and didn't socialise. "I can't trust the government," he said in an internet posting.

It seems eerily appropriate, perhaps, that the courts have turned to Judy Clarke, a lawyer in San Diego, to represent the young man in the hoodie with the iPod always in his ears. Ms Clarke represented Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted of the Oklahoma bombing that killed 168 people in April 1995, and the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, whose mail bombs killed three and injured 23 others over two decades.

Something did not just snap inside Loughner on Saturday, it seems. After searching the house he shared with his parents in a spruce neighbourhood of Tucson, negotiators concluded his attack on Ms Giffords was premeditated. An envelope in a safe had the Congresswoman's name on it as well as the words "assassination" and "I planned ahead".

His dislocation from society was not sudden, either. Military officials said he was rejected from enlisting in 2008 after failing a drugs test. A community college where he was enrolled suspended him last October, citing unsociable behaviour, and demanded that he undergo psychological evaluation before he could be let back in. He had not returned to classes.

His interest in – or disdain for – Ms Giffords dates back to a constituency meeting she held in 2007 when he showed up and put a question to her: "What is government if words have no meaning?" When she chose not to respond, he was outraged, former schoolfriends told the Associated Press.

For some solace, Tucson has found its heroes. They include two men who tackled Loughner as he emptied his gun by throwing their bodies on his. Also saluted last night was Patricia Maisch, a pensioner who grabbed a magazine of bullets from Loughner before he could reload. She was unhurt.

In Washington, where Mr Obama led the minute of silence from the White House lawn, the focus turned to security arrangements for members of Congress, which are almost non-existent except when they are on Capitol Hill.

Mr Obama bowed his head yesterday but said nothing. The tragedy will require words from him soon, but the political risks are fraught. As some on the left rush to blame the conservative right – from Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement to Fox News commentators – Mr Obama must navigate a less partisan path or face charges that he is himself stoking intolerance.

If there is disagreement over the validity of connecting any malaise in US politics to Loughner, one point of consensus is that a malaise is emerging. It was touched upon by Scott Kelly, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, and the twin brother of Mark Kelly, husband of Ms Giffords.

"We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station," he said across the radio waves from space. "As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not. These days, we are constantly reminded of the unspeakable acts of violence and damage we can inflict upon one another, not just with our actions, but also with our irresponsible words." He went on: "We're better than this. We must do better."

The accidental heroine

* Patricia Maisch has been hailed as an unlikely hero after helping to stop the killing spree of the alleged Tucson gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, and almost certainly preventing him from killing more than the six people who died.

After Loughner started firing his Glock 9mm pistol, the 61-year-old, who found herself lying on the ground next to him, wrestled an ammunition belt from the gunman as he tried to reload his weapon.

"He was pulling a magazine out of his pants pocket with his left hand and I was able to grab the magazine," she said at her home, adding: "I was pretty sure I was gong to be hit with a bullet."

She was unhurt.

'We have a seriously disturbed student in the class'

Extracts from emails Lynda Sorenson, a community college classmate of Jared Loughner, sent last summer. Loughner was removed from the class after three or four weeks



The first day of class, 1 June

"One day down... We do have one student who was disruptive today, I'm not certain yet if he was on drugs (as one person surmised) or disturbed. He scares me a bit. The teacher tried to throw him out and he refused to go... Hopefully he will be out of class very soon, and not come back with an automatic weapon."



From 10 June

"Class isn't dull as we have a seriously disturbed student in the class, and they are trying to figure out how to get rid of him before he does something bad, but, on the other hand, until he does something bad, you can't do anything about him. Needless to say, I sit by the door."



From 14 June

"We have a mentally unstable person in the class that scares the living crap out of me. He is one of those whose picture you see on the news, after he has come into class with an automatic weapon. Everyone interviewed would say, 'Yeah, he was in my math class and he was really weird'. I sit by the door with my purse handy. If you see it on the news one night, know that I got out fast..."

The victims

Christina Green

Described as clever and gentle, Christina, a nine-year-old schoolgirl, was proud of her tragic birth date – 11 September 2001. Her mother Roxanna said she saw it as a sign of hope on what was otherwise a terrible day. Christina loved dancing, baseball and dreamed of becoming a vet. She had just been elected to student council, and witnesses said she was beaming as she waited to meet the Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords just moments before they were both shot and Christina fatally wounded. "She was a good speaker," her father John Green told the Arizona Daily Star. "I could have easily seen her as a politician."

Judge John M Roll

After a lifelong career dedicated to the law, Judge Roll, 63, was named Chief District Court Judge of Arizona in 2006. He had previously worked with Ms Giffords on judicial issues, and reportedly stopped by the event to talk to her about court overcrowding when he was shot. "He'll be a great loss to his family, but he'll also be a great loss to the federal judiciary," Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals, told The New York Times, while friends remembered him as sincere, gentle and talented. He is survived by his wife, three sons, and five grandchildren.

Dorwin Stoddard

An active member of Tucson's Christian community, Mr Stoddard, 72, was known for his charity work – from fixing leaks in the church to helping the homeless. Mr Stoddard had attended Ms Giffords's event because his wife Mavy admired the politician. When he heard the gunshots, he threw himself on top of Mrs Stoddard and took a fatal bullet, while she was wounded by shots to both legs. The Stoddards' pastor, Michael Nowak from Mountain Avenue Church of Christ, told Tucson news services that it was characteristically selfless behaviour. He said Mr Stoddard would be missed but never be forgotten.

Gabriel Zimmerman

Known as Gabe among friends, this 30-year-old was dedicated to his work as an outreach officer in Ms Giffords's Tucson office and had helped to organise the "Congress on Your Corner" event where the shooting took place. "He put his all into his work; he put his all into his life," his colleague C J Karamargin told the Los Angeles Times. Mr Zimmerman was engaged and planned to marry in 2012.

Phyllis Schneck

Remembered as a generous friend, Phyllis Schneck, a 79-year-old widow, was an expert quilter and spent much of her time sewing handmade aprons to raise money for children's charities. Although she was not known for involvement in politics, Mrs Schneck had shared many of Ms Giffords's views and had just wanted to shake the Congresswoman's hand. She leaves three children, seven grandchildren and a two-year-old great-grandchild.



Dorothy Morris

A staunch Republican, Dorothy Morris, 76, attended the political meet-and-greet with her husband George because she was curious to see what Ms Giffords had to say. The couple had lived in their Tucson home since the 1990s, were known for their love of travelling, and had two daughters together. When the gunman opened fire, Mrs Morris died at the scene while Mr Morris was wounded.

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