Remarkable signs of life in shot Congresswoman

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The congresswoman shot in the head when a gunman opened fire at a political gathering in Tucson was said to be showing remarkable signs of life and mental activity last night, as the police search for a second suspect in the shooting intensified.

Doctors said Gabrielle Giffords had responded to simple commands after surgery to treat a bullet wound to the brain she suffered when her would-be killer opened fire at a supermarket event on Saturday, killing six people.

The chief suspect in the case, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, was charged last night with two counts of first degree murder, one count of attempting to kill a member of Congress and two other counts of attempted murder. He is due to appear in court in Phoenix this afternoon.

Police have still not determined Loughner’s alleged motive, which seems no clearer from the rambling manifesto he posted on social networking sites. Documents retrieved from his home, including a letter from Giffords suggest that he had at least a passing acquaintance with the Congresswoman.

FBI director Robert Mueller arrived in Tucson yesterday to lead an investigation into the attack, whose victims included a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl. Five others were in a serious condition and one more left hospital yesterday. A total of fourteen people were wounded.

Ms Giffords, a Democrat, won re-election in the November midterm elections by just 4,000 votes, after facing an ultra-conservative opponent with Tea Party backing, who posed with firearms in his campaign literature. Among those who vigorously advocated that she be voted out of office was former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, whose Facebook account once featured a map with bullseye symbols over the constituencies of Ms Giffords and other Democrats.

Victims of the rampage include an aide to Ms Giffords, identified as |30-year-old Gabe Zimmerman, as well as a federal judge, John Roll. Also dead were Christina-Taylor Greene, who was just nine years old, Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Scheck, 79.

The attack left Americans wondering if they were witnessing the start of a new period of political violence of a kind not seen since the assassinations of the 1960s triggered by passions associated with civil rights and Vietnam. At a candelit vigil outside Ms Giffords’s office, well-wishers carried placards with slogans such as “hate speech equals murder”, calling for an end to the inflammatory rhetoric which has characterised much recent public discourse.

For shocked members of Congress, the scale of the tragedy was too great to be easily digested. Flags were ordered at half-mast to mourn Mr Zimmerman. All legislative activity on Capitol Hill, where Republicans only last week took control of the House, was postponed, including a planned vote on a law to repeal President Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms.

Richard Durbin, the second most senior US Senator, echoed others last night in decrying “toxic rhetoric” which may, he added, lead individuals like the man in custody to believe that violence is an acceptable response. He did not overtly link the trend to the shootings, but did mention “Don’t retreat, reload”, paraphrasing the controversial slogan associated with ex-governor Sarah Palin.

Doctors at a large hospital next to Tucson’s University of Arizona said Ms Giffords had undergone emergency surgery after a bullet passed through the left side of her brain from back to front. It included a procedure to temporarily remove a large section of skull to help combat swelling of the brain, which remains the biggest threat to her long-term survival.

Ms Giffords had not yet spoken and was being moved in and out of an induced medical coma. However, the hospital drew encouragement from her ability to respond to simple commands to, for instance, squeeze her hand.

“This is about as good as good can get,” trauma doctor Peter Rhee said at University Medical Centre in Tucson, while warning that the patient remained in some danger.

The shock of the weekend’s events were felt especially strongly in Arizona, a state that has arguably the most relaxed gun laws in the country and recently allowed citizens to carry hidden weapons without holding a permit.

Over the past year, the state has been beset by political tensions because of a law signed by Governor Jan Brewer making it easier for police to challenge and incarcerate those suspected of being illegal immigrants. Ms Giffords had condemned the law. After the Congresswoman, who is mostly a centrist, voted last March to support the healthcare reform law, windows of her Tucson office were smashed.

Yesterday US officials noted there were 42 cases of threats or violence against members of Congress in the first three months of 2010, nearly three times the 15 cases reported during the same period a year earlier. Ms Giffords was among the targets.

Equally divisive was her campaign last year. Her opponent, Jesse Kelly, posted a picture on his website featuring him in military garb and brandishing an automatic weapon. He held fundraisers when he urged voters to join him in shooting a fully loaded M-16 rife.

However a spokesman for Mr Kelly denied a link with the killings. “I don’t see the connection,” said John Ellinwood. “I don’t know this person. We cannot find any records that he was associated with the campaign in any way. I just don’t see the connection.

“Arizona is a state where people are firearms owners – this was just a deranged individual.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference