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Jared Loughner and the Shooting of Gabrielle Giffords

On January 7, 2011, at 11:35 p.m., a young man with a shaved head walked into a Walgreens in Tucson, Ariz., and dropped off a roll of film.

The roll could have been pictures of the man on vacation with his family. It could have been pictures of a car he was trying to sell. But as the Walgreens employees would soon learn, the roll of film was much weirder than that.

As it was later revealed, the pictures were of the man, Jared Lee Loughner, posing with a Glock 19 gun held next to his bare buttocks. But that roll would take a few hours to process and it would be a full day before people would have a reason to care.

After dropping off the film, Loughner drove down the street to a Circle K and picked up a few things before stopping at a Motel 6 on the same street at which he was spending the night, even though he lived with his parents just a few miles away.

It was the beginning of a long night before a shocking morning culminating in the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords that left six others dead, including a federal judge, and many more injured, including Giffords herself.

Before the shooting, there were so many opportunities missed to have thwarted Loughner's mission.

After a few hours at the Motel 6, according to the Associated Press, Loughner called old friends, and ran into another old friend, Michelle Martinez, while stopping back at his parent's house at around two in the morning. At 2:34 a.m., according to a police timeline, Loughner returned to the Walgreens and picked up his developed film,

Finally, after a stop at a Chevron gas station, he retired to his room at the Motel Six and logged into his MySpace account at 4:12 a.m.

"Goodbye friends," he wrote. He posted one of his Walgreens pictures. Web caches show that it was a picture of the same Glock on top of a U.S. history textbook.

The post concluded: "Dear friends ... Please don't be mad at me. The literacy rate is below 5%. I haven't talked to one person who is literate."

Apparently unable to sleep, Loughner spent the early morning hours shopping. First, he went to the Walmart in the Foothills Mall in Tucson, then he went to a Circle K, and then back to the Walmart where he attempted buy bullets for his Glock. Here, Loughner was initially thwarted because the store didn't sell ammunition before 7 a.m.

Less than a half hour later, after 7 a.m., he drove to another Walmart a few miles away and completed his mission.

With the new ammunition in his bag, Loughner was pulled over just three minutes after his purchase by an officer from the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Loughner had made a simple mistake and run a red light.

It was one of several moments that could've tripped up Loughner that day.

Twice, three times even, he came into contact with people who could have stopped him from carrying out his crime, and in each case, he eluded them. It was the same dumb luck that he'd enjoyed for several years.

Since at least 2007, according to reports, Loughner had gotten pass after pass. He'd gotten in trouble with the law and with his community college: he'd freaked out other students in his classes; he'd acted strangely and inappropriately, and had been on the radar of police, school authorities, neighbors, and community members. And yet, no one believed he needed to be stopped—until it was too late.

With the bullets in a black diaper bag, Loughner returned home, where allegedly he got in a confrontation with his father. Angry, he left the house on foot and caught a cab at the local Circle K. It was 9:41 a.m..

The cab driver unknowingly shuttled Loughner to the scene of his crime, the parking lot of a Safeway grocery store at which Giffords was holding a town meeting. The driver was seen on video and was briefly a person of interest to police investigating the shooting, but, police later determined, was not involved. The driver went into the Safeway to get change for Loughner's $20 bill.

In a just a few minutes everything would change.

Terror at the Supermarket

Representative Gabrielle Giffords
Representative Gabrielle Giffords
For Gabrielle Giffords, her "Congress on Your Corner" event was just like many she had held before to meet with constituents. With a table situated in between the American and the Arizona State flags, Giffords met her constituents in front of the Safeway, starting around nine that morning. The Democratic Congresswoman had just been sworn in for the third time a few days before, following a close election. Giffords was in the midst of conversation when Loughner walked up and allegedly opened fire, aiming directly at her.
The prosaic gathering at the supermarket a moment before was turned into a killing zone with bodies scattered around the parking lot.
Loughner didn't stop shooting until his gun's ammunition was exhausted. As he was attempting to load another magazine, several of the eyewitnesses, including Patricia Maisch, Bill Badger, Roger Sulzgeber and Joseph Zamudio, were able to wrestle him down and stop him from reloading.
After he was named as a suspect, friends and former girlfriends came forward to attempt to make sense of his actions.
One of those friends, Caitie Parker, Tweeted in the immediate aftermath of the shooting that Loughner had met Giffords before, three years earlier.
"He was a political radical and met Giffords once before in '07, asked her a question and he told me she was 'stupid and unintelligent,'" she Tweeted.
Court documents detail that during the execution of a search warrant on his house later the day of the shooting, the authorities seized a letter in a safe addressed to "Mr. Jared Loughney" from Giffords' office. Dated August 30, 2007, the letter thanked him for attending a Congress on your Corner event at the Foothills Mall in Tucson, the same type of event at which the shooting occurred. Also recovered from the safe was an envelope with handwriting including phrases such as "I planned ahead," "My assassination," and the name "Giffords," along with what appeared to be Loughner's signature."
For authorities, the letter would serve as evidence of Loughner's premeditated intent to kill Giffords.
Though Giffords was the most high-profile victim of the shooting, she in fact survived a point-blank gunshot wound to the head. While she and the other wounded struggled to recover, six funerals for less fortunate victims were being planned. Perhaps the most poignant death was that of Christina Green, 9, who had been born on September 11, 2001.
According to The New York Times, the slender girl was on her student government and wanted to go to see real government in action. She went with a friend of her mother's to the meeting, and was fatally wounded when Loughner opened fire.
Another major government figure, federal judge John Roll, was there to talk to Giffords about overcrowded courts. Roll, a George W. Bush appointee to the bench, was, like all the victims, in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the wake of Roll's death, a judicial emergency was declared in the federal judicial district of Arizona due to the great disruption of court schedules caused by Roll's death added to the already-congested dockets about which Roll had come to the meeting to speak with Giffords.
Other victims killed included Dorothy Morris, Dorwan Stoddard and Phyllis Schneck. They were at the meet and greet specifically for Giffords; they were older, concerned and involved citizens. The sixth victim killed, Gabriel Zimmerman, was a member of Giffords' staff, working as her outreach director.

Assassination Attempt Recorded Twitter

Online, reports of the shooting were unfolding in real time—like a live blog gone horribly awry. At 9:54 a.m., Loughner arrived on the scene.
When Loughner opened fire, reports began to spread almost immediately on Twitter.
Scene of the shooting
Scene of the shooting
One of the first Tweets by user @bigvic came at 10:10 a.m.: "Giffords got shot?"
Not a second later, another user wrote: "Just heard Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 10 other people shot and killed at Oracle and Ina Safeway."
The rumors and ever-changing information shifted so quickly, it was hard to keep up.
Another user, @onJustice wrote at 10:08: "My sources tell me (Completely unconfirmed) that Giffords was stuck in the head by gunman at Safeway Oracle and Ina."
Shortly thereafter, NPR reported on the shooting, and people Tweeted the link.
Soon Twitter was linking to another NPR update, one that turned out to be wrong, incorrectly reporting that Giffords was dead.
By 11 a.m., news organizations were following NPR's lead and reporting that Giffords was dead.
In the echo chamber of the Internet, Giffords' death was assumed to be all-but-certain. Even her husband, Mark Kelly, started to grieve.
Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, random bits of data, some true, some false began to accumulate about a crazed gunman who had assassinated a Democratic congresswoman.
At 10:26 a.m., not even a half hour after the shooting had occurred—but a lifetime in Twitter—@crispix49 asked: "How long until the Democrats try blame the #teaparty for Giffordshooting?"
Indeed, in the absence of confirmed fact, the news reports often indulged in speculation on right-wing rhetoric, with the assumption that since Giffords was a Democrat, that the gunman was presumably a far-right Republican, and possibly an exponent of Tea Party activism.
In fact, Giffords was a member of the "Blue Dog" caucus of moderate Democrats, and called herself a "former Republican." In a moderately conservative area, she was well-aligned with her constituents on most issues. Some of her policies, like her support of gun rights, would have alienated or even angered the far-left.

The Palin Connection

Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin

Very little had been discovered about Loughner at that point, and the media hadn't yet zeroed in on the details of Giffords' policies. People were looking to point a finger, and the media were quick to look to the right. In particular, former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was swiftly made a focus. The 2008 Vice Presidential candidate and former Alaskan governor, now a commentator on Fox News, found herself at the center of controversy because she had employed battle-ready language—commonly used by many politicians, both Democrats and Republicans—on her website, SarahPAC.

The website included a map, with gunsight crosshairs over "targeted" congressional districts—because politicians in those generally conservative areas had supported the 2008 health care reform bill. Among them was Gabrielle Giffords. By 10:30 a.m., almost as soon as it was publicized in connection with the shooting by left-leaning bloggers, the map was gone.
At noon on her Facebook page, Palin issued a statement: "My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today's tragic shooting in Arizona. On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice."
Palin stopped short, though, of addressing her website's "targeted list," and later issued a video statement that drew the ire of critics and put her again on the defensive for the controversial use of the phrase "blood libel."
She said, in part: "But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible. There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal."

The Media Circus

Meanwhile, political commentators were having a field day.
The Giffords shooting was quickly incorporated into existing narratives—with liberal and right wing media mouthpieces both shouting into their microphones about the need for civil, rational discussion, while doing exactly the opposite by linking the shooting, in the absence of any evidence, to political personalities other than the victims.

Keith Olbermann
Keith Olbermann
Keith Olbermann, the left's mouthpiece on MSNBC (who left the channel shortly thereafter), said of Palin and the right's rhetoric: "It is essential tonight not to demand revenge, but to demand justice; to insist not upon payback against those politicians and commentators who have so irresponsibly brought us to this time of domestic terrorism, but to work to change the minds of them and their supporters. If Sarah Palin, whose website put— and today scrubbed—bullseye targets on 20 Representatives including Gabby Giffords, does not repudiate her own part in amplifying violence and violent imagery in politics, she must be dismissed from politics."

On the right, right-wing radio commentator Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves on his show, and said: "I find it fascinating that the media and many in the Democrat Party want to blame people that don't know this kid, that the kid never knew, the kid never heard of, the kid was never exposed to. They want to try to blame people genuinely who are ancillary, who are irrelevant to this for what the kid did, for pure, political reasons. And there are political reasons for this." He continued: "Their first objective and their first priority was to try to make an association between this nut and Sarah Palin."
Barbara Walters wouldn't join the fray of blaming Palin. "To blame Sarah Palin as some are doing, I think, is very unfair to her," said Walters on her talkshow, The View.
The rhetoric got so heated, that even the President had something to say about it.
On January 12, the President visited Tucson and gave a speech at the McKale Memorial Center at the University of Tucson. It was an emotional speech, more so than the State of the Union address he gave less than a week later. During the speech, the President addressed the fiery political rhetoric that continued to dominate the political spectrum:

President Barac Obama
President Barac Obama
"You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations—to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless. ...But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized—at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do— it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."
And at the State of the Union, the shooting was on the mind of everyone present. Giffords' seat remained empty, and many lawmakers wore black and white ribbons to mourn the shooting. The guests of First Lady Michelle Obama were people affected directly by the shooting and included the parents of Christina Taylor Green, as well as her brother; the University Medical Center's chief of trauma, Peter Rhee; and Daniel Hernandez, an intern at Giffords' office, who was credited with saving her life by minimizing her loss of blood.
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