Doctors optimistic Arizona congresswoman will survive

Suspect attended similar political event in past; is charged with 1 count of attempted assassination of member of congress, among other crimes.

Arizona shooting memorial 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Arizona shooting memorial 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
Doctors treating wounded US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords provided an optimistic update Sunday about her chances for survival after a shooting rampage that killed six, saying they are “very, very encouraged” by her ability to respond to simple commands along with their success in controlling her bleeding.
Federal prosecutors charged the suspect in the shooting, Jared Loughner, with one count 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.
RELATED:US Congresswoman shot in head; 18 are shot, 6 killed
Heather Williams, the first assistant federal public defender in Arizona, says the 22-yearold suspect doesn’t yet have a lawyer, but that her office is working to get a lawyer appointed for him.
House Speaker John Boehner said normal House business this week has been postponed in the aftermath of the shooting.
Surgeons said a bullet went through Giffords’s head on the left side of the brain, but she is still able to respond nonverbally to commands such as squeezing a hand or showing two fingers. They offered several reasons for her survival, including good luck and the fact that paramedics got her to surgeons quickly – in under 40 minutes – with the help of a helicopter.
“This is about as good as it is going to get,” said Dr. Peter Rhee, a trauma surgeon.
“When you get shot in the head and the bullet goes through your brain, the chances of you living is very small and the chances of you waking up and actually following commands is even much smaller than that. Hopefully it will stay that way.”
Surgeons worked to reduce pressure from swelling in her head by removing bone fragments, and they also removed a small amount of badly damaged brain. Giffords cannot speak because she is on a ventilator.
Dr. Michael Lemole of the University Medical Center in Tucson would not speculate on her degree of recovery. “We talk about recovery in months to years,” he said.
The medical prognosis came as authorities investigated the motivation of a gunman in what could be an attempted assassination of the three-term Democratic lawmaker, which killed six people, including a federal judge, an aide to Giffords and a nine-year-old girl who was born on September 11, 2001.
Mourners crammed into the tiny sanctuary of the Reform synagogue Giffords attends in Tucson to pray for her quick recovery.
Outside the hospital, candles flickered at a makeshift memorial.
Signs read “Peace + love are stronger,” “God bless America and “We love you, Gabrielle.” People also laid down bouquets of flowers, American flags and pictures of Giffords.
Loughner was described by friends as a pot-smoking loner who was rejected by the army when he tried to enlist in 2008.
He dropped out of a local community college after having five contacts with campus police for classroom and library disruptions.
His motivation was not immediately known, but Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described him as mentally unstable and possibly acting with an accomplice.
Authorities said Giffords, 40, was targeted at a public gathering by a man with a semiautomatic weapon at around 10 a.m. Saturday outside a busy Tucson supermarket. Fourteen people were wounded.
He also fired at her district director and shot indiscriminately at staffers and others standing in line to talk to the congresswoman, said Mark Kimble, a communications staffer for Giffords.
“He was not more than three or four feet from the congresswoman and the district director,” Kimble said, describing the scene as “just complete chaos, people screaming, crying.”
One of the victims was Christina-Taylor Green, who was a member of the student council at her local school and went to the event because of her interest in government.
She was born on 9/11 and featured in a book called Faces of Hope that chronicled one baby from each state born on the day terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people.
The fact that Christina’s life ended in tragedy was especially tragic to those who knew her.
“Tragedy seems to have happened again, in the form of this awful event,” said the author of the book, Christine Naman.
Authorities said the dead included US District Judge John M. Roll; Green; Giffords’s Jewish director of communications Gabe Zimmerman, 30; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Scheck, 79. Judge Roll had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after attending Mass.
FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was sent by Attorney-General Eric Holder to Arizona to help coordinate the investigation, said Loughner bought the Glock 9- mm. handgun last year.
In one of several YouTube videos, which featured text against a dark background, Loughner described inventing a new US currency and complained about the illiteracy rate among people living in Giffords’s congressional district in Arizona.
“I know who’s listening: Government Officials, and the People,” Loughner wrote. “Nearly all the people, who don’t know this accurate information of a new currency, aren’t aware of mind control and brainwash methods. If I have my civil rights, then this message wouldn’t have happen [sic].”
In Loughner’s middle-class neighborhood – about a five-minute drive from the scene – sheriff’s deputies had much of the street blocked off. The neighborhood sits just off a bustling Tucson street and is lined with desert landscaping and palm trees.
Neighbors said Loughner lived with his parents and kept to himself. He was often seen walking his dog, almost always wearing a hooded sweat shirt and listening to his iPod.
When asked if Loughner had any contact with Giffords in the past, Mueller said the alleged gunman attended a similar event three years ago.
The sheriff said the rampage ended only after two people tackled the gunman.
A third person intervened and tried to pull a clip away from Loughner as he attempted to reload, the sheriff said.
“He was definitely on a mission,” according to event volunteer Alex Villec, a former Giffords intern.
Giffords is only the third woman ever to represent Arizona in the House. In 2007 she married a US Navy captain, Mark Kelly, who has been an astronaut since 1996. She is the only member of Congress married to an active-duty spouse.
According to the Forward newspaper, Giffords’s paternal grandfather was born Akiba Hornstein, son of a Lithuanian rabbi. He changed his name, first to Gifford Hornstein and later to Gifford Giffords, apparently to shield himself from anti-Semitism. Though Giffords’s father is Jewish, her mother is not.
In 2001, as an Arizona state senator, Giffords went to Israel on a trip sponsored by the American Jewish Committee – a trip, she said, that made her committed to living as a Jew.
In an interview with Jewish Woman Magazine on her initial election to Congress, Giffords said her philosophy was shaped in part by Jewish values.
“I think about the values, instilled in me by my Jewish relatives, of tolerance, of understanding, and of a deep desire to assist and to educate others – particularly after I visited Israel as part of the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange,” Giffords told the magazine.
“It was a profound experience [for me] to reconnect with that philosophical approach to life and to humanity, and to look at the big picture and understand our interconnectedness.”
Giffords also said in the interview that she was a member of the Reform Congregation Haverim in Tuscon, led by Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, and took adult Jewish education classes there.
Steve Rabinowitz, a communications consultant and longtime Democratic Party activist originally from Tuscon, spoke about his acquaintance with the congresswoman.
“I grew up in Tucson and she’s a dozen years younger than I am,” he said over the phone from Washington on Sunday.
“I knew their family. They owned a very prominent auto store. It was a tire store but it was very well known, probably the biggest in town.”
When Gifford first ran for Congress in 2005, Rabinowitz, who was already a seasoned veteran in Washington with experience working for the White House during the Clinton administration, assisted her in her campaign.
“I didn’t know Gabby until she ran for Congress and [I] helped her with the Jewish media,” he said. “Here in DC, people are from every state live here so it’s easy to put together a lot of Arizonians with Gabby and hoping they would support her campaigns for Congress [sic].
“Just last year we hosted a fundraiser for her. It was a lovely evening with a basic cocktail reception. She talked about the issues of the day and the Obama healthcare bill... She spoke about politics, Arizona, Yiddishkeit and food.”
He added that the Jewish community in Tucson and the Reform congregation she was a member of was “incredibly upset” by the shooting.

AP contributed to this report.