Arizona massacre suspect in court

The man accused of attempting to assassinate US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in a gun rampage that killed six people will appear in an Arizona court today.

The man accused of attempting to assassinate US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in a gun rampage that killed six people will appear in an Arizona court today.

Investigators carried out a search warrant at 22-year-old Jared Loughner’s Tucson home and seized an envelope from a safe with messages including “I planned ahead”, “My assassination” and the name “Giffords” next to what appears to be the man’s signature.

Loughner allegedly bought the Glock pistol used in Saturday’s attack at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Tucson, in November.

Court documents also show that Loughner had contact with Democrat Ms Giffords, 40, in the past.

Other evidence included a letter on her official stationery in which she thanked him for attending a Congress on your Corner event at a mall in Tucson in 2007.

Ms Giffords was shot in the head at about 10am at her first Congress on your Corner event of 2011 as she was meeting constituents outside a Tuscon supermarket.

Heather Williams, the first assistant federal public defender in Arizona, said her office was seeking an outside lawyer for Loughner because one of those killed was Arizona’s top judge, John Roll.

Pima County sheriff Clarence Dupnik said yesterday that Loughner acted alone.

Loughner fired at Ms Giffords’ district director and shot indiscriminately at staffers and others standing in line to talk to the congresswoman, said Mark Kimble, her communications aide.

“He was not more than three or four feet from the congresswoman and the district director,” Mr Kimble said, describing the scene as “just complete chaos, people screaming, crying”.

Loughner, who will appear before US Magistrate Judge Lawrence Anderson at the Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse in Phoenix at 10am local time (5pm Irish time), is accused of killing six people, including a federal judge, an aide to Ms Giffords and a nine-year-old girl born on September 11, 2001. Fourteen others were wounded, including Ms Giffords.

Government prosecutors have charged 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. He also could face state charges over the killings.

Doctors treating Ms Giffords at Tucson’s University Medical Centre provided an optimistic update about her chances for survival, saying they were “very, very encouraged” by her ability to respond to simple commands along with their success in controlling her bleeding.

Yesterday mourners crammed into the tiny sanctuary of Ms Giffords’ synagogue in Tucson to pray for her quick recovery and outside the hospital, candles flickered at a makeshift memorial. People also left flowers, American flags and pictures of Ms Giffords.

US president Barack Obama called for a moment of silence at 11am eastern US time today (4pm Irish time) to remember the shooting victims.

Mr Obama will observe the moment with White House staff on the South Lawn and has ordered flags to be flown at half-mast.

Those killed were nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green; Judge Roll, 63; Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79.

Judge Roll had stopped off to see his friend Ms Giffords after attending Mass.

An unidentified man who authorities earlier said might have acted as an accomplice was cleared yesterday of any involvement in the attack.

A security camera captured an image of a man with Loughner shortly before the attack, but he turned out to be a taxi driver who went into the Safeway store with Loughner because the driver didn’t have change for a $20 bill. He said the shooting occurred just after the two exchanged money.

Sheriff Dupnik said a woman and two men helped subdue the gunman.

When the shooting started, Patricia Maisch, who was waiting in line with her husband to get a photo with Ms Giffords, ran up to the suspect and seized the empty magazine, then grabbed a full magazine as he was loading it into the gun.

The two men who then piled in and tackled the gunman were Roger Sulzgeber, who was also in the forum queue, and Joseph Zimudie, who was at a nearby shop and heard the shooting.

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