Those who died in the shooting, at a Safeways supermarket in north west Tucson, included a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl, Christina Taylor, who had just been elected to her school council.
“I can tell you at this time, I am very optimistic about her (Gabrielle Giffords’s) recovery,” said Dr Peter Rhee, medical director of the University Medical Center in Tucson where Ms Giffords was operated on after the shooting.
“We cannot tell what kind of recovery, but I’m as optimistic as it can get in this kind of situation,” he continued.
Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup, interviewed on Channel 4 News, said his priority was to ensure the treatment of those still in hospital following yesterday’s incident.
He told Krishnan Guru-Murthy he had had the chance to see Congresswoman Giffords in hospital. She was not conscious, he explained, but had been able to respond to simple commands. Doctors were very pleased that she could react to a simple question like “Can you move your fingers?”
Mayor Walkup noted that the United States had really suffered from the economic downturn in the last few years. “We’ve got thousands, hundreds of thousands, of people that are out of work – so that kind of lends to the whole political emotion on ‘What are you doing to restore quality of life in this country?'”
He concluded: “What we need to do is return to a period of civility in this country politically, and we’ve got to really start treating each other more kindly.”
A suspect, identified as Jared Lee Loughner (left), opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol at point-blank range during a “Congress on Your Corner” event on Saturday afternoon, in which constituents had the opportunity to talk directly with the Congresswoman.
Police have said they are looking for an accomplice in the shootings, who may have driven the suspect.
The US Army said yesterday they had rejected an application from Loughner in 2008. Last year he reportedly dropped out of Pima Community College after being suspended for what were described as “Code of Conduct violations”.
The college website states that from February to September 2010 Loughner “had five contacts with PCC police for classroom and library disruptions”.
On his YouTube channel, Loughner has posted as his favourite video footage of a masked man burning an American flag in the desert, to the accompaniment of a heavy metal song urging “Let the bodies hit the floor”. His YouTube profile lists the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf among his favourite books.
MySpace has taken down Jared Loughner’s profile from its site. However, screen grabs from Loughner’s pages reveal what seems to be a farewell message from the 22-year-old.
One entry reads, apparently posted yesterday, reads: “Goodbye friends Dear friends,…Please don’t be mad at me.” Another, published at the end of last month, begins: “Today! With every concern, my shot is now ready for aim.”
A third entry, posted on the same day, says: “Every US Government official agency is illegally accepting payment without gold or silver.”
President Barack Obama has put FBI Director Robert Mueller in charge of the investigation. “We don’t yet know what provoked this unspeakable act,” the president told reporters.
There have been suggestions that heated political debate on the issues of healthcare reform and immigration, sparked during last year’s midterm elections, may have played a role in the shooting.
Last year Ms Giffords criticised Sarah Palin, the Republican Governor of Alaska, for publishing a map of electoral targets, each marked by the crosshairs of a rifle sight (see left).
“When people do that, they’ve got to realise that there’s consequences to that action,” Ms Giffords told MSNBC.
A Facebook page published by Sarah Palin calls on her supporters to hold to account members of Congress who supported “this disastrous Obamacare vote”. She continues: “This is just the first salvo in a fight to elect people across the nation who will bring common sense to Washington.”
The shooting has prompted the US Congress to postpone a vote on the repeal of President Obama’s contentious healthcare reform, due later this week. The new Congress, in which the Republican party has control of the House of Representatives, convened last week.
High-ranking politicians in the US have been advised by US Capitol Police to take “reasonable and prudent precautions regarding their personal security”.
Profile: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords
Gabrielle Giffords became Arizona’s Democratic member of the US House of Representatives in January 2007, the third woman to represent the state. She is serving her third term after re-election in the 2010 midterms.
A rising star in the Democratic party, Ms Giffords courted controversy among conservative opponents when she came out in support of President Obama’s healthcare reform bill. Indeed, she is said to have told a reporter she was prepared to lose her seat to defend it.
Because Ms Giffords’ congressional district borders Mexico, she has been involved in the debate over immigration reform. She angered right-wingers in 2008 when she introduced legislation – which was never voted on – to significantly increase the cap on foreign workers being employed by US companies.
Congresswoman Giffords is a proponent of gun rights, and has supported moves to overturn the ban on private handgun ownership in Washington DC.
On abortion, she is pro-choice; she supports greater use of renewable energy; she sits on the science and technology committee in Congress; and she has offered her support to motorbike riders who want the right to travel without wearing a helmet.
The safety of the world depends on your ability to say no to inhumane ideas. US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords
She is Arizona’s first Jewish Congresswoman and is married to astronaut Mark E Kelly, an astronaut who is scheduled to command the Shuttle Endeavor when it launches in April.
Mark Kelly’s brother, Scott Kelly, is also an astronaut and is currently orbiting the earth on the International Space Station. Earlier today he published a tweet on his Twitter page which read: “I want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers, words of condolences and encouragement for the victims and their families.”
In a poignant statement of belief during a commencement address to students at Scripps College in 2009 (see below), Ms Giffords announces: “The safety of the world depends on your ability to say no to inhumane ideas.”