TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) – Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords battled for her life on Sunday after an assailant shot her in the head and killed six others in a rampage that has launched a debate about extreme political rhetoric in America.

The 40-year-old Democratic lawmaker was in critical condition and doctors were cautiously optimistic she would survive. The suspected gunman was in federal custody as investigators sought a motive in the shooting of a U.S. lawmaker and looked for a possible accomplice.

Saturday's shooting shocked politicians in Washington, where Congress postponed a vote on healthcare reform later this week. Following an acrimonious campaign ahead of midterm congressional elections last November, some commentators were quick to cite a shrill climate of political vitriol might have played a role in the shooting.

"We are in a dark place in this country right now and the atmospheric condition is toxic," Democratic Representative Emanuel Cleaver told NBC's "Meet the Press."

The suspected gunman, identified as Jared Lee Loughner, 22, opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol at point-blank range outside a supermarket, killing six people including U.S. federal judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl. Twelve others were wounded.

Arizona police released a photo of a man sought for questioning who was seen at the shopping center where the attack occurred and may be associated with the suspect. He is white and thought to be 40 to 50 years old.

Police seeking a motive for the shooting spree were looking at a trail of anti-government messages on the Internet left either by Loughner or someone writing under that name. There was no coherent theme to the messages.

"This was the act of a deranged individual," conservative Republican Senator Rand Paul told "Fox News Sunday."

In Tucson, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said the suspect "has kind of a troubled past and we're not convinced that he acted alone." He said he believed Giffords was the intended target of the shooting."This inhuman act should not and will not deter us from our calling to represent our constituents and fulfill our oaths of office. No act, no matter how heinous, must be allowed to stop us from our duty," Boehner said.

Dupnik said the suspect had made threats to kill in the past but not against Giffords.

President Barack Obama put FBI Director Robert Mueller in charge of the investigation. "We don't yet know what provoked this unspeakable act," Obama told reporters on Saturday.

Giffords was shot once in the head with the bullet going "through and through," according to a trauma surgeon at the Tucson hospital where she was airlifted for surgery.

"Everybody has a guarded optimism about her surviving," Tucson mayor Bob Walkup told Reuters on Sunday morning. Walkup spoke to Giffords' husband at about midnight.


Lawmakers in Washington put off their agenda for this week, including a vote on the repeal of Obama's contentious healthcare overhaul. The new Congress convened last week after November 2 elections in which the Republican Party won control of the House of Representatives.

The U.S. Capitol Police cautioned members of Congress "to take reasonable and prudent precautions regarding their personal security. Still, most lawmakers are largely unguarded outside the Capitol, except the leaders of the House and Senate, who have security details.

"We can be shot down in our district, but we can also be shot walking over to the Capitol," Democratic Representative Maxine Waters of California told the Washington news outlet


"We have a lot of people outside who appear to be fragile emotionally. So we don't know when one will walk up and shoot us down. We're vulnerable, and there's no real way to protect us."

Giffords had warned previously that the heated political rhetoric had prompted violent threats against her and vandalism at her office.

In an interview last year with the MSNBC television network, Giffords cited a map of electoral targets put out by former Alaska Republican Governor and prominent conservative Sarah Palin, each marked by the cross hairs of a rifle sight.

Saturday, Palin had removed the graphic from her website and offered her condolences on a posting on Facebook.

"We all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice," Palin said, speaking of Saturday's shooting.


In several videos posted on the Internet site YouTube, a person who posted under the name Jared Lee Loughner criticizes the government and religion and calls for a new currency. It was not known if he was the same person as the suspect.

"The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar. No! I won't pay debt with a currency that's not backed by gold and silver! No! I won't trust in God!"

The FBI was investigating whether the shooting suspect was the same person who posted the videos, a federal law enforcement official said.

In a biographical sketch on the site, the author of the post writes that he attended Tucson-area schools and that his favorite books include Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf", Karl Marx's "Communist Manifesto," and Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," set in an insane asylum.

Giffords, who is married to NASA astronaut Navy Captain Mark Kelly, is seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party. She narrowly defeated a conservative opponent and was one of the few Democrats to survive the Republican sweep in swing districts in the November elections.

Her state has been at the center of a political firestorm the past year, symbolizing a bitter partisan divide across much of America.

The spark was the border state's move to crack down on illegal immigration last summer, a bill proposed by conservative lawmakers and signed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer.

Most Arizonans supported it, but opponents and many in the large Hispanic population felt it was unconstitutional and would lead to discrimination. Giffords said it would not secure the border or stop drug smuggling and gun running.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan, Richard Cowan, Tabassum Zakaria and Kim Dixon in Washington, David Schwartz in Phoenix, and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Holland, Editing by Frances Kerry and Jackie Frank)


From: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110109/us_nm/us_usa_shooting_congresswoman