Tragedy struck a Safeway grocery store plaza in a normally quiet area of north Tucson, as a gunman opened fire at approximately 10:00 a.m. Saturday, killing six and critically injuring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).

The gunman, identified as 22-year-old Jared L. Loughner of Tucson, was reported by witnesses to have shot Giffords in the head  prior to opening fire on bystanders. He was taken into custody a short time later.

Among the dead was U.S. District judge John M. Roll, 63. While the main target of the shooting is believed to be Giffords, the investigation is in its early stages and Roll had been the recipient of recent death threats over recent immigration-related cases that he handled.

A girl reported to be nine years old and born on 9/11/2001 was also among the dead. The girl, who had just been elected to her student council and was interested in politics, had come to Safeway to meet Giffords during one of the congresswoman’s “Congress on your Corner” meet-and-greets with constituents – her first since being re-elected during a close race against a Tea Party candidate last November.

Despite being the target of violent threats after voting in favor of the Health Care Reform Bill last year, Giffords seems an unlikely target for a possible political assassination. She was the youngest woman to be elected to the Arizona Senate in 2002 and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006. While a democrat, she is fiscally conservative and a staunch supporter of stronger border security. In 2009, she co-sponsored the New Employee Verification Act (NEVA) with Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) to create new mandatory electronic employment verification system that was to be more effective than E-Verify. The bill has not yet come up for a vote.

She is also a strong supporter of renewable energy, especially the solar power and manufacturing industries. She voted in favor of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

While no motive has been officially confirmed, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik pointed to political ‘vitriol’ in a press conference, saying that Arizona “has become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

Giffords is married to U.S. Navy Captain Mark. E. Kelly, a space shuttle pilot who is scheduled to fly the program’s final shuttle mission in April. 

UPDATE: Since the above blog was written the day of the tragedy, new information has come forth about the shooter. Loughner had attended a Giffords event previously and documentation was found in Loughner's home indicating that he had planned ahead to harm Giffords.

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