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Video: Notes at suspect's home mention 'assassination'

Image: Emergency personnel attend to a shooting victim
James Palka  /  AP
Emergency personnel attend to a shooting victim outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday where U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and others were shot as the congresswoman was meeting with constituents.
msnbc.com news services
updated 1/10/2011 1:14:13 AM ET 2011-01-10T06:14:13

Federal prosecutors brought charges Sunday against the gunman accused of attempting to assassinate U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killing six people at a political event in Arizona.

Investigators said they carried out a search warrant at suspect Jared Loughner's Tucson home and seized an envelope from a safe with messages such as "I planned ahead," "My assassination" and the name "Giffords" next to what appears to be the man's signature. He allegedly purchased the Glock pistol used in the attack in November at Sportsman's Warehouse in Tucson.

Court documents also show that Loughner had contact with Giffords in the past. Other evidence included a letter addressed to him on Giffords' congressional stationery in which she thanked him for attending a "Congress on your Corner" event at a mall in Tucson in 2007. Giffords was shot at her first "Congress on your Corner" event with constituents of the new year.

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Authorities weren't saying Sunday where Loughner was being held, and officials were working to appoint an attorney for him ahead of a scheduled Monday afternoon court appearance in Phoenix.

Heather Williams, the first assistant federal public defender in Arizona, said they're asking that San Diego attorney Judy Clarke be appointed.

Clarke, a former federal public defender in San Diego and Spokane, Washington, served on teams that defended Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Timothy McVeigh, "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski and Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman who drowned her two sons in 1994.

Williams' office is asking for an outside attorney because one of those killed was U.S. District Judge John M. Roll.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said Sunday that Loughner acted alone.

Meanwhile, authorities released emergency calls in which a person witnessing the mass shooting outside a grocery store in Tucson describes a frantic scene and says, "I do believe Gabby Giffords was hit."

Video: Ariz. shooting 911 tape released

Loughner fired at Giffords' 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.

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"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."

Loughner is accused of killing six people, including a federal judge, an aide to Giffords and a 9-year-old girl who was born on Sept. 11, 2001. Fourteen others were wounded, including the three-term Democratic lawmaker. FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was sent by Attorney General Eric Holder to Arizona to help coordinate the investigation, said the shooter's motive for the 10 a.m. attack was not known.

Video: Sheriff: Bravery of 3 prevented 'greater catastrophe’

Agents are "working around the clock to gather the facts to determine why someone would commit such heinous acts," Mueller said during a news conference.

Federal prosecutors 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 in the killings.

Doctors treating Giffords at Tucson's University Medical Center provided an optimistic update about her chances for survival, saying they are "very, very encouraged" by her ability to respond to simple commands along with their success in controlling her bleeding.

Image: Gabrielle Giffords
HO  /  Reuters
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was listed in critical condition Saturday evening.

In a statement released Sunday night, Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly thanked supporters and mourned the loss of those killed in the attack. "We must never forget them, and our prayers are with their families," the statement read. Kelly noted many offers of help, but asked people to consider donating to two organizations that "Gabby has long valued and supported: Tuscon's Community Food Bank and the American Red Cross."

Mourners crammed into the tiny sanctuary of Giffords' synagogue 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.

One of the victims was 9-year-old 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 is the granddaughter of Dallas Green, former manager of the Philadelphia Phillies major league baseball team. Her father, John Green, is as a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Video: Suspect: 'You could call me a terrorist'

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 in the U.S.

The fact that Christina's life ended in tragedy was especially tragic to those who knew her. "Tragedy seems to have happened again," said the author of the book, Christine Naman. "In the form of this awful event."

Authorities said the dead included U.S. District Judge John M. Roll; Green; Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79. Judge Roll had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after attending Mass.

An unidentified man who authorities earlier said might have acted as an accomplice was cleared Sunday of any involvement in the attack. A security camera captured an image of a man with Loughner shortly before the attack.

Dupnik said the man was a cab driver who walked into the Safeway grocery 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.

In one of several YouTube videos, which featured text against a dark background, Loughner described inventing a new U.S. currency and complained about the illiteracy rate among people living in Giffords' congressional district in Arizona.

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"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.

The assassination attempt left Americans questioning whether divisive politics had pushed the suspect over the edge.

A shaken President Barack Obama called the attack "a tragedy for our entire country."

"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."

Story: Politicians split on meaning of Giffords shooting

In a brief statement Sunday morning, House Speaker John Boehner said flags on the House side of the Capitol in Washington will be flown at half staff to honor Giffords' slain aide, Gabe Zimmerman. Boehner says normal House business this week is postponed to focus on any necessary actions in the shooting aftermath.

Giffords faced frequent backlash from the right over her support of the health care reform last year, and had her office vandalized the day the House approved the landmark measure.

Dupnik lashed out at what he called an excessively "vitriolic" atmosphere in the months leading up to the rampage as he described the chaos of the day.

The sheriff said three people helped subdue the gunman. Dupnik said Patricia Maisch was waiting in line with her husband to get a photo with Giffords. When the shooting started, she ran up to the suspect and grabbed the empty magazine, then grabbed a full magazine as he was loading it into the gun.

Two men helped subdue the suspect — Roger Sulzgeber, who was also in line, and Joseph Zimudie, who was at a nearby drug store and heard the shooting, Dupnik said.

"He was definitely on a mission," according to event volunteer Alex Villec, former Giffords intern.

Strong reaction came from overseas, as well.

British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed shock at the shooting, and added that he shared President Barack Obama's belief that "we must never allow violence and hate to extinguish the open political discourse which is our surest protection."

Fidel Castro also denounced the attack as atrocious. "Even those of us who don't share at all the politics and philosophies (of the Obama administration) sincerely desire that no children, judges, legislators or citizens of the United States die in such an absurd and unjustifiable way," Castro said in an opinion piece titled "An Atrocious Act," published in Cuban state-controlled media.

Giffords is a moderate Democrat who narrowly won re-election in November against a tea party candidate who sought to throw her from office over her support of the health care law. Anger over her position became violent at times, with her Tucson office vandalized after the House passed the overhaul last March and someone showing up at a recent gathering with a weapon.

Giffords had expressed concerns about inflammatory political rhetoric, even before the shooting. In an interview after her office was vandalized, she referred to the animosity against her by conservatives, including Sarah Palin's decision to list Giffords' seat as one of the top "targets" in the midterm elections.

"For example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action," Giffords said in an interview with MSNBC.

In the hours after the shooting, Palin issued a statement in which she expressed her "sincere condolences" to the family of Giffords and the other victims.

Story: Profile of suspect Jared Loughner: ‘I can't trust the current government’

During his campaign effort to unseat Giffords in November, Republican challenger Jesse Kelly held fundraisers where he urged supporters to help remove Giffords from office by joining him to shoot a fully loaded M-16 rifle. Kelly is a former Marine who served in Iraq and was pictured on his website in military gear holding his automatic weapon and promoting the event.

"I don't see the connection," between the fundraisers featuring weapons and Saturday's shooting, said John Ellinwood, Kelly's spokesman. "I don't know this person, we cannot find any records that he was associated with the campaign in any way. I just don't see the connection.

"Arizona is a state where people are firearms owners — this was just a deranged individual."

Law enforcement officials said members of Congress reported 42 cases of threats or violence in the first three months of 2010, nearly three times the 15 cases reported during the same period a year earlier. Nearly all dealt with the health care bill, and Giffords was among the targets.

The shooting cast a pall over the Capitol as politicians of all stripes denounced the attack as a horrific. Capitol police asked members of Congress to be more vigilant about security in the wake of the shooting.The suspect Loughner was described by a former classmate as a pot-smoking loner, and the Army said he tried to enlist in December 2008 but was rejected for reasons not disclosed.

Federal law enforcement officials were poring over versions of a MySpace page that included a mysterious "Goodbye friends" message published hours before the shooting and exhorted his friends to "Please don't be mad at me."In one of several YouTube videos, which featured text against a dark background, Loughner described inventing a new U.S. currency and complained about the illiteracy rate among people living in Giffords' 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)."

Video: An outpouring of grief in stricken Tucson

High school classmate Grant Wiens, 22, said Loughner seemed to be "floating through life" and "doing his own thing."

"Sometimes religion was brought up or drugs. He smoked pot, I don't know how regularly. And he wasn't too keen on religion, from what I could tell," Wiens said.

Lynda Sorenson said she took a math class with Loughner last summer at Pima Community College's Northwest campus and told the Arizona Daily Star he was "obviously very disturbed." "He disrupted class frequently with nonsensical outbursts," she said.

In October 2007, Loughner was cited in Pima County for possession of drug paraphernalia, which was dismissed after he completed a diversion program, according to online records.

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Giffords was first elected to Congress amid a wave of Democratic victories in the 2006 election, and has been mentioned as a possible Senate candidate in 2012 and a gubernatorial prospect in 2014.

She is married to astronaut Mark E. Kelly, who has piloted space shuttles Endeavour and Discovery. The two met in China in 2003 while they were serving on a committee there, and were married in January 2007. Sen. Bill Nelson, chairman of the Senate Commerce Space and Science Subcommittee, said Kelly is training to be the next commander of the space shuttle mission slated for April. His brother is currently serving aboard the International Space Station, Nelson said.

___

Associated Press Writers Amanda Lee Myers and Terry Tang in Tucson, Jacques Billeaud, Bob Christie and Paul Davenport in Phoenix, and David Espo, Matt Apuzzo, Eileen Sullivan, Adam Goldman and Charles Babington in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Photos: Former Ariz. Representative Gabrielle Giffords

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  1. Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot and left handicapped after a gunman opened fire at an event in Tucson, Ariz., and her husband retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly prepare to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 2013. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, leave the Newtown Municipal Building in Newtown, Conn. on Jan. 4, 2013. Giffords met with Newtown officials on Friday afternoon before heading to visit with families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. (Michelle Mcloughlin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Gabrielle Giffords waves to the Space Shuttle Endeavor with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly as it flies over Tucson, Ariz. on its way to Los Angeles, on Sept. 20, 2012. Kelly served as Endeavour's last space commander months after Giffords survived serious head injuries because of a 2011 shooting. (P.K. Weis / Southwest Photo Bank via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gabrielle Giffords blows a kiss after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. on Sept. 6, 2012. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gabrielle Giffords stands on top of a peak in the French Alps with her husband Mark Kelly, right,, and mountain guide Vincent Lameyre, July 23, 2012. On her first trip out of the country since her injury in 2011, she rode a two-stage cable car to a station for spectacular views of Mont Blanc. (Denis Balibouse / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Ron Barber, right, celebrates his victory with Giffords, left, prior to speaking to supporters at a post election event, Tuesday, June 12, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz. Barber, Giffords' former district director, won her seat in a special election after she resigned to focus on her recovery. (Ross D. Franklin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Democratic Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, read Rep. Gabriell Giffords resignation speech on the House floor on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012. The day after President Obama's State of the Union speech, Giffords formally offered her resignation to Speaker John Boehner. Weeping, Shultz applauded the strength of her friend and colleague, "I'm so proud of my friend." (MSNBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. President Barack Obama hugs retiring Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as the president arrives to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., left, and Pelosi, right, posing with Giffords husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly of the Navy, at his retirement ceremony with Vice President Joe Biden in the Old Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011. (House Leader Nancy Pelosi's office / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returns to the House for the first time since she was shot, making a dramatic entrance on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, during a crucial debt vote. She drew loud applause and cheers from surprised colleagues. (NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords poses for a photo the day after the launch of NASA space shuttle Endeavour and the day before she had her cranioplasty surgery, outside TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital May 17, in Houston, Texas. Aides of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords posted two recent photos of the congresswoman to her public Facebook page, the first since the January 8 shooting that killed six people and wounded a dozen others. (P.K. Weis / Giffords Campaign / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Emergency workers use a stretcher to move Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011. (James Palka / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. In this Jan. 5, 2011 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner re-enacts the swearing in of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Susan Walsh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Rep. Giffords, left, speaks during a candidates debate with Republican candidate Jesse Kelly at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., on Oct. 18, 2010. Kelly is an Iraq War veteran and was the Tea Party favorite for the 8th congressional district seat. (Joshua Lott / The New York Times via Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords meets with constituents in Douglas, Ariz., in 2010. Giffords, 40, took office in January 2007, emphasizing issues such as immigration reform, embryonic stem-cell research, alternative energy sources and a higher minimum wage. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Rep. Giffords speaks during a press conference in Washington, D.C., where members of Congress called on the President to secure the border with the National Guard on April 28, 2010. (James Berglie / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. This picture provided by the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Monday, March 22, 2010, shows damage to her office in Tucson, Ariz. The congressional office was vandalized a few hours after the House vote overhauling the nation's health care system. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., center, gives a tour of Statuary Hall in the Capitol to Shuttle Discovery STS-124 astronauts Mission Specialist Akihiko Hoshide, of Japan, and her husband, Commander Mark Kelly, on Thursday, July 17, 2008. (Bill Clark / Roll Call Photos) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. From right. Rep. Ken Calvert, Rep. Dennis Moore, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and Rep. Heath Shuler, attend a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on current and proposed employment eligibility verification systems on May 6, 2008. The hearing provided a forum for lawmakers on both sides of the immigration debate, focusing on a system to verify the legal status of workers and job applicants. (Scott J. Ferrell) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Gabrielle Giffords with U.S. Navy Cmdr. Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut, at their wedding in Amado, Ariz., on Nov. 10, 2007. Kelly's twin brother, also an astronaut, is a commander on the International Space Station. "We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station. As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not," said Scott Kelly of the tragedy that befell his sister-in-law. (Norma Jean Gargasz for The New York Times / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Representatives-elect including Dean Heller, top right, and Gabrielle Giffords, next to Heller, prepare for the freshman class picture for the 110th Congress on the House Steps on Nov. 14, 2006. (Tom Williams / Roll Call Photos) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords rides horseback in 2006. In an interview with NPR last year, she recalled working with horses during her adolescence in Tucson. "I loved cleaning out the stalls, and I did that in exchange for riding lessons. And I continue to ride most of my life. And I learned a lot from horses and the stable people ... I think it provided good training, all of that manure-shoveling, for my days in politics ahead." (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A page entitled, "Just do it!" in La Semeuse, the Scripps College yearbook in 1993. The photo at right shows Giffords in traditional Mennonite clothing. That same year, she won a Fulbright award to study Mennonites and other Anabaptist groups in Northern Mexico. Gifford's senior thesis was titled "Wish Books and Felt-Tipped Fantasies: The Sociology of Old Colony Mennonite Drawings." (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gabrielle Giffords' senior portrait from the 1993 Scripps College yearbook. Giffords double-majored in Latin American studies and sociology. A Dean's List student, Gifford won several awards during her time at Scripps. (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gabrielle Giffords, right, laughs with her mom, Gloria Kay Fraser Giffords, in a photo published in the Scripps College yearbook. Gabrielle received a B.A. in Sociology and Latin American history from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. in 1993. (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. University High School portrait of Gabrielle Giffords, class of 1988. Dr. John Hosmer, taught history to the future lawmaker. He tells msnbc.com, "Gabrielle sat in the front row. She was inquisitive ... She was a very mature person from the moment she walked in the door." (University High School) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: US Senate holds hearing on Gun Control
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    Above: Slideshow (26) Former Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
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    Slideshow (45) Mourning follows deadly shooting in Arizona

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