TODAY   |  January 10, 2011

Tucson gunman faces federal charges

Federal prosecutors have charged suspected gunman Jared Lee Loughner in connection with an attempt to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the murders of six other people at a political event in Tucson. NBC's Lester Holt reports from Arizona.

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>>> and good morning, welcome to a special edition of today on a monday morning. i'm matt lauer .

>> and i'm meredith viera .

>> lester holt is out in tucson , arizona, he'll bring us up to date in just a moment. meanwhile flags are at half staff across washington this morning and the next hours are crucial for congresswoman gabrielle gifford as she fights for life in a tucson hospital.

>> nasa astronaut -- doctors say they're very, very encourageded by her ability to respond to simple commands, meanwhile the alleged gunman jeremy loughner is in -- lawmakers and the supreme court will observe a moment of silence at 11:00 a.m . eastern time . nbc news will have live coverage of that event.

>>> also ahead this morning, we will talk to the heroic intern from her staff who likely safed the congresswoman's life with his quick thinking and more on this tragedy's youngest victim, christina taylor green was just 9 years old and was born on 9/11. this morning we will speak to her father.

>>> also ahead this morning, sarah palin has been coming under some criticism. while there is no evidence her website featuring a target on gifford 's district had anything to do with this attack. some are asking if "today's" political rhetoric is inspiring the lunatic fringe.

>>> nbc's lester holt is in tucson , lester, good morning to you.

>> reporter: the accused shooter jeremy loughner goes in front of a federal magistrate in phoenix today, he will face five federal counts related to the killing of a u.s. government employee, one of those charges the attempted a assassination of congresswoman giffords. it was a saturday meet and greet with a local congresswoman at a supermarket parking lot that became a kill zone .

>> okay, what do you mean?

>> gabrielle giffords was. and i do believe gabrielle giffords was hit.

>> i looked up and saw her,shot in the head and the gunman didn't even pause, but continued to just spray bullets at close range at the people that were there.

>> reporter: with congresswoman gabrielle giffords wounded, the gunman opened fire. patricia mace told chris jansing how she tried to prevent him from reloading.

>> i was not able to reach the gun, but he was pulling a magazine out of his pants possibility with his left hand an i was able to grab the magazine.

>> reporter: meantime, give ford's intern of fire day s daniel hernandez was rushing to her aid. doctors are hopeful on her progress. late sunday court -- i planned ahead. my assassination and gifford 's name.

>> he'll be charged with the assault on the congresswoman. with the killing of judge roll and the assault on the other staffers.

>> reporter: authorities say loughner bought the semiautomatic glok pistol legally at this gun store in november. a college classmate of loughner remembers him as mentally as emotionally unstable.

>> jeremy 's behavior was unexplainable in the sense that he was unpredictable. in the sense of shouting things that were to my mind paranoid.

>> reporter: a person of interest, a man thought to have arrived at the scene with loughner has been cleared. investigators say that man had nothing at all to do with the shootings. loughner, they believe acted alone.

>> there is no information at this time to suggest any specific threat remains.

>> reporter: the dead range in age from 9 to 79 including federal judge john roll who had come to see his friend, the congresswoman. one of gifford 's staffers gabriel zimmerman and christina taylor green, born on 9/11 who wanted to learn more about government.

>> i think everybody paused when they heard christina 's birth date , september 11 , 2001 .

>> she began her life in a tragedy like 9/11 and her life was ended with a tragedy here in arizona.

>> reporter: congress ma'am giffords is married to astronaut mark kelly who was preparing for an upcoming shuttle mission. he has issued a statement. he says on behalf of gabbie and our entire family i want to extend our heartfelt grad opportunity. gabby was going what she loved most, hearing from her con stit constituents when the tragedy occurreded. again a statement from her husband mark kelly , the entire family gathered here as they have a vigil at the hospital waiting for her recovery.

>> lester, as always, thank you