Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tuscon Shootings Affects Former Classmate

The shooting tragedy that happened Saturday in Tuscon, Arizona has shaken the entire country, including a former classmate of mine who lives in Tuscon.

As federal prosecutors brought charges Sunday against Jared Loughner, the gunman accused of attempting to assassinate U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, and killing six people at a political event there, Mary K. Thompson was posting on Facebook her thoughts on the incident. "So very sad. Right on the corner of Oracle and Ina in a Safeway grocery store no less. I can't believe this has happened in our area of town. I never thought anything like this would happen there," said Thompson, who lived in the same community as I do during the 1970's. She graduated from high school with me. She moved with her husband to Tuscon in 1979 and, except for the seven years they lived in Kansas organizing a Church, have lived there ever since.

Investigators said they carried out a search warrant at Loughner's 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. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said Sunday that Loughner acted alone.

Court documents also show that he 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. Saturday's event was Giffords' first "Congress on your Corner" event with constituents of the new year.

Authorities released emergency calls in which a person witnessing the mass shooting outside a grocery store in Tucson describes a frantic scene. "I can't believe this was less than 10 minutes from home. I've been to that Safeway many times, and [my husband] and I were in a nearby restaurant not even a month ago," Thompson said. 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. "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."

"Someone in the crowd actually tackled the shooter and got the gun away from him. Otherwise there may have been more," Thompson wrote. The sheriff said three people helped subdue Loughner, described by a former classmate as a pot-smoking loner. 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)."

Loughner is accused of killing six people, including U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, an aide to Giffords, 30-year-old Gabe Zimmerman, and four others, including nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was born on Sept. 11, 2001. She had been 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. Fourteen others were wounded in Saturday's shooting rampage, including Giffords. FBI Director Robert Mueller said the shooter's motive for the 10 a.m. attack was not known. 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.

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. "This idiot went to Thornydale Elementary and Tortolita Middle School. This whole thing is so crazy. [her son] will be at Tortolita next year -- so hard to believe there are these kinds of people right here," Thompson said.

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. She 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.
Mary K. Cooper Thompson summed up what the entire nation is feeling when she said, "I honestly am shaken by this whole tragedy."

The Wesboro Church at Topeka, Kansas that is known for protesting at funerals has announced it will protest at the funerals of those killed in the Tuscon shooting. Mary K and her husband are helping organize a human shield to keep the protesters from being seen at the funerals.

Most of the content for this story was first reported on msnbc.com and involved several writers contributing from the Associated Press.

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