On this day in 2011, Gabrielle Giffords, a U.S. congresswoman from Arizona, is critically injured when a man goes on a shooting spree during a constituents meeting held by the congresswoman outside a Tucson-area supermarket. Six people died in the attack and another 13, including Giffords, were wounded. The gunman, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, was taken into custody at the scene.
Giffords, an Arizona native and Democrat who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, arrived at the Casas Adobes Safeway store at 10 a.m. on January 8 to host a Congress at Your Corner event. The popular politician, just the third woman from Arizona ever elected to Congress, sat outside at a table, speaking with constituents who had lined up to see her. Ten minutes later, Loughner, an Arizona resident, approached the 40-year-old Giffords and shot her at point-blank range with a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol. He then opened fire on the people standing in line. A short time later, while Loughner attempted to reload his gun, bystanders tackled him and held him until police arrived. Giffords, who was hit with a bullet that fractured her skull and pierced the left side of her brain, was transported to a Tucson hospital. Some early news reports claimed she had not survived the shooting.
Investigators soon discovered evidence at Loughner’s home indicating he had targeted the congresswoman in an assassination plot, and that he had a history of posting anti-government rants on the Internet. It also came to light that in the fall of 2010 Loughner was informed by officials at Tucson’s Pima Community College, where he was a student, that after exhibiting disruptive, bizarre behavior in classes and in the library he would not be allowed to return to school until he got a mental-health clearance. Rather than complying, Loughner dropped out of college.
On January 12, 2011, President Barack Obama spoke at a large public memorial service in Tucson for the victims of the shooting spree. Among the dead were a 9-year-old girl, a 63-year-old federal judge and a 30-year-old member of Giffords’ staff. Later that month, Giffords was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital in Houston, Texas, where she would relearn how to walk and talk. Also in late January, Loughner pleaded not guilty to a series of federal charges against him, including the attempted assassination of a congressional member. In March, he pleaded not guilty to an additional 49 counts stemming from the shootings.
That May, Giffords traveled from the hospital in Houston to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch the launch of the final flight of space shuttle Endeavour, commanded by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelley. The following month, the congresswoman was released from the rehab hospital and began outpatient treatment. On August 1, she made a surprise return to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since she was shot, in order to vote in favor of passing a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
In November 2011, Giffords and her husband released a memoir, “Gabby: A Story of Hope and Courage.” To coincide with the book’s launch, Giffords gave her first television interview since the shooting. During the interview, the congresswoman appeared upbeat but had difficulty forming complete sentences. On January 25, 2012, Giffords resigned from Congress in order to concentrate on her continuing recovery. In August of that same year, Loughner pleaded guilty to 19 of the crimes he was charged with, including killing six people. As part of the plea agreement, federal prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against him. On November 8, 2012, Loughner was sentenced to life in prison without parole.