Gabriella Giffords made available by Reuters Jan. 11. 2011
U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Photo by Reuters
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Candles and flowers placed outside the office of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. in Tucson, Arizona, Jan. 8, 2011. Photo by AP

U.S. President Barack Obama was quick to decry the shooting attack that left Representative Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded in Tucson on Saturday.

Giffords, the first Jewish woman to be elected to Congress in Arizona, was shot in the head when an assailant opened fire outside a grocery store while she was meeting with constituents. Another six people were killed and 10 more wounded in a rampage that rattled the nation.

"I am hopeful that she is going to pull through," Obama said in a statement from the White House. Referring to Giffords as "Gabby", Obama described her as a "friend" and an "extraordinary public servant."

"It's not surprising that today Gabby was doing what she always does - listening to the hopes and concerns of her neighbors. That is the essence of what our democracy is all about," he said. "That is why this is more than a tragedy for those involved. It is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our entire country."

The hospital said Gifford's outlook was "optimistic" and that she was responding to commands from doctors, despite the fact that the bullet had gone through her head. The hospital said a 9-year-old child was among the dead, and a U.S. Marshal said a federal judge was also fatally shot in the attack.

The reaction to the shooting was swift and rippled across the globe and cast a pall over the Capitol as politicians of all stripes denounced the shooting as a horrific act of violence. Capitol police asked members of Congress to step up security in the wake of the shooting, and some politicians expressed hope that the killing spree serves as a wake-up call at a time when the political climate has become so emotionally charged.

"I am horrified by the senseless attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and members of her staff," said newly elected House Speaker John Boehner.

"An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society. Our prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords, her staff, all who were injured, and their families. This is a sad day for our country."

Police said Saturday that the shooter was in custody. Sources familiar with the investigation identified him as Jared Loughner, 22.

Pima County Sheriff's officials said he used a pistol to carry out the attack. U.S. officials who provided his name to The Associated Press spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release it publicly.

His exact motivation was not immediately clear. Federal law enforcement officials were poring over captured versions of a MySpace page that belonged to Jared Lee Loughner and over Youtube video published to the Internet weeks ago under an account "Classitup10" and linked to him.

The MySpace page, which was removed within minutes of the gunman being identified by U.S. officials, included a mysterious" Goodbye friends" message published hours before the shooting and exhorted to his friends: "Please don't be mad at me."