Near Fatal Shooting of Jewish Congresswoman Shakes Arizona Community

Friends and associates describe Gabrielle Giffords as a friendly and strong woman; House Speaker Boehner: This is a sad day for our community.

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Shock and bewilderment rippled through Arizona's Jewish community on Saturday, following the near fatal shooting of local Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson earlier in the day.

Candles and flowers placed outside the office of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. in Tucson, Arizona, Jan. 8, 2011. Credit: AP

Giffords was shot in the head when an assailant opened fire outside a grocery store while she was meeting with constituents. At least five people were killed and another 10 wounded in a rampage that rattled the nation.

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.

Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, the leader of the Reform congregation Chaverim which Giffords attended, described the community reaction as "shocked and horrified, and completely saddened. We are horrified at the death of the Judge John Roll and the young girl. We dont know all the details, but it is incomprehensible."

"Gabrielle is such a kind person, incredibly brilliant person, who can talk to people of all generations. She is a member of the congregation at least for 10, maybe even 15 years. I was the Rabbi at her wedding," Aaron said, adding: "We hope and pray she continues to get well."

The congregation is set to hold a special service at 9 A.M. on Sunday.

We will pray for healing of Gabrielle, everyone injured and the families of those who lost their lives, Aaron told Haaretz, adding that the community hoped "to organize blood drive next week. Everything was pretty quiet in the city, there was nothing that could predict anything like this might happen."

Media consultant Steve Rabinowitz, who originates from Tucson and who recently held a fundraiser for Representative Giffords at Washington, DC. home, said the congresswoman was known to be "an outspoken woman, but she is not a controversial figure."

"She faced a tough election and she got criticized by the conservatives in Arizona for her support of the healthcare bill, but we dont know the motivation of the shooter yet," he said, adding that he did "know though that the rhetoric in the country got so ugly it creates a really dangerous climate."

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that while the motive behind the act was yet unknown, "there can be no ignoring the increasing culture of violence in our nation and particularly in our political discourse."

"Dehumanizing language and images of violence are regularly used to express differences of opinion on political issues, Rabbi Saperstein said, adding that such "language is too often heard by others, including those who may be mentally ill or ideologically extreme, to justify the actual use of violence."

"It continues to be far too easy to acquire guns, including the weapon used in todays shootings. Americans must be able to have robust and healthy differences of opinion while respecting the humanity and patriotism of those with whom they disagree," Rabbi Saperstein said.

Urging in his statement for a commitment toward "working with Americas religious leaders of all faiths, and others, to elevate aggressively the state of our political discourse," Saperstein said.

"'We stand stunned and deeply saddened... and we pray that Rep. Giffords husband Mark and her entire family find support comfort and strength among their friends and family, as we join them in praying for her full recovery," he added.

AJC Executive Director David Harris called the shooting a dark day for our country," adding: We are confident that all Americans, regardless of their political affiliations, will unite to condemn this atrocity, and reaffirm our faith in our countrys fundamental democratic values of mutual respect and free speech."

"There are worrying indications that the gunman was motivated by extremist political views, which encourage the use of violence against those who think differently," Harris said, adding the gunman "should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and law enforcement should investigate whether he acted alone or had any accomplices."

The reaction to the shooting was swift and rippled across the globe. President Barack Obama Obama held a nationally televised news conference to express his condolences.

The shooting 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," newly elected House Speaker John Boehner said.

"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 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."



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