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Suspect's parents express grief and bewilderment

As Tucson prepares for President Obama's arrival, Jared Lee Loughner's parents release their first public statement since the shooting in which their son is charged.

January 12, 2011|By Seema Mehta, Sam Quinones and Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times
  • An unidentified man passes out a written statement from the family of Jared Loughner outside of his home.
An unidentified man passes out a written statement from the family of Jared… (David Becker / Getty Images )

Reporting from Tucson and Los Angeles — As Tucson scrambled to prepare for President Obama's scheduled appearance at a memorial service for the victims of the weekend's mass shooting, the parents of the alleged gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, offered their first public statement Tuesday, insisting that the attack left them as perplexed as anyone else.

From the home they shared with their son in a working-class neighborhood, Randy and Amy Loughner released a statement calling it "a very difficult time" and speaking of their deep sorrow.

"There are no words that can possibly express how we feel. We wish that there were, so that we could make you feel better," the Loughners said. "We don't understand why this happened. It may not make any difference but we wish that we could change the heinous events of Saturday. We care very deeply about the victims and their families. We are so very sorry for their loss."

The alleged gunman's motives for shooting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others remain unclear, though friends said he had grown increasingly paranoid. One told The Times that Loughner was influenced by films alleging that the collection of income tax is illegal and that the terrorist attacks of 2001 were staged by the government.

A law enforcement official said Tuesday that a note was found in Loughner's safe that said: "Die, Bitch."

Later Tuesday, the Pima County Sheriff's Department corrected its tally of the wounded. Nineteen people were shot, the department said, not 20, as had been reported. Six died, and 13 were wounded.

And Giffords' congressional office released photos of the lawmaker and her husband, astronaut Mark E. Kelly, holding hands in her hospital room. The photos were taken Sunday, Giffords' office said.

The images added a poignancy to Arizona's latest turn in the national stage.

Some critics, angered by the state's aggressive anti-immigration stance and right-leaning politics, have pointed to the shootings as evidence that Arizona is a place of intolerance and Tombstone justice.

But there was also a rising sentiment and determination here that Arizona's latest appearance in the spotlight will be a chance for a recalibration of the state's image.

The state has mustered an immediate and unified response, for instance, to reports that Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas was planning to picket the funerals of shooting victims.

Tucson's Democratic and Republican parties joined together to organize a blockade of counter-protesters, and Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation restricting funeral protests — a bill that sailed through the normally rancorous state Legislature with ease.

"I think it took a tragedy for the rest of the world to see how much compassion and unity there is in Tucson," said Christin Gilmer, 26, who used to work for Giffords. At Gilmer's direction, supporters of the victims will line funeral processions wearing white wings to shield the families from the sight of the church picketers.

"I'm sorry it took a tragedy to show what a tight-knit, strong community we will always be here," she said.

Bill Hileman, at a public appearance Tuesday at the hospital where his wife is recovering from bullet wounds, delivered an impromptu tribute not just to the shooting victims, but to his adopted state.

Hileman said he and his wife, Susan, recently retired and spent two years searching the nation for the perfect community to make their home. They picked Tucson.

Susan Hileman had taken a young neighbor, who had been elected to her elementary school student council, to meet their congresswoman. When the gunman opened fire, Hileman, 58, was hit three times. She survived, but her young friend, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, was shot in the chest and killed.

Hileman noted that he was sitting in the waiting room of the hospital at one point when a minister wandered in from the street to offer him comfort. "That's my Tucson," he said.

Obama is scheduled to arrive Wednesday for a public memorial. The president's visit will come two days after Loughner appeared in federal court and was charged with five federal crimes, including the attempted assassination of Giffords and the murder of John M. Roll, Arizona's chief federal judge, who was caught in the spray of bullets.

Additional state charges are expected; Loughner could face the death penalty.

Wednesday's memorial service at the University of Arizona's McKale Center is open to the public, although security will be tight. A protester brought an assault rifle to one of the president's previous visits to Arizona, and a pastor here once prayed publicly for Obama's death.

A crowd of as many as 14,000 was expected to join the president and First Lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Sen. John McCain, university President Robert N. Shelton and others.

Many in Arizona are hoping the service will be an opportunity to begin healing, even if some remain incensed with the portrayal of their state.

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