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Witnesses recount 'chaos' at scene of Tucson shooting

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by Daniel González, Connie Cone Sexton and Amy B Wang - Jan. 8, 2011 08:45 PM

The Arizona Republic

It was supposed to be an informal event outside a Tucson supermarket to meet and chat with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords about any concerns constituents might have about the federal government.

Giffords had held many of these Town Hall-style events in the past, but this was her first "Congress on Your Corner' of the New Year. Just three days earlier Giffords had been sworn in to her third 2-year term in Washington. She was back in Tucson to meet with constituents of her district, which includes parts of Tucson and all of southeastern Arizona down to the border with Mexico.

Her staff had set up several tables outside the entrance to the Safeway store on Oracle Road near Ina, an upscale area on the northern edge of Tucson near Oro Valley. They also had set up an American flag along with a large white banner with Gifford's name printed on it.

The event, scheduled to start at 10 a.m., was barely underway. Suddenly a man rushed into the crowd and began shooting people with a semi-automatic pistol, said Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.

Jason Pekau, 31, was at his job at the Sprint store nearby when he heard about 15 to 20 consistent gun shots.

"There was no break in between," Pekau said.

"It happened so fast. I saw all the chaos going on," said Pekau, who travels to work from his home in Queen Creek. "They were running toward me and screaming and crying. I ran toward them to see what was going on," he said.

Pekau saw people running with blood on their shirts. He saw one person halfway in the parking lot and two more laying on the sidewalk. Pekau saw bullet holes in the walls and in the Safeway windows. He saw a small body and later figured it was the 9-year-old girl who was killed.

"That was hard for me because I have a six-year-old daughter of my own," Pekau said.

Police identified the suspect in the shooting as Jared Lee Loughner, 22, of Tucson.

Dupnik said "two brave people" tackled the suspect to the ground.

"He probably would have shot more people had he not been tackled by two people," Dupnik said.

Pekau said he saw a pile of people holding down the shooter.

"A doctor who happened to be there tackled him and they were holding him until police arrived," he said.

Pekau snapped photos from his cell phone. "I can't get the images out of my mind. I try to kick back and see flashes of it," he said.

Oro Valley resident Ryan Murray, 30, was driving northbound on Oracle at about 10:15 a.m. when traffic in front of the Safeway plaza came to a standstill.

Murray said he saw three helicopters, at least six ambulances and a crowd of people emerging from the shopping center.

"Some people were crying, and other people were very upset. There were lots of angry people," he said.

Like many around him, Murray turned off his car. People assumed it was a fire, he said.

As more witnesses exited, he began to hear varying accounts of the shooting.

"It's just an ugly nightmare," Murray said.

Carmelo Rivera, 33, had just started his first day at work as a server at Frogs Organic Bakery, a restaurant in an upscale plaza on the other side of Oracle Road.

Soon after, several customers rushed in and said that Giffords had been shot at the Safeway across the street.

Rivera didn't believe it at first.

Many customers seemed to be in disbelief at the news, Rivera said. Some whipped out cell phones and laptops to scan the internet for news. At one point, a woman yelled that she had just read on CNN that Giffords had died. The report turned out to be false.

Michelle Barghout, who also works at Frogs Organic Bakery, described the area as upper-middle class.

The intersection of Oracle and Ina is dotted with designer boutiques and specialty restaurants.

"This is a safe, more upscale area," said Barghout, 24. "People were surprised to see even one or two police cars here."

By noon, many of the stores immediately surrounding the Safeway were closed. A manager at Casas Adobes Flower Shop, adjacent to the grocery store, said employees were allowed to go home early as soon as they were able to leave.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2011/01/08/20110108arizona-congresswoman-gabrielle-giffords-shooting-scene.html#ixzz1AVlBpqNd

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