PHOENIX — A 22-year-old man described as a social outcast with wild beliefs steeped in mistrust faces a federal court hearing Monday on charges he tried to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a Tucson shooting rampage that left six people dead.
A military official in Washington said Jared Loughner was rejected from the army in 2008 because he failed a drug test. The official spoke Monday on condition of anonymity because privacy laws prevent the military from disclosing such information about an individual’s application.
The official did not know what type of drug was detected in the screening.
Public defenders are asking that the lawyer who defended Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Timothy McVeigh and “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski defend Loughner, who makes his first court appearance Monday at 4 p.m. ET.
The hearing in Phoenix comes just a few hours after President Barack Obama, standing with first lady Michelle Obama on the White House South Lawn, presided over a national moment of silence for Giffords and the other victims.
The moment was marked at the U.S. Capitol and elsewhere around a country still coming to grips with the tragedy.
Giffords’ brother-in-law, Scott Kelly, space station commander, led NASA in a moment of silence — and struggled with the senselessness of the shooting.
Flight controllers in Houston fell silent as Scott Kelly spoke via radio from space.
“We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station,” he said. “As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not.”
“These days, we are constantly reminded of the unspeakable acts of violence and damage we can inflict upon one another, not just with our actions, but also with our irresponsible words,” he said.
“We’re better than this. We must do better.”
In Tucson, about a half dozen people gathered outside of Giffords’ hospital during the moment of silence.
Prosecutors allege Loughner scrawled on an envelope the words “my assassination” and “Giffords” sometime before he took a cab to a shopping centre where the congresswoman was meeting with constituents Saturday morning.
A federal judge, a congressional aide and a nine-year-old girl, Christina Green, were among the six people killed, while Giffords and 13 others were injured in the bursts of gunfire outside a Tucson supermarket.
At Christina’s Mesa Verde Elementary School Monday morning, a memorial of ribbons across a fence in front of the school was slowly growing as students arrived. Flowers, candles and cards signed by classmates and students at other schools also surrounded the fence.
Associate Supt. Todd Jaeger said Monday that teachers would meet with a team of psychologists to discuss how to talk to kids about the third grader’s death.
“One of the things we know is that we have to be honest with kids and answer their questions. We need to answer those questions without adding to their angst,” Jaeger said.
At a Tucson hospital, Giffords, 40, remained in intensive care Monday after being shot in the head at close range.
Neurosurgeon Dr. Michael LeMole of Tucson’s University Medical Center, said her condition is stable. The swelling in Giffords’ brain has not been increasing, as typically occurs during the first three days of such an injury.
“That’s why we are much more optimistic and we can breathe a collective sigh of relief after about the third day,” he told reporters.
He said there are other good signs. The track of bullet is away from the nerves. “Not only are those centres of the brain working but they’re communicating with one another.”
LeMole said Giffords is still responding to commands to squeeze hands, move her toes, etc.
Authorities weren’t saying where Loughner was being held, and officials were working to appoint a lawyer for him.
The federal public defender in Arizona has called on San Diego attorney Judy Clarke, a former federal public defender who served on teams that defended McVeigh, a co-conspirator in the 1995 Oklahoma bombing and other high profile cases.
Loughner is charged with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee. More charges are expected.
Discoveries at Loughner’s home in southern Arizona, where he lived with his parents in a middle-class neighbourhood have provided few answers to what motivated him.
Police say he has not been co-operating with investigators.
Court papers filed with the charges said he had previous contact with Giffords.
Comments from friends and former classmates bolstered by Loughner’s own Internet postings have painted a picture of a social outcast with almost indecipherable beliefs steeped in mistrust and paranoia.
“If you call me a terrorist then the argument to call me a terrorist is Ad hominem,” he wrote Dec. 15 in a wide-ranging posting.
Police said he purchased the Glock pistol used in the attack at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Tucson in November.
Giffords, a conservative Democrat re-elected in November, faced threats and heckling over her support for immigration reform and her office was vandalized the day the House, including Giffords, approved the landmark health-care measure.
It was not clear whether those issues motivated the shooter.
The six killed included U.S. District Judge John Roll, 63; the third grader, Christina, 9; Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79.
Christina was featured in a book called “Faces of Hope” that chronicled one baby from each state born Sept. 11, 2001. Recently elected to student council, she went to the event because of her interest in government.
Amanda Stinnett, a parent who got teary upon seeing the memorial, said her two kids sometimes played together.
“My youngest said, ’She was so nice Mommy. She always let me play with her,”’ Stinnett said.
At the same time, she said Christina seemed mature for her age and with a sharp vocabulary.
“It seemed like she was a grown adult.”