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TUCSON, Ariz.— Mysterious black bag in hand, Jared Loughner ran into the desert from his angry father, who was driving a truck on a futile pursuit.
Hours after Randy Loughner’s confrontation with his 22-year-old son Saturday morning, six people were shot dead and more than a dozen others wounded — and Jared Loughner was in custody.
The sheriff’s deputies who swarmed the Loughners’ house removed what they describe as evidence Jared Loughner was targeting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who doctors said Tuesday was breathing on her own for the first time after taking a bullet to the forehead. Among the handwritten notes was one with the words “Die, bitch,” which authorities told The Associated Press they believe was a reference to Giffords.
Investigators with the Pima County Sheriff’s
Department previously said they found handwritten notes in Loughner’s safe reading “I planned ahead,” ‘’My assassination” and “Giffords.” Capt. Chris Nanos said all the writings were either in an envelope or on a form letter Giffords’ office sent him in 2007 after he signed in at one of her “Congress on Your Corner” events — the same kind of gathering where the massacre occurred.
On the morning of the shooting, a mumbling Jared Loughner fled after his father asked him why he was removing a black bag from the trunk of a family car, said Nanos and Rick Kastigar, chief of the department’s investigations bureau. Investigators are still searching for the bag.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department said an officer stopped Loughner at about 7:30 a.m. Saturday.
The officer took Loughner’s driver’s license and vehicle registration information. Dispatchers checked the information and found no outstanding warrants on Loughner or his vehicle. He was given a verbal warning and released.
Meanwhile, this city held a tribute to victims the eve of a presidential visit.
On Tuesday night, several hundred mourners filled a Tucson church for a public Mass to remember the slain and pray for the injured. As people filed in, nine young girls sang “Amazing Grace.” The youngest victim of the attack, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, was a member of that choir.
“I know she is singing with us tonight,” said Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas, who presided over the service.
President Barack Obama visits Arizona Wednesday and will honor the victims in a speech to a rattled state and nation.
His mission at Wednesday’s memorial is to uplift and rally, not to examine political incivility.
Set to speak during an evening gathering in Tucson, Ariz., Obama will remember the six people killed in a point-blank assassination attempt against a congresswoman who had been meeting with constituents outside a grocery store. Remarkably, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is showing greater signs of recovery — including breathing on her own — just three days after a bullet shot through her brain.
The White House said Obama would meet privately with the victims’ families before the service.
He will seek to assure families in grief that the whole country is behind them.
And to those grasping for answers, Obama will probably explore how “we can come together as a stronger nation” in the aftermath of the tragedy, as he put it earlier this week.
What the speech is not likely to be: an examination of divisive partisan rhetoric or whether it is connected in any way to the rampage. Those matters have soared to the forefront of media debate. But while addressing a grieving community, Obama is expected to focus on a memorial, not a commentary on politics.
In one apparent reaction to the shooting, the FBI said background checks for handgun sales jumped in Arizona following the shootings, though the agency cautioned that the number of checks doesn’t equate to the number of handguns sold.
Still, there were 263 background checks in Arizona on Monday, up from 164 for the same day a year ago — a 60 percent rise. Nationally, the increase was more modest: from 7,522 last year to 7,906 Monday, a 5 percent jump.
Loughner’s parents, silent and holed up in their home since the shooting spree, issued a statement Tuesday, expressing remorse over the shooting.
“There are no words that can possibly express how we feel,” Randy and Amy Loughner wrote in a statement handed to reporters waiting outside their house. “We wish that there were, so we could make you feel better. We don’t understand why this happened.
“We care very deeply about the victims and their families. We are so very sorry for their loss.”
Sheriff’s deputies had been to the Loughner home at least once before the attack, spokesman Jason Ogan said. He didn’t know why or when the visit occurred, and said department lawyers were reviewing the paperwork and expected to release it Wednesday.
The visits were for nonviolent incidents, including a report by Jared Loughner of identity theft, a noise complaint and Amy Loughner’s claim that someone had stolen her license plate sticker, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.